“What does it take to grow healthy, loving, responsible kids?
‘The farther back you look, the faster kids grew up. In medieval Europe, children from seven on were initiated into adult work. Compulsory schooling, introduced in the nineteenth century, pushed back the age of maturity to sixteen or so. By the middle of the twentieth century, college graduation seemed, at least in this country, to be the new dividing line. Now, if Judd Apatow is to be trusted, it’s possible to close in on forty without coming of age’. – New Yorker Magazine
Several years ago, our family decided to grow tomatoes. What I learned about gardening is a good picture of what it takes to raise confident, loving, responsible kids: You have to have a balance of good soil and the right framework.
Parenting is a balancing act—making sure you get the soil and the supports in place. I believe the balancing act can be summed up in the nature of God.
David, in the Psalms said: ‘O LORD, may your love and your truth always protect me’. – Psalm 40:11
In the New Testament: ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ – John 1:14
The two things we most need from God are Grace and Truth. These are the two essential things we need from parents to grow up as confident, well adjusted kids.
We need the soil of Grace (of unconditional love and acceptance), because without that soil we become weak, empty-hearted adults. Grace is free – a child doesn’t earn it. It’s favor—the idea that someone is ‘for you.’ God’s grace was demonstrated in Jesus.
We also need the structure of truth. We need limits and discipline and structure to help us become confident and responsible adults. God gave us Truth in the Law. The 10 commandments to show us limits that define loving behavior versus unloving behavior. We need law. We need the truth about how our choices affect others, and the reality of consequences of our choices.
Family therapist John Trent say there are 4 types of parents that reflect this balance or unbalance with grace and truth:
Neglectful Parents are low on Grace and low on Truth. These are parents who didn’t really seem to care that much. Neglected kids have to overcome feeling insecure, low self-esteem, irresponsible, often do poorly in school or life due to lack of motivation and lack of skill development.
Dominating Parents are low on the Grace side but high on the Truth side. They have high standards and high expectations, but kids lack the warmth or caring support or confidence they are loved when they fail.
Permissive Parents are high on Love and Grace but low on Truth. These parents tend to be warm, supportive, loving people but weak in establishing rules or limits. Permissive parents usually give in to the demands of children. They want to be friends more than parents. Often, permissive parents end up taking up all the slack for their growing slacker kids. As a result, the kids don’t grow up confident because they’ve never learned to take responsibility or ownership of their lives.
Balanced Parents are high on Grace and high on Truth. It takes a lot more work and energy than the other 3 models. Balanced Parents take time to intentionally instill a deep connection of love and worth in their child, and they also set firm rules and limits and stick to them. They train their children to take responsibility and give consequences for defiance, but love and acceptance are never withdrawn.
Here are some specific ways to create the rich soil of Grace and the structured discipline of Truth:
Creating the soil of Grace:
‘May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.’ -Ephesians 3:17-19 (TLB)
The job of parents is to fill up your children’s tanks with the love that comes from God. When children grow up empty on the inside, they do all kinds of harmful things to try to fill themselves up. Many of us have been there done that.
Unconditional Love – Parents must help kids internalize a sense of being loved for who they are, not what they do.
Creating the soil of Grace (Love) is all about helping a kid internalize one thing: ‘You matter…period.’ It’s that simple ‘You matter to God, to me… no matter what, period.’
This helps us grow into adults who are confident. It’s the foundation for confidence in a world that will constantly tell them that they’re worthless unless they perform or look or do what others want.
Quantity Time – You have to show them they matter. When you choose free time with kids it instills confidence that says, ‘You’re worth being with. You’re more valuable than golf, friends, or even chores. You’re worth my time.’ Many of us grew up with parents who didn’t have time for us, and we resent it—but we also learned their set of values, and it’s what’s driving decisions we make. We may need to rethink what we learned to raise a balanced next generation.
You create the soil of Grace (of love and acceptance) by investing your discretionary time.
True story: an 18 year old boy who was being sentenced before a Judge who was a personal friend of his fathers. The judge said, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, disgracing your family name, causing your parents such anguish. Your father is an upright citizen in this community. I have personally served on numerous committees and I know his commitment to the welfare of our city. I consider your dad a close personal friend, so it’s with deep regret that I sentence you for this crime.” The boy hung his head with embarrassment as he listened. Then he asked if he could speak and said, “Judge, I don’t mean to be disrespectful or make excuses, but I envy you. There were many days and nights I wanted to be my father’s best friend. There were times I needed his help, with sports, with school, with girls. But my father was gone a lot—probably serving on those committees with your or playing golf. I’ve always felt that other things were more important than I was. I truly wish I knew my father like you do.” The judge was so stunned, he reversed the sentence and order that the boy and his father spend time together every week. The father was humiliated, but did it, and it was the turning point of his son’s life.
Do a time audit on yourself. See how many discretionary hours you really have, and then make some choices. They will be hard choices, but you have choices and your kids matter to God. Simple things like scheduling dinner time together or having nights or Saturday mornings consistent can make a huge difference.
Quality Time – What you do with the time you invest matters too instilling Grace, building confidence. If you just sit in the same room watching TV or playing video games or with your phone, this is not quality time. You need to get into their world and develop them. Ask questions and listen. Listen with your eyes and your ears. The way you listen to a kid either says “What you think matters” or “What you think is not worth my full attention.” Kids aren’t stupid—they pick up on your messages. When they are talking to you, and you look them in the eyes, touch them, and give them full attention—it tells them they matter.
Grace alone is unbalanced. Training with Truth the other ½ of the balancing act is much tougher. Parents job is not only to give kids the confidence that they are loved and valuable, it’s also to help them learn to be responsible and face the world and be confident in the face of the truth about life’s challenges. You can’t just be a loving friend. You have to be a trainer and coach and the bad guy sometimes.
Scripture says, ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it’. Proverbs 22:6
‘Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ Ephesians 6:4
Let’s look at how to bring the balance of structure to support healthy growth. How do you do this?
Set Clearly Defined Limits – Training kids for confidence means defining boundaries of right and wrong behavior. You bring them up in training and instruction. You don’t beat them down. Kids must grow up understanding they are loved and valued, but also that they are responsible for their lives and their choices as they grow up – their choices affect others and they have a job to do in the world.
If children learn to delay gratification (can hear “No”), practice self-control (can say “No” to themselves), and to set and receive limits—they will become adults who can confidently face the world. If not, it will be a huge hurdle they’ll have to overcome to succeed.
Give Consequences. Clear limits or rules are useless if you don’t follow through with consequences. If you warn and warn but never deliver—the kid learns that you’ll change your mind—it’s not really her responsibility to obey. This trains a child to be irresponsible and not take ownership of her behavior.
The key is to set clear rules, clear boundaries that teach kids respect for authority and for other people, and choose them wisely, then enforce them CALMLY, 100% of the time.
If they know the rules clearly, and if they know the right choice will bring praise and reward and the wrong choice will bring undesirable consequences then you’re teaching them truth about life. (All choices bring consequences—good or bad. Giving good consequences is very important too to catch them making right choices and verbally praise them)
Develop Responsibility. As your kid gets older, develop them to take responsibility. This means training them and helping them gain the skills to do it not just telling them what to do. It’s like apprenticeship. I do, you watch (we talk). The kids watches you cook, or do the yard, then you discuss what you did and why. I do, you help (we talk). You do the bulk of the task, but start giving them smaller parts to own, give encouragement and corrective feedback. Do this for a while, then You do, I help (we talk). Let them do more and more, giving encouragement and feedback. Then finally You do, I watch (we talk). By this time, they are confident and you encourage and watch mainly to instill that they’ve got it.
Parenting is incredibly challenging, and you won’t do it perfectly, but keep learning. Parenting should humble you—it should drive you to your knees asking God to fill you with His Grace and Truth, that you might pass it on.”
To watch or listen to this message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
For more articles and insights from John, go to www.johnburkeonline.com.