I recently received an email in which a mom expressed fear that it was too late to parent her tween and teenage boys with grace.
She concluded her email with, “Grace is scary to me. It’s not how I was raised and it’s not how my husband and I have raised our boys so far. Thanks for any help you can give me.”
So I want to share with you what I shared with her, because, my friends, I’m guessing some of you might be fearing the same thing.
And while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I am still very much growing in my own discovery of what it looks like to receive and give grace, I do know this:
It is never too late to give our kids grace. Never.
Whether we are just beginning or just ending a particular season of parenting, it is never too late to say to our kids,
“This parenting thing can be hard and confusing and I don’t always know what I am doing. So I want to start by telling you I am sorry for the ways I have not reflected God’s heart to you and have not acted as a vessel of God’s love for you. I am just beginning to understand what grace means. I’ve had a hard time accepting God’s unconditional love for me in all of my weaknesses and failures, so it’s been very hard for me to show you God’s unconditional love for you in your weaknesses and failures. But I want to do it differently, and with God’s help, and by God’s grace, I will.”
One of the most beautiful things we can do is confess to our kids the ways in which we have gotten it wrong on our own, and how we desire to do it differently with God’s help and by God’s grace.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with your kids about this. They don’t need you to be perfect and all knowing. In fact, they already know you aren’t. They find great comfort in your willingness to acknowledge your own imperfection and struggles. And, even better, it gives them permission to acknowledge their own imperfection and struggles to you! Your home becomes a safe place, where, together, you grow in grace.
To start giving your kids grace, we need to be clear on what grace in parenting is …… and isn’t.
What is Grace not?
Grace is not God looking at our sin and ignoring it or excusing it. Grace is not a free pass to sin or do as we please.
What is grace?
Grace is God looking at our sin – the gravity and magnitude of it—and out of His great love, choosing to give us Jesus to atone for it.
When we believe in and rely on Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection, we are covered in the righteousness of Christ and we can stop striving for a righteousness of our own.
Rather, we can live in grateful obedience for all that has already been done for us in Jesus. We can live FROM His love, not FOR it.
Because of Jesus, God doesn’t love us any less when we get it wrong, and God doesn’t love us any more when we get it right. And knowing this beautiful truth inspires and compels us to love and obey God for the way He has first loved us in Christ.
That is grace.
Now translate that to parenting.
Giving our kids grace is not ignoring or excusing their sin. It is not giving them a free pass to sin or do as they please. It is not the absence of rules or boundaries or consequences.
Giving our kids grace means weaving the Good News of Jesus Christ into how we establish our authority, require obedience, train, and discipline our kids.
It is weaving the unconditional love (and acceptance and forgiveness!) of God into how we address their sin and weaknesses. To weave grace into our parenting, we have to remember that when God disciplines us, He is not pointing a finger in our face, trying to show us who is boss, with a big frown on His face. He is not relying on shame and anger to convict and transform our hearts.
He is rushing in to rescue us from our sin and redirect us to the path that leads to life.
To give our kids grace means to reflect God’s heart of unconditional love in the way we lead them. It means we treat our children the way that Romans 2:4 (MSG) tells us God, in Christ, treats us.
“God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness He takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.”
Yes, grace can feel scary when we misunderstand what grace is. But when we remember what Scripture tells us over and over again—that it is the grace (the unconditional love) of God that makes us desire to live in obedience to the commandments of God—grace is no longer scary. It becomes the very thing to which we cling and in which we anchor our hope!
Yes, teach your kids the law of God. Yes, require obedience and give fair consequences. Yes, equip them with skills for Godly living. And yes, impress on them a deep love for God by impressing on them God’s deep love for them. (Deut 4:6-7) So very yes to all of that.
But remember, grace alone is what “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12).
Love for Christ inspires obedience to Christ. Not law, but love.
And it is never too late to give love.
Discover how to weave grace into your parenting in everyday, practical ways in Jeannie’s book, Parenting the Wholehearted Child.
Jeannie Cunnion is a Jesus lover and a grace clinger. She is the author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child, and her passion is encouraging women to live from the freedom found in being fully known and fully loved by God (a message her own heart needs to hear daily).