Highlands Blog

Parenting Teens & Reliance On Grace

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Family, Law & Grace, Parenting

Father talking seriously with his teen son. Parenting Teens.

The Process of Parenting Teens

With one child just out of their teens and five still in the throes of their teen years, I’ve understandably been thinking a lot lately about the process of young people transitioning into adulthood. This train of thought has also been triggered by the experiences of many of my peers who are also navigating these waters, and the idealism that many of us in the homeschooling movement bought into about how smooth the sailing would be. Turns out that sin and circumstance are still big factors churning the waters for both our children and ourselves.

Two Parenting Mistakes

I’m not saying that we were mistaken to shoot for a higher bar of godliness and excellence than the broader culture. By no means would I say that. The mistakes, at least in my experience and those of a number of my friends, were twofold: A lack of consistent dependence upon the grace of God and an assumption that sanctification and spiritual maturity progresses in a straight line.

When I say that there was a lack of dependence upon the grace of God, it wasn’t conscious, at least on our part. We knew that we are all saved by grace, and sanctification is also a work of grace. However, in our enthusiasm and diligence to make up for real or perceived shortcomings in our own upbringings, we often unwittingly made and executed our plans as if it all depended upon us. I would much rather depend upon God than myself, but this unconscious mindset of self-dependence brought insecurity and fear into our parenting, not to mention taking our eyes off of a loving, sovereign, gracious, God.

Losing Sight of Grace

For all our preaching and teaching about our gracious covenantal God and our covenant children, many of us parented at times under a covenant of works, rather than a covenant of grace. I am not saying that this was universal, but my anecdotal experience in my own life and many folks that I interact with, has affirmed that this was more common than we would like to admit.

We saw the inaction of Eli with regard to his sons in 1 Samuel, and we swore that we would not let that happen on our watch. While we are right not to imitate Eli, we must acknowledge that we can’t make anyone believe, and that includes our own children. It is all a work of grace.

Sanctification is Difficult

As to the lack of awareness of the often rocky and curvy process of sanctification and spiritual maturity, I believe that this was an outgrowth of the first mistake. We thought that if we did one thing properly, then things should transition smoothly into the expected result. We took the proverbs as universal and ironclad promises, instead of normative blessings. We expected the results to be immediate, seamless, and smooth, rather than rocky and sometimes a long time coming. When the road to wisdom sometimes entailed mistakes being made, and sins being committed, we thought that there was something dreadfully and irreparably wrong.

However, as it has been said elsewhere by wiser men than I, God often draws straight using crooked lines. His work of Spirit-wrought sanctification uses both a staff to guide and a rod to admonish. The staff is for the obedient, and the rod is for the disobedient. God uses both our successes and our failures to shape and refine us. Failing at something doesn’t make one a failure. True failure only occurs when no lessons are learned, no repentance occurs, and no forgiveness is granted.

Over-Correcting Parenting Mistakes

For many of us, not only did we try to implement the things that our own parents did well, but we also tried to compensate for the things that we feel that they did not do so well. As is often the case, we compensated like a pendulum, swinging too far in the other direction. While we may not have swung quite as far in the new direction as our parents did in theirs, we still tended to go too far. Good intentions to be sure, but bad execution.

I believe that, in many of the children in these circles who have reached adulthood, the results have been mixed. Over time, they have seen much good in what their parents sought and sacrificed greatly to do. However, they often bear a burden of being “better than” whatever the standard was that their parents were trying to beat, instead of just seeking to be faithful Christians in whatever arena God might place them, according to whatever strengths or limitations that they might have. Our overemphasis on particulars, rather than the centrality of the gospel of grace, has led many young adults to swing their own pendulum in the opposite direction.

Patient Parenting

It is here that we must remember that pendulums never stay in one place—in time, they will swing back. Let us be patient to let God do His work, in His time, along the path that He will choose for our children. The transition might be smooth for some, rocky for others. Let the truth of God not be silenced, but let the loving, saving, and sanctifying grace of God shine through all of it.


Have you experienced the grace of God even in the weaknesses in your parenting? Talk to us in the comments below.

  • Tom Hester

    Dad and mom are fellow workers of GOD, especially with their children. St. Paul instructing his spiritual children, in Corinth wrote” According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 2 Cor: 3,10. Great article on rearing children, carnally or with grace. A serious dichotomy faced when reliance on oneself alone for godly results. Thanks Jay

    • Jay Barfield

      You’re welcome! Blessings to you.

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