Ready for another installment in my Reflections on Grace-Based Parenting series? It's based on the book by Tim Kimmel. Today I am writing about the 9th chapter, "The Freedom to Be Candid," but first I wanted to back up and give you an extra quote from the previous chapter, "The Freedom to Be Vulnerable." It really ministered to me this morning, especially in light of the Major Mommy Meltdown I had yesterday. Fortunately for me, my husband came home, made dinner, calmed everyone down, gave me a good long back rub, and tried to humor me out of my despair. Anyway, here are the quotes...
“As adults, we know that those who follow the well-worn path to the base of the cross find ample room for heavy hearts and hurts that can't seem to heal. It's an amazing grace that doesn't trivialize the fickle nature of our personalities. There's no condescension waiting to counter our tendencies to become easily embarrassed. There are no lectures longing to straighten out the folly of our thinking. There's no mocking of our self-conscious thoughts, just a generous Savior with a gentle heart who knows how unsure we often are about ourselves... When circumstances scrub off the layers of their self-confidence, and their shortcomings wash away the foundation of their self-righteousness, Jesus isn't appalled by the blemishes He finds underneath. There's no sin too bad, no doubt too big, no question too hard, and no heart too broken for His grace to deal with.”
That's good new for me! How about for you?
OK, let's move on to "The Freedom to Be Candid" chapter.
Dr. Kimmel first points out that raw “honesty” is not always kind. It's really easy to ambush and then shred each other with toxic “truth.” I've had it happen to me, and I've done it to others. He goes on to contrast that with the concept of candor, which is really eye-opening for me. These are real-life, real-time issues at our house.
“That's why we need candor and not just honesty when it comes to the family. Candor isn't about catching people off guard to make them look worse than they are. Candor is several steps above honesty and is a way of communicating freely without prejudice or malice. Candor takes the truth and frames it in a way that helps rather than harms. There's also a high degree of fairness brought to bear within the true definition of candor... The third characteristic of grace-based homes is this: They are homes that give children the freedom to be candid. These are homes where what is on a child's mind can end up as dinner dialogue without fear of payback. That's because homes with candor create give-and-take between parents and children that promotes honesty dipped in honor... Grace makes the difference because it keeps honesty from getting ugly. It ratchets up the free exchange of heartfelt things to a much higher level of forthrightness – a careful forthrightness that guards the other person's dignity.”
Specifically, Dr. Kimmel notes that children need the freedom to be candid with things that are disappointing them about their parents (that's us), about their own sexuality, and about their spiritual lives. Here are some specific examples and my own comments on these topics:
Disappointments with parents: In the Kimmel family, starting when their kids were quite young, they often hosted “What's Your Beef?” evenings where each child could order whatever kind of food they wanted for dinner (picked up from an assortment of nearby takeout restaurants) and then get to hash over what was bothering them about mom and dad. The rules? The kids were not allowed to challenge moral rules or consequences, and the parents were not allowed to defend themselves! What about kids doing criticizing their parents rudely? Dr. Kimmel notes, “The best way to ensure that our children will speak respectfully when they are voicing their disappointment or disapproval over something is to make sure that is exactly how we speak to them when it's the other way around. Parents are dreaming if they think they can dishonor their children, bark and bite when they are addressing them, and then get anything less in return.” Ouch. Epic fail on my part yesterday. When our kids say things about us or to us, sometimes it is much easier to live in defensive denial and not openly acknowledge the pain we have caused. Humility accepts the possibility that there is at least a nugget of truth in their words.
Sexuality: If you won't listen to your teens talking about sex and then keep the conversation going, someone else will, and it may not be as reasonable as what you would say. They really do need to be able to say anything to you (including, “I'm pregnant” or "I think I'm gay") without you freaking out too much. Yes, conversations about sexuality can be awkward for parent and child, even if it is a six year old asking how babies are made. You could take the initiative by finding an age appropriate resource about sexuality and discussing it with your child, along with your own views. That could open up the on-going conversation for them to ask candid questions later on. If you are a conservative home schooling parent, you are likely to hear a lot about courtship among your circle of friends or in books, magazines and blogs. Please tread carefully here because a lot of the teaching is legalistic, rule-oriented and unrealistic. It can actually harm rather than promote healthy boy/girl and marriage relationships. As I wrote in my book The Real Life Home School Mom: “We need to learn to finish well, with love and grace, not an obsessive need to control the lives and destinies of our adult children. I believe the process of our children finding their mates should be a joyous time of following the leading of the Holy Spirit and getting to know one another in natural ways. Yes, parents can be involved, but we don't need to depend on legalistic regulations and intrusions. We pray for our children, walk by faith, and wait to see what God will accomplish.”
Spiritual lives: Another excerpt from The Real Life Home School Mom: “You may even find that a teen whom you thought had fully embraced the Gospel message as their own, now realizes that he or she had just been following along with what you taught, and now has serious questions about whether or not it is true. Many pastors we have known have told us this is true even in their own families, so don’t feel like you are unspiritual. It is better for this to come to light, rather than for a child to dwell in the false assurance that he is a Christian just because his parents are. This is actually a great opportunity for teaching your teen in a very purposeful and positive (non-judgmental) way what the Christian message is all about. There are all sorts of great apologetics books out there that explain the truth for young people, such as the youth editions of Lee Strobel’s books The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ and The Case for the Creator. Please take the time to know each child’s spiritual condition, just like a shepherd knows his sheep. Draw them out gently in private. Make it safe to talk to you by letting them know you are not going to intimidate or interrogate them, and that you won’t react in massive shock if they tell you something that you don’t want to hear. This is so important, especially in the teen years. We all want to be our children’s spiritual confidantes. This isn’t going to happen if we don’t have a warm and open relationship with them.” Even if your teens are followers of Christ, they can have differences of opinion about what that means. I've had some interesting conversations with some of my teens about why our family switched churches two years ago, how that has affected people in our family, and the pros and cons of the doctrinal emphases at each church. (For instance, we believe in baptism by immersion on profession of faith, but we currently attend a Presbyterian church that sprinkles infants. Go figure! Unfortunately, we have several kids who weren't baptized before we left the last church, and they want a good dunking!) We have allowed our teenagers to choose which church to attend.
Or, as Dr. Kimmel writes, “Grace-based families make room for their kids' opinions. They provide a safe forum in which to air their doubts, disappointments, and even their misguided beliefs. They especially provide an outlet for candor when their children's faith is on trial. Strident, unadaptable Christian homes have no clue what this looks like. They have rules that have to be kept and an image that has to be propped up. These are families that have distilled their faith down to a short stack of platitudes that stick like Post-it notes on the inner walls of their souls. These are not homes that encourage candor. They lead with critique and allow no rebuttal. Children in strident Christian homes have neither a voice nor a vote. For these parents, it's their way (but certainly not “God's Way”) or the highway. If you ever want to know how to close down your children's hearts to the deeper issues of the Spirit, just trade authentic faith for the cheap imitation that strident, graceless parenting has to offer.”
I know that this book and my blog post are primarily about parenting, but I would like to extend these three topics (relationship disappointment, sexual issues and spiritual struggles) to marriage and friendship. These are certainly areas that each of us needs to be able to discuss openly with a husband or wife without fear of ridicule or recrimination, even (and especially) when we are at our lowest points of doubt and despair. The same is true of our friends, to a more limited extent. I have several long-time friends who have walked away from conservative evangelical Christianity and embraced different worldviews and/or alternative sexual lifestyles. Usually there is a story behind such a drastic change, such as a family crisis or disappointments with churches. It is not my job to lecture them or try to reconvert them, but to listen well to their story and keep an intelligent conversation going. I find myself learning candor and compassion as I go, sharing my own stories with them, as friends do.
I'd like to close this post with three Bible verses from the chapter on candor that apply to all kinds of relationships.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ... Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” ” Ephesians 4:15, 29
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
It is my hope that when my children talk to me, they will find grace, mercy, and truth to meet their needs.
My previous posts in this series are:
Chapter 1: "Why Well-Meaning Parenting Falls Short" Chapter 2: "The Truth Behind Grace" Chapter 3: “A Secure Love” Chapter 4: "A Significant Purpose" Chapter 5: "A Strong Hope" Chapters 6-8: "A Delivery System for Grace and The Freedom to Be Different and Vulnerable"
You may also wish to read these related posts:
What do you think about all of this? Please leave a comment!