I wonder what your “natural” parenting style is? We all have one. We’re shaped by our own experiences as a child, by our own parents, by our view of God as Father, as well as by secular and current parenting philosophies.
These may or may not be helpful contributory factors. One helpful starting point in parenting our children is to recognise what our theology of God is. Because our theology of God will inevitably impact how we raise our children. By this I mean how do we view God, and how do we think God views us?
“If we have flawed theology regarding God’s attitude towards us, it can automatically create a chain reaction of flawed decisions in how we raise our children. It can also set up our children to miss the joy of God, the heart of God, and the power of God in their personal lives. This is a recipe for the child to rebel and reject a parent’s primary belief system.”
Grace based parenting, Dr Tim Kimmel
If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend reading Covenant and Kingdom as a great overview of our relationship with God (covenant) and how we represent Him (kingdom).
As disciples of Jesus, we want to learn to look to him as our source of strength, resource and guidance in everything we do. And this includes our roles as parents.
If we have kids, then how to disciple and raise them in the words, works and ways of Jesus should be of utmost importance.
But as parents we can feel bombarded by the amount of things we have to think about. We can end up feeling guilty about what we’re not doing enough of, not doing well enough, or what we’re doing too much of. Before we know it we can in a bit of a tangle. And we don’t need to add guilt or inadequacy to the already overwhelming task of parenting.
We just need to be able to simply look to Jesus and replicate the things he modelled with his disciples in the lives of our children.
Of course, it’s harder to live out in day-to-day reality. BUT if we can draw the principles of discipleship that Jesus modelled and apply them in our role as parents then we have a massive head-start!
You may have already read Annwen’s excellent series on raising kids, looking specifically at how Jesus took his disciples round “the square”, and how we can do that with our kids as we disciple and raise them towards adulthood. You can read the first part of this series here. One thing that Jesus did with his disciples, as he discipled them towards greater maturity and responsibility, was to perfectly calibrate “Invitation” and “Challenge“. He perfectly gave the disciples the encouragement and affirmation they needed, when they needed it (Invitation). AND He also gave appropriate challenge when he saw behaviours and mind-sets that weren’t in line with Kingdom values (Challenge). You can see this specifically in Jesus interactions with Peter in Matthew 16:17-23. I’ve found it helpful to intentionally re-read the gospels through the “lens of invitation & challenge” to see how Jesus continuously calibrated both elements.
When we think of our natural parenting style we will naturally fall into a bias either towards “Invitation” or “Challenge”.
But if we want to become balanced parents, reflecting the heart of Jesus towards our kids then we need to learn to calibrate the balance of both.
This is what an Invitation/Challenge quadrant would look like in terms of parenting style and in terms of the child’s experience
Maybe we hear the word “challenge” as a negative thing; something which might communicate to our children that we don’t love them. However, “challenge” is a necessary and important part of growth for all of us.
As a parent I’m always seeking (not the same as “succeeding”!) to operate through the lens of grace. So challenge isn’t about getting mad with our kids. It’s bringing the gracious challenge they need to encourage Christ-like growth. How does our Father deal with us?
“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to get angry, full of unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all His creation.”
Psalm 145: 8-9
Grace means that God loves us just as we are, as He relates to us through the blood of Jesus. We are completely accepted and loved as His children. He does not bring challenge to us so that He is able to love us. He already loves us. He brings challenge to us because He loves us. He wants to refine us so that we look more like Him each day. As loving parents we want to do that with our kids just as our Father in heaven wants to do with us.
Challenge, when given graciously, is an access point to become more like Christ.
Let’s take a simple, exaggerated example of how Invitation & Challenge might play out. Imagine our 8 year-old and dial him back four years to a four year-old. Imagine getting him dressed every morning is really hard work. He cries all the time, and tells us he doesn’t want to do it. Imagine if I operated on the extreme end of high invitation and low challenge. Every time he cried or found the situation difficult I intervened and got him dressed. The crying would stop and my four year old would be dressed. But without any challenge I might still have an eight year old who wouldn’t get dressed for himself. Things might be nice and cosy for him but somebody else is paying the price. That somebody would be me. I now have three children and if none of my children got themselves dressed I would still be doing all the hard work of getting all my kids dressed. But actually my son would also pay the cost too. He would be disempowered in that area of his life, and it would probably be highly embarrassing for him if his friends realised what was happening. A simple challenge at the age of four, telling him that he was capable of getting himself dressed, with encouragements each time he put a sock on by himself, would quickly empower him.
I’ve noticed that generally I’m on the “high invitation” end of the spectrum. I naturally operate in “high invitation” (with a fairly high patience threshold) and then make a complete over-swing to “high challenge, low invitation”, when my patience has finally run out and I’m about to implode or explode.
On the other end of the spectrum if our kids receive all “challenge” and no “invitation” they’re also not able to thrive. If they are constantly told how they need to improve, where they’re going wrong and what needs to change they simply feel discouraged and unable to see how they will ever change.
So, I wonder where you fit on the Invitation/Challenge Spectrum?
Recognising which side we naturally operate in is a helpful starter. Then we can begin to think about how we engage with the other end of the spectrum.
Remember: as we bring Invitation & Challenge, it needs to be tailored and appropriate to the abilities, maturity, and understanding of the child in question (just as we would with adults that we are leading.)
Over to you…- any examples of Invitation & Challenge that have or haven’t worked?
Which side do you naturally operate in?
Anna is married to Rich and together the Robinsons lead the 3DM Europe team in Sheffield.
They have 3 children; Josiah, Esther and Samuel.
You can read lots of Anna’s thoughts, reflections and stories on family life by visiting here