Sunday, February 1, 2015

Grace-Based Parenting

The book I ordered, Grace Based Parenting by Dr.Tim Kimmel, arrived this week. This weekend I dove in and I'd like to share some thoughts and many quotes with you.

Dr. Tim Kimmel, a prolific author, runs the non-profit organization, Family Matters. I gathered from the Amazon reviews that at times the 2005-published book sounds very judgmental (especially in the first two chapters), as though no one but Tim and his wife get the whole parenting thing correct (unintended tone I'm sure). I told myself going in that I would overlook any possibly offensive tone, and get through the book for what I can glean about grace-ful parenting.

Now forty pages in, I know I don't agree with all his views, so I'll comment on that before outlining his first chapter. I don't seek to be controversial in what I'm about to discuss, only to give another side--a side I know intimately.

Regarding some parenting choices, he's simply coming from a different vantage point then veteran homeschoolers. Tim emphatically believes that Christian kids should not be sheltered from the world, and in that sense he is anti-homeschooling. It isn't that he thinks homeschooling is wrong per se, only that if parents choose it for the sake of sheltering their kids, then it's a mistake. The goal, he would say, is turning out children who are strong (in the Lord, in themselves), not fearful.

He states in articles and question-and-answer sessions that every schooling choice comes with advantages and disadvantages, but I sense (and others have too) that he feels homeschooling is generally chosen by the fearful ones. While some parents might start homeschooling with fear as a motivator, I don't think that feeling remains paramount after the process has produced positive changes within the family system and family relationships. Most people persevere in their homeschool more because of the blessings involved, not because of fearing the alternatives.

He's written about and thought extensively about how to raise children who are strong in the Lord--and he's father and grandfather to solid Christians. I'm sure he's a wealth of knowledge on the subject (which is why I'm reading his book) but about homeschooling he's missing intimate knowledge and perspective.

My vantage point is that a solid Christian home environment with lots of face time and spiritual discussion between adults and kids, makes them strong, and the testing of that strength (putting them in the world) ideally should come in time-spaced increments based on demonstrated spiritual maturity, rather than in six- to seven-hour segments five days a week, starting at age 3 (preschool) or 5 (kindergarten).

The biblical commitment to teach and strengthen children in the Lord is far more challenging when you have to spend time deprogramming them from the 30+ weekly hours spent apart from you. Children are not generally forthcoming with information about their day--until they're desperate for help. Worldly ideas and thought processes can creep in, leaving you unaware.

Notice I say the above is far more challenging, not impossible. Many public- or private-schooling families balance it all very well.

Tim would say you can't train children in the Lord well without exposing them to the world (as if homeschooling families never run errands, go to parks, libraries, doctor's appointments, entertainment outlets, use other teachers, see other kids, take field trips, use media, etc.). Public schooling is not the only way to expose children to the world, nor is it the most lucrative.

Homeschooling doesn't necessarily shelter children. Rather, it exposes them selectively, with a parent in tow to witness and immediately comment on the exposures--a parent who will take mental notes and present a Bible truth related to the exposure, if needed.

In his comments he adds that homeschooling also isn't a good choice if it "holds the whole family hostage". I can't imagine what he means by that, unless he refers to financial hardship due to single-income status, or perhaps a chronic medical condition in Mom or Dad that would preclude homeschooling. 

I might add that what is unacceptable financial hardship for one family might be a blessing in spiritual growth to another.

Yes, homeschooling involves hardships, but Tim's not acquainted with its blessings. I don't know that I can adequately describe for anyone the blessings inherent in homeschooling. The togetherness is just so rich, like it must have been for Jesus and his disciples as they ate, drank, traveled, and spoke of deep spiritual truths day in and day out--especially the case for Peter, James and John, who were closest to Jesus.

I realize that since I'm not acquainted with the blessings of public or private school, my vantage point is as narrow as Tim's. My son Peter was in preschool for a year, and then public kindergarten for about 6 weeks. That's the total of my experience parenting brick-and-mortar-educated kids (though I taught in this setting for a decade).

What I currently know about public schooling comes from articles and parenting comments. It seems that schools are dealing with an unprecedented bullying problem, indicating school adults have lost control of the bullies. As more kids come to school brokenhearted (resulting from a worldly society) more are going to have psycho-social reasons to bully their peers. All of our neighbor kids dislike school because it doesn't feel emotionally safe to them, due to bullying and other issues beyond their control.

As our culture has edged closer to the enemy than to God, many children aren't thriving in public school, but merely surviving. I think the decision to homeschool nowadays is less about immoral influences in the school culture, and more about whether kids feel a sense of well-being there (and whether their intellectual needs are being met).

Social, moral, spiritual, and intellectual growth come hard fought for everyone--but what price is too steep? Ideally, children should feel challenged by their everyday environment (asked to solve problems that are within their skill set) but not oppressed. My impression is that tenderhearted kids don't do as well in the current school environment (tenderhearted not being the same thing as fearful--fears can be overcome, but not personality traits).

Popularity contests, mimicking peers, and bullying are far less prevalent in colleges and in the workplace, so I would argue that these venues are better places to expose young people to the world sans-parents. The environment in elementary and secondary schools really doesn't mimic any other part of life, and when we look at world history, public schooling is a relatively new phenomena.

Public schooling became necessary and providential because parents were spending most of their time on daily subsistence activities--hunting, gathering, skinning and cooking animals, baking, gardening, laundry, storing food for winter, etc. Surviving was time-consuming and often required an older child's help.

Nowadays, with a myriad of convenience options available to us, we have time to educate our own children, if desired. It requires a scaled-down, simplistic style of living, but it's a viable option compared to past history.

But is it oppressive to some children?

Whether a child feels oppressed in a homeschooled environment depends on whether they're being taught by a loving, conscientious parent without a personal agenda (without an agenda opposed to the Lord's), and whether they have siblings or other exposures to playmates, and whether they're able to practice their God-given talents and bents (in other words, be who they were meant to be without repercussion).

Public- and private-school environments vary across the country and even in the same cities--the key is to be aware of the environment and how it affects your individual child. Is your child merely challenged, or oppressed? Talk, talk, talk about it all with your child. Become an expert in drawing your child out, and visit the school as often as you can because kids will define themselves--their abilities, gifts, worth--by their peers if we let them. A lot of discipling and discussion need to occur to ensure they're defining themselves by the Word and by the unique bent God gave them.

A sure sign they're using the wrong parameters to define themselves? I'd say it's when they suddenly want what everyone else has, or what everyone else experiences (and the same is true for adults).

Now that I've (rather extensively) given a soapbox commented on Tim's vantage point and included my own, here's an introduction to the first chapter of his book Grace Based Parenting:

Typical parenting methods Tim Kimmel sees in the Christian community:

1. Fear-Based Parenting

Tim Kimmel says (his words in italics):

"We're scared of Hollywood, the Internet, the public school system, Halloween, the gay community, drugs, alcohol, rock 'n' roll, rap, partying neighbors, unbelieving softball teams, liberals, and Santa Claus. Our fears determine our strategy for parenting....When I look at how the standard evangelical family has formatted their strategy for parenting, most often I see fear behind the steering wheel...Fear-based parenting is the surest way to create intimidated kids. It's also the surest way to raise Christian kids who either don't have any passion for lost people, are indifferent to the things of God, or out-and-out rebel against their parents, their church, and the Lord." 

2.  Evangelical Behavior-Modification Parenting

"This is an offshoot of fear-based parenting that assumes the proper environment, the proper information, the proper education, and the absence of negative influences will increase the chances of a child's turning out well. This parenting plan works from two flawed assumptions: (1) that the battle is primarily outside the child (it's not); and (2) that the spiritual life can be transferred onto a child's heart much like information place on a computer hard drive (it can't). There is very little below the surface that draws on the faith needed to sustain the harsh "hits" from culture or to go into a deep, mature relationship with God. These are homes where God moves in the head but seldom gets to move in the heart."

3. Image-Control Parenting 

"A checklist method of parenting that is part of the seduction of legalism. Image-control parenting assumes that people will know you are a good Christian parent raising nice Christian offspring by your church attendance, the way you dress (or don't dress), the way you cut your hair (or don't), the words and expressions you use (or don't use), the schools you attend (or don't attend), the movies you see (or don't see), the amount of Scripture you can quote, the version of the Bible you read, and the kinds of treats you give out for Halloween (if you participate at all)."

4. High-Control Parenting

"There is a vast difference between parents who keep their children under control and parents who control them. High-control parenting happens when we leverage the strength of our personality or our position against our children's weaknesses to get them to meet our selfish agenda."

5.  Herd-Mentality Parenting

"These are parents who follow the crowd. If the crowd is overscheduling their kids with sports, extracurricular activities, and every event the church has to offer, they do, too. These parents aren't known for thinking as individuals. Instead they follow the fads in how they eat, dress, vacation, educate their kids, play, and worship. Rather than pray for guidance and study each of their children to determine what is best for that child, they look around and parent like everyone else is doing."

6. Duct-Tape Parenting

"Rather than figure out how to fix their parenting issues, these families cope by patching their problems. Temporary solutions are sought when crises arise. These families are running on empty--too busy, too many bills, and too focused on the immediate rather than the permanent."

7. Life-Support or 911 Parenting

"These homes are much like the duct-tape families but with the added feature that a particular crisis is dominating their focus. They may be consumed with a medical or economic crises. Or the crises may be the result of the deterioration or collapse of a marriage."

My comments: As I read his description of the different types of Christian parents, I thought: Don't we all fall into some of these, some of the time? What about the learning curve? He can't so easily characterize parenting styles, and he never qualified these at all, but merely presents them as though every parent is either one or another. The fact is, we get better in our parenting as we mature and endure hard knocks, and become more in tune to the Holy Spirit's leading.

The nature of the Christian walk is that the Lord is always drawing us closer--closer to the Bible, closer to the Lord's agenda. As Christians we're rarely stagnant, unless we've given up our First Love.

At the close of chapter one, Tim lays out three driving needs that every child has:

1. A need for security
2. A need for significance
3. A need for strength

Through the book he teaches that "the way to meet these needs is by giving your children three valuable gifts: Love, Purpose, and Hope. If we've done our jobs adequately, our children should leave our homes with a love that is secure, a purpose that is significant, and a hope that is strong."

Stay tuned for more from Dr. Tim Kimmel on grace-based parenting...

What are your thoughts as you read his work here?


Anonymous said...

'Become an expert in drawing your child out, and visit the school as often as you can because kids will define themselves--their abilities, gifts, worth--by their peers if we let them. A lot of discipling and discussion need to occur to ensure they're defining themselves by the Word and by the unique bent God gave them.'
Amen to that! What you've written makes a lot of sense. You always take great care to state what you think and why. I will be interested to know more.

One thing I'd like to know is what Tim Kimmel's doctorate is in, because sometimes authors use their doctorate as a kind of badge of worthiness for their book, when their doctorate was actually in an entirely different field. I like to check the credentials of the author.

My dad is a professor and signs his business emails as Prof. John Smith. He has published books in his specialist area with this title. But if he wrote a book about the gospel of Luke, for example, it would be wildly inappropriate to say that it was written by Prof. John Smith because his academic specialism is not theology. Anyway... I'm always interested in what you have to say :-)

Christine said...

His website doesn't say what his doctorate is in, but it appears to be in psychology or counseling, based upon his body of work. He is quite active in speaking, writing, and conducting workshops for families, churches, etc.

Thank you for visiting. Hope you have a blessed week, Sandy.

Rachel E. said...

I have heard of this book. Your description makes me NOT want to read it.

Have you seen Kirk Cameron's documentary, Monumental? It was quite good and talks about homeschooling verses public school.