At least once a year I try to read a book about parenting. If I read too many books on parenting, I get confused and overwhelmed by all the different suggestions. I simply can’t introduce too many ideas or strategies into my parenting all at once. One book a year, take some good ideas and work hard at making them a part of your daily approach to raising your kids.
Parenting by Paul David Tripp isn’t that kind of parenting book. In fact as much as it dealt with children it dealt with parents. Here’s the crux: I am just as much a sinner as my kids are and I’m just as much in need of God’s gracious parenting as my kids are and fortunately for us that what God gives us.
Tripp is not dealing with parenting strategies and techniques he’s dealing with the heart of the child and the heart of the parent and reading it helped me see the problems in both in my own life.
I resonated with the descriptions of angry parents because I cannot believe how frustrated I get when reason fails, bribery fails, threats fail and then my frustration has nowhere else to go and you wonder why your child hates you so much that getting out of the house has become a fight to the death, winner takes all, zero sum bout of mortal combat at 8 in the morning.
Paul Tripp comes in and says ‘don’t take it personally, it’s not about you’ and you know what he’s right. My children are struggling with me because they’re struggling with submission, authority and will. I can take it personally (which I have), which will make it worse (it does) or I can step back and realise that something deeper is going on, which neither child nor parent is usually aware of. Heart issues are as much at stake as much as it is about getting to the school on time.
Tripp helpfully analyses some common mistakes that parents make – getting their identity wrapped up in their children or managing behaviour instead of dealing with the heart, getting stuck in the issue of the day instead of thinking long-term.
We want perfect children now and forget that childhood is a training ground, of character development and formation and that this crucial task is not to be outsourced to either school or church and certainly not the media. Parents are given to children to train them ‘in the way that they should go’.
At times the book feels like it’s going to lead me to having 20 or 30 forced conversations a day about things like how not picking their clothes up is really a ‘gospel issue’ but that’s missing the point. The point is that daily life is the place where we work out the gospel. The close, intimate, daily, practice of living with other people is precisely the place where idols are identified, authority rebelled against, foolishness exposed in the parent and the child. The home is the place where we work out how to apply grace, and our need of mercy, our identity and security, and grow in our character.
So a few take home truths for me:
- Don’t take everything personally but see the deeper heart issue
- Confess your own sins and your own need of God’s grace as much as you point out your kids their sins and their need
- Model enjoying & loving God
- Remember God isn’t asking you to do what He alone can do and He’s not letting you parent on your own. He’s with you all the time.
- Learnt to connect the Gospel to the ups and downs of family life.
I’d recommend parents read this book because I believe it will help you as it helped me. It helped me trust God for my children because they are His before they are mine and because it reminded me that I am His too and He will help me in my weakness as I love, disciple, teach and train my kids on the way that they should go.