Grace - Kimberly Thompson

“Grace implies a relationship, particularly one where a less-powerful individual is afforded the space to make mistakes and grow through those experiences.”*

Throughout our children’s lives we have the power to give grace or to deny it. Grace is the space we create through our relationship with a child. To withdraw love and relationship from a child is to destroy the space, and to grip a child too closely will destroy it as well. Grace only exists in that dynamic tension between holding on and letting go.

What is grace? It is the Blessing we upon our children starting when they are born and ending when death separates us. It is expressed in different ways as our children and their needs change — because it is about their needs and not our own.

In infancy, grace is expressed as monitoring. The child explores her world and her mother allows it, within limits. To ignore an infant or to deny her access to exploration is to dissolve the space where grace exists.

In childhood, monitoring gradually gives way to supervision. Slowly over the years the child internalizes important principles for appropriate behavior, and slowly demonstrates more and more competence in making responsible decisions. And slowly her mother entrusts with more physical and psychological space, as she prepares her child for the next stage.

In adolescence, supervision gradually gives way to engagement. The mother’s ability to successfully grace her adolescent through engagement depends mightily on the track record built through infancy and childhood. An adolescent is stretching her wings toward adulthood, but still has a longing for guidance. This longing may be well-hidden, but it’s still there. A mother engages her child when she leaves the path open for important conversations, has the courage to address important issues, and empathizes with her child’s struggles.

For parents of emerging and young adults, engagement remains important, but the mother’s differentiation from her child is paramount in giving grace. The mother of an adult must learn to use wisdom and discernment when engaging with her adult child. In all likelihood, she will stumble at times. At these times of mistakes, it becomes the adult child’s turn to give grace … she has become an equal, and one day, as her mother ages, she will become the more powerful one in the relationship.

* This quote, as well as many of the concepts discussed in this post, are taken from the following work. I recommend that you read it if you are interested in a theologically-informed understanding of human development. Balswick, J., King, P., & Reimer, K. (2005). The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective. Intervarsity Press: Downer’s Grove, IL.