Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel

I can just hear the refrain now: "Oh my. Witch Mom is reviewing a Christian parenting book! And she HATES it. What a surprise!"

I've got nothing against Christians. At least, not the ones that have nothing against me or other religious, sexual, racial, gender, and other types of minorities. But the minute you start using your religion as an excuse for bigotry or intolerance, you and I will have words- pointy, spikey words.

The reason that I am not down with this book is not because the book talks about parenting from another religious perspective. I have no issue with that and feel that I have something to learn from all faiths. (I recently reviewed a Jewish parenting book favorably, and have several Buddhist and another Christian book in the review queue. All of them are scoring more hats than this one.)

So what's the problem? I dislike intensely when people write about Christianity like its a persecuted minority in this country. For the record, it's not. The culture wars that are evoked so often by evangelicals are just ways to get their followers (be they book buyers or parishoners) whipped into a frenzy so that they identify with a message, buy more stuff, and be easily manipulated. Those messages tend to be exclusive and bigoted and often exclude others (take for instance, the "happy holidays" crisis of 2005 onward).

At several times in the book, the author hearkens back to a time when the Ten Commandments were "etched in stone", as opposed to today (as a result of the culture wars) where they are "written in pencil, on a post-it note." Yes, he really does invoke the culture wars- several times in the book. It sets my teeth on edge and makes it hard to sift through the messages in the book to find things of value.

And there are some things of value, hidden among the hard-line bible thumping. (He appears to be a literalist when it comes to scripture, and I wonder what he thinks of say... witches and homosexuals. His book does not directly address these issues (it seems to me, as a minority reading the book, to be the elephant in the room). But he does explicitly state in the "Freedom To Be Different" chapter, "Since being misunderstood is an occupational hazard for Christian writers, I need to qualify what I don't mean here (in allowing your children to be "different"). I'm not saying that grace based homes should tolerate sin, evil, or anything that goes contrary to clearly held precepts in the Bible." So I'm left to infer that allowing his son to bleach his hair is fine (which was the illustrative example), but if his son were gay, it would not be fine.

To his credit, he does talk about how many parents get it wrong- he calls them Judgmental Parents or Legalistic Parents. These are the parents that think it is their role to judge others (including their children) or the ones that assure that everyone in their family is following the letter of the Bible (the Legalistic Parents). Instead of these tired models, he calls for Grace Based Parents: who believe in God's grace and gifts to us, humankind. I can get behind that message, even if we disagree on the nature of God Herself.

Grace Based Parenting is a premise I like, especially when he talks about relying on grace when our children are hardest to love. Or living with gratitude. All things that I like. If only he were that open and grace filled when it came to all the non-Christians and queers on the planet.

To figure out where this guy is really coming from, I visited his website (he has a ministry focused around families and heterosexual Christian couples and again, NOTHING was written about gays and lesbians, but evidentally so-called "cross-dressing" is bad:
"For instance, your daughter wants to wear her hair in a crew cut and dress like a man...You would find the Bible frowning on such a request. What about the issue of morality? What if your daughter wants to dress like Madonna or one of the Spice Girls? The Bible has a great deal to say about modesty, which would veto her request."- from the Family Matters Ministries website.
In the end, I can't really recommend this book to my readers. It is too closed minded and does not pass muster on some of the harder parenting questions of our age.

Formal Rating:
Title: Grace Based Parenting, Set Your Family Free
Author: Dr. Tim Kimmel
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Price: $14.99 USD 
ISBN: 978-0-8499-0548-3

Topics Covered: Parenting, Religion (Evangelical Christianity)

Target Audience: Heterosexual, Evangelical, Christian Parents and Families
Witch Mom Rating: Half a Hat
My readers (whom I believe to be like me, working on cultivating personal ethics and discernment in their children (as opposed to having their children adhere to a set of prescribed morals) will probably not get much out of this book.


  1. My son's & my counselor told me that he was lucky he had us for parents. Had a repressive, narrow-minded don't-step-out-of-place family had our wildly imaginative & bipolar son, it would have been torture for him. Instead, as you've said, we work on cultivating personal ethics and thought for others, thinking clearly, finding underlying bias or agenda...that sort of thing.
    What the parenting books, esp. the What To Expect series, did for me when he was small, before the dx, was to make me miserable, sure I was doing everything wrong. My husband suggested that I stop reading them. He was right--we didn't fit their assumptions at all.

  2. hi, great review. came across fair.

    and welcome to holistic mamas!

  3. Saffronrose: I love to hear stories of parents' challenges and triumphs. I'm glad for you and your son that you have found a situationalist style that works for your family. I hate that many of the so-called experts want to cookie-cutter as all into a definition called either "normal" or"abnormal". How old is your son now?

    Mon: Thanks, I'm glad it seemed fair. It's my first negative book review, and it made me nervous to publish it!

  4. If you don't already have it listed in your books to read, I wanted to recommend "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn. I didn't notice any particular faith-based slant in it, and it made a number of really good points. While I don't really recall it mentioning homosexuality at all, the whole focus of the book is about raising your children so they do not doubt your unconditional love for them. You can't do that if you give clear indications that you won't love them if they're not heteronormative.

    Regarding negative reviews: All you can do is offer an honest review. Honest reviews can not be expected to be all positive. If all your reviews were positive it would be a good indication that *some* of them really *should* be negative.

    @SaffronRose: The "What to Expect" books are total crap. That is, they're filled with misinformation and old wives tales which are incorrect. It is unfortunate that they are so popular.

  5. Hello, Steven and welcome to my blog! Thanks for the recommendation, I will add that to my list. Sounds great.


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