Grace, and P.A.C.E.


‘Regular’ parenting was one of the most challenging things I have ever tried to do. Single parenting is even more so – and I say that as someone who feels extremely well supported by my family, church family and friends – many single parents have much less to go on, and I have huge respect for the responsibility and trials of raising children without a partner. It’s often thankless – at least in the moment. It exposes the worst in you, it’s exhausting, infuriating, you don’t have someone to tag in for you, or to ask ‘was that ok?’ when you’ve muddled your way through any given parenting conundrum.

Many sweet and wonderful moments, and many gruelling ones. I have wonderful children, but they are children, and children aren’t easy. I have a genuine, abiding hope and joy in Jesus that lifts my eyes and gives me strength in many moments, and yet there’s plenty of moments of infuriation – some suppressed and some not – plenty of clenched teeth and tongues bit. Plenty of time bringing discipline, and plenty of apologies to them for where I’ve gotten it wrong myself. Lots of laughter, and plenty of moments with my head in my hands for one reason or another. Love these kids. They are sweet, hilarious, wonderful people. They bring me joy, and they wring me out.

So I’m working this out day by day and I wanted to share a couple of books that I have found most helpful in my ongoing attempt to be a faithful father to these two.

The first is the bible, which I’ve talked about in plenty of other posts. It tells you about God, how to know him, how to be saved, where to find satisfaction and peace and comfort and fullness of life and joy even and especially in the middle of suffering. Read it, believe in Jesus, he will change your life.

The second is Paul David Tripp’s book, Parenting. It’s about parenting in light of the bible, so if my first recommendation didn’t make sense to you, maybe pick it up anyway and see how much sense the bible makes when applied to raising children. The core that runs through every chapter is the grace of God.

In other words, that we need God’s help, strength, wisdom, kindness, and all that he readily gives when we ask him – to help us to love and raise our children well and show them what he is like. It’s also clear on the truth that I can’t make my children ‘good’ by any system or strategy – I need to show them that we all need to be transformed by the gospel, forgiven, to have our hearts made clean and changed by the savious. It means explaining that to them over and over and over again, demonstrating it through forgiveness, and asking for their forgiveness too when I sin against them. The book has lots of practical examples and I would recommend it.

The third is a book we picked up while going through adoption training (Ali was diagnosed just after, so we never actually adopted.) It’s called Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Traumatised Children.

It’s a very tough read in some ways because it’s written primarily to those caring for deeply wounded children – but there is a principle of parenting outlined in it that I believe would benefit any parent to understand. They talk about a way of relating to children in your care that they call ‘the Attitude’ – and which is also known as ‘P.A.C.E’ – which stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy. Loosely, it looks like this:

Playfulness – having fun with your children. Some children don’t know how to have fun. More adults have no clue. Learning to be in the moment with them and just enjoy playing together – and so often horrendous tantrums can be defused by changing tack and making things fun. My son won’t eat his food – so now it’s a plate of very important tiny municipal buildings that I really don’t want him to knock down and chew up. Tedious standoffs over tidying up become a race to see who can clean up the quickest. Doesn’t always work. At the same time – I often forget to try, or simply really don’t want to – but I don’t want to be a dad who’s forgotten how to have fun.

Acceptance – these kids will wring you dry. You still choose to love them without condition. You tell them about it all the time, and by your continuing decision to restore relationship and give your affection, you show them that it is true. You can show unconditional love for them without approving of everything they do.

Curiosity – find out about their world. My kids are only 4 and 6 and I already get plenty of ‘I’m not telling you’ when I ask them about their day at school, but make it clear that you are interested in them. Sometimes, because I can naturally be pretty selfish, it helps me to be reminded to be curious about them. And if they don’t open up until 7.30pm when you’re desparate for a rest, sometimes you just make the most of the opportunity to talk.

Empathy – trying to understand how they feel, and expressing that understanding in a caring way. I know you think I’m mean for rushing you to get ready for school this morning. I think you might be a bit worried about the new club you’re joining. I love how excited you are about your friends coming over! I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. It isn’t fair or normal, and I love you. Sometimes their behaviour is so explosive or frustrating, and I need reminding that these are very young people finding their way in an often confusing, frightening and unfair world, and empathy gives me compassion for them.

I want God to help me to practice these things more consistently, and in each there is such a big echo of the father heart of God towards us. So: grace, and P.A.C.E. God, help us to parent in a way that echoes the love of the greatest father of all, may they learn from us and see in us that the gospel is true, and in all our weakness may our children yet see through us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.