Have you ever thought about the way you parent? Now that our daughter is 18, sometimes I look back, and of course hindsight is 20/20 so I think about things and wonder what we might have done differently. It is easy to listen to all the loud voices out there telling you what you need to do as a parent, but I think the biggest challenge is figuring out how to discern which voices really give wise counsel.
Dr. Tim Kimmel, author of a number of books, including Raising Kids for True Greatness and Grace-based Parenting, is one of the best at getting to the heart of what it means to be a parent and what children really need from their parents. At a recent seminar he started the discussion of “Raising Truly Great Kids” by talking about when someone is effective at what they do, no matter how complex their responsibility, they can usually distill it down to very simple terms.
Your Outline for Parenting
So, if someone handed you a piece of paper and asked you to outline your overarching strategy for how you are raising your kids, could you do it in very simple terms? Don’t feel guilty if you can’t. Most parents struggle with this challenge.
“It is easy to get preoccupied with thinking that our primary responsibility is our children’s health, education and welfare, but these priorities don’t seem to matter when our kids have pushed every button on us,” says Dr. Kimmel. “You start wondering if there is an app on your smartphone to get your kids to be quiet and behave!”
Kimmel contends that the megaphone of our culture and the conventional wisdom behind it encourage parents to raise successful children. This sounds great until parents activate the plan and see how the culture is measuring success – wealth, beauty, power and fame. There is nothing wrong with any one of these four things in and of themselves, but it’s easy to unwittingly set your kids up to become defined by them and controlled by them in the process. When parents place major emphasis on these four areas, they have just handed their children four heavy anchors that will minimize their joy and hold back their potential.
Dr. Kimmel suggests that there is another way to parent children that sets kids up to be better prepared to be successful and gives parents more joy in their responsibilities of raising their kids.
Three Driving Core Needs
First, parents need to understand the three driving core needs of every child’s heart and how our culture appeals to these three needs in ways that exploit them.
One. Every child needs to know that the love they receive from their parents is a secure love. Some children believe they have to compete for their parents’ love. Others believe they have to earn it. Dr. Kimmel’s definition of love states, “Love is the commitment of my will to your needs and best interests, regardless of the cost.” Parents can work to build a secure love into the heart of their child by accepting the things about them over which they have no control like gender, physical features, learning styles, mannerisms, etc.
Two. All children need to know they have a significant purpose on this earth. Dr. Kimmel believes there are four levels of purpose that need to be developed in a child:
• A general purpose, which empowers a child to grow up and play a strategic role in the larger family of man;
• A specific purpose that helps a child to use their God-given skills and abilities wisely;
• A relational purpose, which allows a child to navigate his social context in a much more deliberate way; and
• A spiritual purpose which helps a child develop a meaningful and eternal relationship with God and prepares them to make a spiritual difference in the lives of others.
“Children need to know that they are more than footnotes in our daily lives,” says Dr. Kimmel. “You can help your children understand their purpose by offering genuine affirmation and encouragement, giving them focused attention and disciplining them appropriately.”
Three. The last inner need is a strong hope. Parents who are deliberate about meeting their children’s inner need for strength make it easier for their kids to grow up to be visionaries, to trust in a better future, to long for a greater good, and to ultimately put their hope in God.
“There are three ways parents can build a strong hope into their child’s heart:
• Recognize their God-given abilities and turn them into assets for the future,
• Lead them and encourage them to live a great spiritual adventure, and
• Help them turn their childhood into a series of positives accomplishments.
“It is important for parents to know these core needs and learn how to meet them in a way that sends children into the future prepared to take on the demands of adulthood with confidence,” says Dr. Kimmel.
In addition to the core needs, there are four freedoms kids’ hearts long for, but these freedoms are usually distant possibilities or no-shows in families because of the pressure on parents to raise extraordinary kids. Kids do not need perfect parents. Imperfect grace-based parents will do just fine according to Dr. Kimmel. If parents get this principle, their kids will turn out fabulous.
Children raised by grace-based parents are given the freedom to:
• Make mistakes
• Be different
• Be vulnerable
• Be candid
The key to cultivating these four freedoms in your home is raising your children in an environment of grace. When there is an atmosphere of grace in a home, parents lecture less and listen more, react less and respond more, dismiss less and engage more, judge less and pray more for their children.
“Grace-based homes meet a child’s true needs for security, significance and strength, and use each day to meet these needs with love, purpose and hope,” says Dr. Kimmel.
If you are raising your children in the midst of a crazy, busy life that often feels out of control or you feel like you parent out of fear, do yourself a favor and make the time to read Grace-based Parenting. If you are saying to yourself, ‘It’s too late,’ know that it is never too late. I have watched parents with toddlers and those with teenagers use the concepts Dr. Kimmel teaches to transform the way they parent and the environment in their home.
Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, a research and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.