Many parents seek a one-size-fits-all solution. We want simple answers to complicated problems and we want them to work every time.
Yet each family is different, each child is different, each circumstance is different. Our personalities vary, our temperaments differ. Each parent has their own sins, gifts and tendencies, and each child has their own sins, gifts and tendencies. We fool ourselves into thinking there could be the same solution for every problem.
It’s what all parents want, right? Safety and a guaranteed good outcome. We want that so much that we are easily persuaded to reach for a parenting formula or recipe—Do this! Don’t do that!—that promises to “childproof” our homes. But parenting formulas not only don’t deliver the promised outcome (safe, happy, never-in-trouble kids), they keep us from parenting by faith. So we miss out on a rich life of trusting God to guide us in knowing and loving our children and guiding them toward love for God and others in ways that are specific to their unique gifts and needs.
Thankfully Julie Lowe has come to the same realisation and shared it with us in her book Child Proof. Lowe is a counsellor with the CCEF and a mother of six. Right away you feel she knows what she’s talking about and she comes at parenting from a slightly different angle: she first fostered two children when single, fostered two more once married, and then later two more were added to their family.
Right away you feel she knows what she’s talking about and she comes at parenting from a slightly different angle: she first fostered two children when single, fostered two more once married, and then later two more were added to their family.
The book is broken into two parts, the first is where the principles lie: The Foundations for Parenting by Faith. She starts by freeing parents from the trap of thinking there is only one right way to parent:
The thing to remember is that, while the biblical principles remain universal and unchanging, the way they are applied in specific ways is unique to each family’s personalities, gifts, difficulties, and circumstances. The way God has structured it, there is much more liberty in how we live out godly principles in marriage and family life than we often give ourselves.”
In fact, what God calls us to is not a formula but faith:
Instead of providing a parenting recipe, God calls parents to think biblically, wisely, and carefully about what love looks like in their unique family. This calling requires an absolute dependence on godly wisdom, on spiritual discernment regarding my family, and on personal holiness to be what my family needs me to be. The goal is a home centered on Christ.
We are called to love God and love our children and that will impact the way we parent more than any structure, routine, guideline or expectation. She calls us to consider what our families could be like:
Instead, envision a family where there are imperfect people, many trials, and unwavering love. Imagine a home where brokenness and hope, temptations and forgiveness coexist. Where failures meet mercies that are new every morning. Where all members are in equal need and receive an equal measure of grace.
The rest of this section addresses how we need to parent centering on Christ – cultivating his character and love in our family life, with the assurance that what he calls us to can never be accomplished by sheer human determination:
A Christ-centered home means that we are emptying our home of personal agendas, striving to image the Lord before our children. We are striving to love sacrificially, to engage with one another meaningfully, and to pour forth God’s character in all we say and do. It does not mean perfection; it means humility in weakness. It means we give ourselves to him, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness. We become a channel of his life to others.
Following chapters talk about becoming an expert on your family. We are to study and understand our children:
It is not enough that we commit to knowing them well. We also want to help them know themselves. We want them to grow in understanding their own heart, their motives, their temptations and tendencies, their strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes, giftedness. We want children to know themselves, to know how to live well before God, and to trust him as Savior, Lord, and helper.
She addresses how to parent according to the needs of your family: both knowing our children and their situations and how God’s word speaks to that. Discipline and rules are covered and she gives helpful principles for forgiveness, disciplining, and establishing the difference between moral rules and rules that teach life skills. Finally, we prioritise building bridges to our children and strengthening our relationship with them:
This means we laugh with our children, we play with them, and look to affirm them and show that we like them. We demonstrate that we know them well and help them to know themselves. We point out their gifts and strengths, and the things we love seeing in their lives. And we gently, graciously show them their weaknesses, sins, and blind spots that they might see their need to depend on Christ. It is always our responsibility to build these bridges; we should never assume that it should fall on the child. They lack the position, the maturity, and the sense of purpose to do so.
The final section: Parenting by Faith Applied, deals with particular situations, some of which will only apply to some, and some to all. She covers:
- Parenting a Difficult Child. This chapter finished with some excellent encouragement for parents from God’s word.
- Parenting an Anxious Child. This chapter closes with thirteen ways to help comfort children from God’s promises.
- Parenting a Child with Disabilities.
- When Your Child Says, “I Don’t Know”. An excellent chapter dealing with an issue I had never fully identified, but face regularly: “children learn that this response keeps them from having to do the hard work of critical thinking or personal self-reflection. They may even avoid accountability, honesty, and vulnerability.” She has some great ideas to encourage conversation when kids claim, “I don’t know”, with the very first being: “Well, if you did know, what would your answer be?”!
- When Your Child Says, “I Am Bored”
- When Your Child Isn’t Thankful
- The Importance of Role Playing and Practice
- Technology and Your Child
- When Your Child Breaks Your Heart
The real benefit of this book will be seen in how we choose to apply it. You could read it, think, “that’s great” and move on to the next book of wisdom that is released. Or, you could stop, work through her instructive questions and suggestions at the end of each chapter, and in God’s grace and wisdom, consider how to parent your children by faith in God and his good plans, despite our sins and weaknesses. Or, put more simply: spend time on how to put these excellent principles into practice.