EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Tim Kimmel is a popular speaker and author. He will be speaking at the Boys and Girls Club of East Texas’ upcoming Champions of Youth event at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Call 903-593-9211 for more information. This interview has been edited for length.
Q: I would say one of your most popular books is “Grace Based Parenting.” How would you say that “grace based parenting” is different from traditional parenting?
A: Grace-based parenting is giving your kids something they desperately need but don’t necessarily deserve at the moment, they might not even deserve period. It’s committing ourselves to loving them no matter what and getting them through wherever they are, without wanting to write them off. Traditional parenting is, like it or not, often distilled down to a performance. We have expectations of our children, they have expectations of us, we put each other on these performance standards and when we fall short, we let each other know how disappointed we are. And so, it’s kind of a no-win situation, because we all walk around with feet of clay; none of us measure up to what we wish we could be. On top of that, life comes at us extremely fast and I don’t think the culture that surrounds us is necessarily our friend when it comes to raising kids. All that just says that unless we have a counter-intuitive plan to bring the best out of our kids whether they’re showing us their best, no matter what. I distill grace based parenting down to one sentence: It’s simply ‘Treat your kids the way God treats His kids.’ Here’s an example: If you are a child of God’s and you really messed up, and you come to Him and you’re sorry, does He guilt you? Does He shame you? Does He remind you the price He had to pay to give you any kind of life? No, He doesn’t do any of that stuff.
Q: Does that still leave room for discipline?
A: Well, I’m glad you asked that question, because oftentimes people confuse grace with the word “nice.” By the way, many times it is nice, but discipline is a form of grace. It’s saying “I love you too much to stand idly by and watch you self-destruct,” or “I love you too much to watch you waste all your potential. No, I’m going to stand on your air hose, I’m going to redirect your actions, because I believe too much in you, there’s just too much at risk for me not to.” So often, people assume that grace and discipline are in two different realms, and they’re not. They’re one and the same.
I come from a Christian point-of-view. If Jesus is dealing with us in grace, did He throw the rulebook overboard when He developed a relationship with us? No. Are there still consequences when we step out of line, even with Jesus? Of course. He’s 100 percent gracious to us, and yet He holds to those standards, but everything He’s doing is because of His love for us, and His desire to bring us to a better situation than the one we’re in.
Whereas, if I’m just a parent who’s just exasperated, I’m out of ideas, I’m out of patience — and on top of that, I’ve got my own issues that tick me off — many times, my punitive response has nothing to do with discipline and correction, it has everything to do with getting even. That’s not grace, and that’s destructive. Long-term, it can be evil, even criminal. And that’s why there’s got to be a safe-haven for children who are underserved or come from homes that, for whatever reason, have just a lot of added stress to their family dynamic. There’s got to be a safe place where they can come and work through all the junk in their life.
Q: That’s the perfect transition to my next question: How would you say organizations like the Boys and Girls Club are important to families?
A: I would start with this: Boys and Girls Club is important to Tyler. Tyler is only as healthy as the collective health of its individual families. If a city like Tyler were to think, “We’re a healthy city because we have a healthy medical community and we’re getting good tax revenue from them, and we have a good road system and school system” — those are all important things, obviously, part of the infrastructure of it all — but everybody working in those hospitals and going to those schools, driving on those roads, come from a house that represents their family. That family is determining what’s coming out that front door. It is in our best interest as citizens of a city to make sure we are doing what we can to specifically help the families that are underwater.
Now, some of them are underwater by their own fault. I’m not saying that we’re just trying to accommodate that. There are a lot of factors that come into play: Their family of origin, economics, setbacks, medical setbacks, all kinds of things. To us, it’s irrelevant, ultimately, how we got to where we are. The thing we have to address is, “What are we going to do about it?” I think it’s wonderful when a city has organizations like Boys and Girls Club that step up and say “Let’s fill a void here in our family structure. Let’s provide a safe haven for children to come.” They come with their issues, but they know that in spite of them, someone is going to believe in them, love them, and are working to build a greater good into them. That’s what I love about organizations like Boys and Girls Club.
Q: Grace Based Parenting was published in 2004. Is there anything you would add to the book to address issues that have come up since then in our fast-paced culture?
A: The cool thing is, the answer is ‘No.’ When we’re talking about grace, the nine years since 2004 is nothing, because God’s grace was shown to us 2,000 years ago.
I appreciate that Kevin East, the president and CEO of Boys and Girls Club, is committed to doing the things I think need to be done — the mechanical things of after-school training, sports, and counseling, and helping with academics — but he wants to do it in a culture and an atmosphere of grace. An atmosphere of grace is simply a safe place to work through all your personal junk. Where you know that if that stuff comes to the surface, there will be people there who lovingly help you through that stuff and not just write you off, which is the easiest thing to do. It’s the easiest thing to just say “Hey, we’ve got a prison system waiting for you, we’ll just let it take care of this.” No, no, we can’t do that. We’re a community. These families represent not just our present, but also our future. It’s amazing what happens with the power of love and grace, when we get deliberate about it.
It’s not just the right thing to do to come alongside and help people in distress, it’s in our best interest. There’s something in it for us as a community as we help stabilize, sometimes rescue, people in a free-fall. Ultimately, everyone who is rescued, everyone who is saved, everyone who is given a new dignity, worth and value and a future, that strengthens the whole big picture of Tyler. That’s why I believe so strongly in this stuff.