Grace, not perfection, is the true goal.
Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, is married and the father of two boys. His newest book, When Parenting Isn’t Perfect, explores the dangers of attempting to create the impossible: a perfect family.
A BLANKET OF GRACE
Daly candidly discusses the ups and downs of real family life from his perspective, warning parents of the inherent risk of trying to mold children into an unachievable standard with perfection as the end goal. He notes that Christian families in particular can struggle with this principle because they read in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
He explains that this text is meant to communicate the Christ follower’s intent to keep moving toward God and to progressively emulate Jesus in one’s life and actions. God, knowing we cannot be perfect, offers a blanket of grace that parents must extend to their children.
“Grace is all about telling our kids that we’ve got their backs. That we love them even when they mess up. And when kids aren’t so worried about failing, they have the license to really stretch their wings and see what they can do,” he says.
Daly is a living testimony to the fact single parent families can succeed in raising healthy children. His father was out of the picture early on, and his mother worked long hours to provide for Daly and his four siblings.
“Like a lot of single moms, she wasn’t home a lot. But she made us laugh. She made us feel special. Somehow, even though sometimes I saw her just a few minutes a day, it was enough. Her love made the difference,” he says.
Daly encourages parents to first know each child as an individual, being attentive to their emotional swings and moods and understanding how to bring that special spark of love and hope and laughter to them.
“It’s important to be really with your child when you’re spending time with them. Put away the phone. Enter into their world as much as possible,” he says. “Remember, this is their time. Even if it’s as simple as playing a video game with them or attending a make-believe tea party, it communicates to them their value to you and your love for them. And that’s what kids need more than anything.”
IMPERFECT VS. INDIFFERENT PARENTS
Perhaps one of the most valuable takeaways for today’s mom and dad is Daly’s differentiation between imperfect parenting and indifferent parenting. The truth is every parent is imperfect and makes mistakes. The indifferent parent, on the other hand, ignores those mistakes without asking for forgiveness and just moves on.
“It’s all about intentionality. Indifferent parents are often selfish parents. They may love their kids, but it’s still, really, all about the parents,” he says. “And often, the kids’ own wants and needs take a back seat.”
WHAT SHOULD STICK
Daly also notes that given the age in which most individuals are feeling information overload, surprisingly not much of it sticks. He believes that Christian booksellers’ position in society is more important than ever before because their stores are “curators for what sticks, and what should stick. Books can be both timely and timeless, up-to-the-minute relevant and eternally valuable. The books we read, if they’re good books, become a part of us. Like families, they require time and attention, and they always seem to pay us back with interest.”
Booksellers can best support the message of this new book by communicating to shoppers that it’s okay to make mistakes. “It’s okay to give your kids a little bit of grace, and occasionally to ask for some grace in return,” says Daly. “That’s what God gives us, after all. We should do no less.”
— Michele Howe