Parenting Paradox

By Cindy Koch

Most of us tend to go one way or the other. Along the spectrum of rules and grace, we gravitate toward a comfort zone, possibly because of our upbringing, or maybe it’s just our personality. But there are so many different manifestations of this along the way. In our various situations and circumstances, I think parents are given one of the hardest jobs in the book. “Train up a child in the way that he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). What parents pass to their children will train them how to understand life, this world, and ultimately their God.

So what does God want his children to know? Throughout the Old Testament, God shows his great works by delivering and saving his chosen people. No matter how terrible they were, no matter how many times they forgot Him, God loved his people with unbounded mercy. But at the same time, God gave His commands. Do this, follow this, and you will live. This is right; this is unacceptable. Black and white, life and death. His word is true, and it does not change even when his beloved people fail. He is God who is both truth and grace.

This is where it gets a little messy. Moms and dads, we are training up our children in truth and grace. Parents must enforce and teach righteousness and justice. At the same time, parents must freely give mercy and forgiveness. Two ends of the spectrum, clashing together in a parenting paradox.

There was a time when my two first daughters were toddlers when I intentionally tried to parent to one end of the spectrum. I had many other friends at the church with children all about the same age. In our weekly meetups and Bible Studies, the little ones played not-so-quietly all around our feet. It ended up being the prime time for each of us to show off our enlightened parenting skills. All of us were new to this rodeo, working out the kinks in our parenting philosophy, and here, trying to out-Gospel the other moms. To say the least, these times quickly became overrun with deviant little children who were cautiously hidden from the condemning Law, in fear that our kids would not be trained up in the Gospel.

I can remember that sunny spring day in Georgia when the kids were tumbling up and down a plastic playschool slide. Each of us stood back just enough, but not too far, because we all knew something was brewing as their energy increased. My daughter scampered up to the top just as her little friend was sitting down to slide. She must have hesitated just a little too long, because my daughter impatiently leaned forward, as if to help her along. But instead of the fateful push down the slide I was anticipating, my daughter leaned back with a huge smile on her face. Strange, I thought, until I saw her friend sitting at the top of the slide, silent screaming, frozen in pain. My daughter had bit her cheek. Hard. That bite made me immediately reexamine my parenting pendulum yet again. My one-sided approach was getting dangerous, especially for the other kids.

And I could tell you stories of times where I tried the other end as well. Rules and justice, no deviation around the spoken word. To date, I have had 19 ½ years of parenting experiments and a whole lot of mistakes. But it’s not finding the perfect point on the spectrum to stake your claim. It’s not a textbook balance of 40% righteousness and 60% mercy, or some other made-up formula. It’s both, 100% all the time.

As we learn from the story of our God and Father, grace and mercy, truth and righteousness, they intersect completely on the cross of Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness is upheld; his law is fulfilled. Christ paid the penalty that was required, no shortcuts. God’s mercy was shown, saving the people who didn’t deserve it. Christ reconciled the broken relationship; forgiveness is freely given. This is what we get to teach our kids. Train them up in the way he should go. Right and wrong, but forgiveness always and ever. Anger and consequences, love and reconciliation, both at the same time. It is certainly messy and confusing day to day, but our parenting paradox makes sense by the cross of Christ.