Are you a parent who wants perfect kids? Adjust your parenting style to any number of the hundreds of books on parenting currently in print and you’ll be the successful parent you’ve always wanted to be with the successful children you’ve always wanted!
Sadly, this is the message of many parenting books that draw the hopeful and discouraged to their pages with each new publication. In Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, mother and daughter team Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson want parents to be the best Christian parents they can be, raising Godly children. So what makes this book any different? The answer is found in the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ. The path to successful parenting isn’t found in what parents do or even how children react to what parents do. Such a method leads only to law and, as the book cover says, the law is “a set of standards that is not only unable to save our children, but also powerless to change them.” Not only do they take aim at the path to successful parenting, but they offer a rethinking of what it means to be a successful parent.
Much of the book is focused, not on the behavior of the child, but rather the belief system of the parent. You won’t find very much in the way of the “how-to’s” of child discipline, but rather solid principles intended to have parents examine their own attitudes and understanding of the concept of grace. Further, this idea of grace is firmly grounded in what believers have been given through Christ’s finished work on the cross in paying God’s penalty for sin and obtaining our right standing before God. Based on the parents’ understanding of gospel work in their own hearts, the authors then answer the question of successful parenting – that is pointing our children to God by modeling the grace of God in our lives.
There were two chapters that I appreciated the most: one (“The One Good Story) offers wise principles for pointing our children to the grace and love of God in various situations. For example, the question often comes up (at least it does in my family) of which movies to allow children to watch. Instead of giving a bulleted list of do’s and don’ts, the authors offer several questions to ask about how that movie (or other entertainment medium) will either point to or prevent them from seeing gospel truths. In their own words, “Our hope is that if we have taught them how to discern the one good story and judge every other story by it, they’ll be better equipped to answer the wicked Imposter’s lies when they hear them.” (p.120) They also touch on the subject of modesty and, instead of going straight to the obvious question of “is it revealing?” they suggest principles that will get to the heart of the child and not simply outward appearances.
The second chapter I appreciated the most was Chapter 9 (“Weak Parents and Their Strong Savior”) in which the authors gently point out that sometimes, even after all our best efforts and trusting in God, our children may not live as believers. This chapter dealt with seeming failure as parents. But even here, the authors point us to the fact that God is honored and glorified in everything. In what was perhaps the most poignant statement of the chapter, they write “What if he has called us to Jeremiah’s ministry rather than to Daniel’s? Is there room in your parenting paradigm for weakness and failure if weakness and failure glorify God?” (p.149)
Perhaps the one negative aspect of the book is the examples of conversations between parent and child. The table in Appendix 2 (“Common Problems and the Gospel”) is helpful in keeping our focus on Christ and the gospel in various situations, but the examples of conversations given seem too overblown and forced. While I certainly want to teach my children the beauty of the gospel and of Christ, it seems more than a little forced to relate losing a baseball game to the suffering of Christ. There are times when we as parents simply need to be there for our children, encouraging them when they fail/lose and helping them to do better next time. Does this mean that we are ignoring the gospel and only promoting selfish little bootstrap hoisters? Absolutely not! However, the adage “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” seems to apply here.
Give Them Grace gives us a much needed reminder as parents that changing our children’s hearts and the outcome of our parenting is not dependent on us. Oh yes, God uses this tool for this change but ultimately it is God who does the changing. I was encouraged to continually point my children to the love, beauty and grace of God that is ours because of Jesus. (4/5 stars)
(Thanks to Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program for providing a review of this book.)