Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grace Based Parenting

I'm not sure if everyone's busy, or if everyone has simply said their say! But I wanted to add some thoughts about grace, when it comes to parenting.
There is a book out there called Grace Based Parenting, which I have heard is good and haven't read myself. But the idea of grace based parenting for me, includes reciprocal grace. See, I think that often parenting gets overthought these days, and parents paint themselves into a corner of having to do it perfectly or they'll mess up their kids. There's no built in grace, no acknowledgment of the impossibility of parenting perfectly, nor how unhealthy it is to place a parent into a Godlike role: fulfilling a child's every psycholgical, mental, or emotional need so that child will grow up to be a perfectly balanced adult with no faults, regrets or wounds. This pressure is enormous, and I really think it represents a frame of mind that is backwards.
For example, if you asked an adult who was getting married to be perfect for the remainder of the relationship, you would set that adult up to fail. A healthy marriage isn't one in which either spouse is perfect all the time, or patient all the time, or never yells! It is an interconnectedness, coupled with a healthy approach to conflict or managing mistakes, that makes for a solid marriage. It is the same with parenting. A spouse can make us absolutely miserable if they are disconnected from us, or lash out or withdraw emotionally every time they are upset and don't effectively apologize and strive to do better. But the same spouse can make us very content in life if we DO feel connected with them, and they generally approach conflict openly and without anger: then the times they do withdraw or lash out are way easier to deal with and don't affect the foundation of who we are or how we feel.
I think we tend to think of married adults as inevitably going to hurt each other, and that this is okay as long as there are apologies and attempts to do better.
Children are actually more resilient than adults are, when it comes to conflict, major transitions, and dealing with adversity; so why are we so certain we will irreprably damage them with our parenting if we do it "wrong?"
This is such an impossible task, I don't blame anyone for second guessing ever wanting to have children!! We need grace, and acceptance of our weaknesses, and our failures. And we need to know that we are enough because of who we ARE, not what we do--including in our relationships, and who we are is loved by God. If we take the focus off becoming the perfect parents and onto who God is: Grace, and redemption, and enough to fill all of our wounds, we will stop striving towards perfection. Otherwise, it resembles the tower of Babel and we become our own gods.
My cousin Tonya and I were talking about this and she had some insightful thoughts:

Maybe we just need to accept that all of our children will be critical of our parenting. :-) I mean, we're all going to screw it up somehow! Guess we need to start teaching our children about grace at a very young age and hope they will have grace for our mistakes when they are older! [It] isn't necessarily about the method we use, but about the RELATIONSHIP we have with our children. That knowing your child, knowing what works for that child, loving that child despite their flaws, seeking forgiveness from our children when we screw up ... And we will screw up!!! :-) AND, such a great thing to remind people about - we are not God. We cannot do it all for our kids. We have to have grace for ourselves in parenting. [And in talking about her own parents and their imperfections:] But, you know what, I have grace for THEM. I know they weren't perfect, but I'm over it. I'm not going to dwell on how they screwed up. What is the point? Now, my parents were certainly far far from abusive, so I am not saying this to those who were abused. That is a whole different thing. I'm right back to the grace thing. :-) Let's focus on learning about God's grace for us and teaching God's grace to our children and pray that our children will have grace for us when they are older.

Of course, parenting is an enormous responsibility, and we don't want to absolve ourselves from that nor be thoughtless about it. But the goal is NOT perfection, the goal is interconnectedness and good conflict management, and methodology needs to drive us towards close attachment and reasonable conflict management with our children. That seems so much more beautiful in the end, anyways. I have grace for my childrens' faults and for my own, which models what I ultimately want my children to have, also. Grace for the faults and shortcomings of others, including myself, and grace for themselves in their own. If I model relentless drive for perfection as an individual, even in one area, even in a supremely important area, I teach my children to treat themselves that way also. When I show myself grace, I model showing grace to oneself. And that is more important to me than that my children grow up perfectly healthy and balanced in a manner that reflects well upon ME.

If I want them to be kind to themselves, I need to model kindness towards myself. And to model an appropriate posture before God: if I acknowledge my need for Him I also acknowledge His Grace, which I wish for my children to know at a deep level as they grow.

I would venture a guess that methodology is less important than interconnectedness, in parenting. Interconnectedness, and attachment, is limitless. There is no perfect score, and there is no measure for it. We simply strive to go deeper into it, and therein we find peace.


tamie said...

Mel, I'm sorry that I dropped off the map there for a bit on the spanking post. It got really hard for me, that conversation, so I needed to take a break. But I want to get back to it now. Within the next day or two.

Asheya said...

I think part of the problem for me is that I am having so much trouble having grace for my own parents. For a while it seemed like I had forgiven them, accepted them as flawed human beings who still love me very much, but now...I'm not there anymore. And that freaks me out, because I'm afraid that if I fail my kids that there will be no real relational healing.

I really feel stuck right now when it comes to my relationship with my own parents and my parents-in-law. I feel very angry, and I'm trying to draw healthy boundaries and let the anger go, but it doesn't really seem to be working. Like I said, I'm stuck. I know all the right things to do in theory, but in practice none of them seem to be working.

Same with my anger and my kids. I know the theory, but the practice in reality just isn't working.

Sigh. Being human is hard.

Writers of Kosciusko County Jail said...

Asheya~Have you been able to let yourself just simply be angry at your parents? What about writing them letters (that you don't send) about all the ways that they failed you? What about writing stories about all the ways that they failed you? Maybe if you gave yourself permission to feel the emotions as they arise, told yourself that it is 100% understandable that you would feel how you feel, maybe that would lead you ultimately to where you desire to go. What do you think?

(I say this after having written for several months (for my creative writing for grad school) about the many ways my family failed me. I have tried to be unrelentingly honest, and I've surprised myself in the process--because there are ways they failed me that I never allowed myself to admit before I wrote this stuff, and there are ways they were there for me that I also didn't realize before I wrote all of this. It has been a surprisingly healing process, which was certainly not why I set out to do it, but I have more faith than ever in the power of truth-telling.)

Tonya said...

Good post, Mel!