What about Grace in Parenting?

Parenting by Grace Not Law

(Please read the articles on Law and Grace, and Obedience and Sin before reading this article.)

The question is being asked: What is the role of grace in parenting when structure, responsibility, and consequences are so vital for children? Another way to speak of these parenting concerns is: what is the role of grace (unconditional acceptance, forgiveness) and what is the role of law (rules, structure, consequences) in parenting? This essay is not aimed to give you a solution, as to replace the need for parental discernment with a given child, but to help you think rightly about Christianity, and thus also parenting.

Law and Grace in Parenting:

Now, let’s discuss parenting, and remember law and grace are not forces to balance, but a framework to build upon in the goal of one day having a mature grace-filled relationship with our children.

We know the importance of relating with our children in grace, so they will feel unconditionally loved, free to fail and to be imperfect, yet we also know that our children must understand right and wrong, responsibility, and consequences. Children need clarity about authority and right and wrong. And, yes, even this is grace to them. We parent, especially at the young ages, as to instill in them these boundaries, using “law” for the well-being and growth of our children.

We say and mean things like: “Don’t hit your brother with your shoe” – “Don’t lick the bottom of your shoe” – “It is not okay to react out of anger” – “Be patient and kind” – “Clean your room” – “You are losing a privilege because you didn’t follow through.”

There are hundreds of formative rules and expectations we put on our children, and this is needed, yet if this demand is all we speak it will be to the detriment of our children as they will grow up with a confused notion of family and love. We should ask: What do they see in us as parents and authority? Do they see acceptance and repentance of depravity, gratitude for grace, and love for people and God’s truth?

It is important that even while we are parenting in the first use of the law we are also parenting in light of the burden of law. Meaning, we parent giving rules, structure, responsibility, and consequences while also refusing to allow the inevitable failure of standards and expectations to be what defines and maintains their acceptance, love, and value to us.

In light of the second use of the we say and mean things like: “You are not perfect and that is okay” – “Dad is not perfect and that is okay” – “God loves us all the time” – “I love you just because you are mine” – “Jesus gives you your righteousness.”

Well, okay, but what do we say to the child that continues to rebel and shows no remorse for disobedience? Good question. You say and mean (and follow through) with something like, “Child, you will always be loved here, in obedience and disobedience, we will love you, but your actions will have consequences.”

In review: law (rules and structure, your yes is yes and your no is no, responsibility and consequences) is used in parenting for the sake of grace working in the child, so they might understand and personalize the first and second use of the law, thus embracing grace.

The entire relationship from parent to child is one of loving grace-filled authority (as God is to man). As the child matures the goal is for the parent/child relationship to no longer be dependent upon the force of law but to transition into a relationship of grace. Judgment and consequences may adapt behavior to some degree, but they are not change agents that affect the heart, which we must ultimately be about.

Let me clarify: the ultimate goal is not to have successful, clean-cut, perfectly-spoken children. The goal is to have children ravished and changed by grace of God, known in Jesus, at the core of their beings, fully defined by God’s love to them, inspired to love God and love others.

As the child matures into adolescence, if law is continued to be the force of parenting, the child will react just as we do toward God when we misunderstand our relationship with him. The child may rebel, making his own way, or perform and pretend, trying to earn love and value. All of us will experience this in measure with our children, as we as parents, still live in such ways at times. We must relate to our children in this process with grace, understanding that both rebellion and performance are prisons we do not wish for our children. Grace is the place of rest for all people.

A resistance by the parent to season all parenting by grace, and to transition the parent/child relationship to become fully defined by grace, will strain the parent/child relationship as the child grows through their teen years and into adulthood. But, if grace is the overarching purpose, and becomes the defining characteristic of the parent/child relationship, no matter what trail the child may wander down they will have a more accurate view of God and have a parent they trust. The hope is for grace-ravished hearts that live in freedom and respond to the secure relationship they know they have in God and also in their family.

By Russ Masterson / Christ the Redeemer Church of Marietta

Recommended books:

Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Law and the Gospel?
What Does it Mean to be a Christian?
What does Covenantal Mean?
What about Tithing?
What about Obedience and Sin?
What about Baptism?
What about Grace in Parenting?