real encouragement for real homeschooling moms

giving our children the freedom to be different ~ grace in parenting, part three


Many of the lessons that I have learned along the path of homeschooling have been taught to me by my children. Can I say that the most important ones have actually come from them and they have often been the hardest ones to learn?

This has been especially true when it comes to understanding what grace really looks like as we put it into practice.

When we began homeschooling in the early 1980’s, we homeschooled for a year before we joined the Advanced Training Institute, Bill Gothard’s homeschooling program. One of the highlights, for me, of the annual ATI training conference was the mass choir made up of several thousand smiling students dressed in navy blue dress pants or skirts, crisp white shirts and blouses with navy blue ties and neck bows. It was a sight to behold as they sang “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus” my heart responding to the intended message “Hang in there, moms. One day you will see Jesus and all those years of giving your life to raising children will be worth it.”

But there was something interesting you could observe about these young men and women if you had a trained eye. In that sea of navy and white uniformity, there would be imaginative touches in the accessories…flashes of other colors in the ties, neck bows with flair or shoes that made a fashion statement, hair styles that were just under the radar of acceptable conformity but obviously “toned down” for the week.

For many years I “just knew” what was acceptable dress for homeschooled kids, my ideals being challenged as the artistic children among us grew older. Though each of the children are creative and artistic in their own ways, clearly three of them, 50% of my children, obviously march to the beat of a different drummer when it comes to personal style.

My daughter was Anthropology nearly 10 years before there was Anthropology, which was often hard for me to understand in my personal, preppy, matchy-matchy life. Do you really think that red velvet jacket goes with EVERYTHING? What do you mean your hair is going to be purple? You’re covering your footstool with what? Faux fur? I just couldn’t get it.

Then there is my youngest son who looks as though he dropped into Ned Nickerson’s argyle closet to do a little shopping before meeting Nancy Drew at the malt shop. Toss in just a touch of 1960’s Haight Ashbury paisley and you get the picture. Some of his peers might not approve but little old ladies love him because he looks like the dream boy from their own teen years.

But it took the 4th born child to really show me what grace ought to look like as you stare it right in the face.

The boy wanted a tattoo.

I had read all the admonitions about tattoos being the sign of slavery. Sermons and articles in homeschooling publications that addressed teen rebellion always threw in a tattoo reference or two for good measure along with drug use and riotous living. Certainly the prodigal son MUST have spent some of daddy’s inheritance on a tattoo.

So being a homeschooler with a tattoo did not compute. Clay told him that we didn’t really like the idea of a tattoo but that we wanted him to think about it for a while and to really consider the pros and cons before he got one and to do so in light of being a Christian. Visions of skulls and crossbones danced in my head.

And then this son came home for a Christmas break from school and on his forearm there it was…not just a tattoo but one he had designed himself. When he showed it to us, he gave us the whole story.

After our initial talk with him, he had gone to see his Old Testament professor to ask him about the teachings we had heard about tattoos. Together they examined all the Bible references and related verses. After considering the context of the passages and being sure that he would not be sinning by getting one, he drew his own design and went to a tattoo artist.

As he explained it to me I found myself quite moved and ashamed of how judgmental I had been toward him. The drawing was of a face with a cross forming the nose and eyes in the center of the face and he explained that it represented the concept of imagio deo, being made in the image of Christ. He told us that it is a constant reminder in front of him of who he is in Christ and shared how he had been able to present the Gospel to several people who asked about its uniqueness.

In his wonderful book Grace-Based Parenting, author Tim Kimmel notes that the first characteristic of grace-filled homes is that they allow children the freedom to be different. He says “Grace can’t be some abstract concept that you talk about in your home. It has to be a real-time action that ultimately imprints itself in your children’s hearts. To talk about grace, sing about grace, and have our children memorize verses about grace – but not give them specific gifts of grace – is to undermine God’s words of grace in their hearts. Grace means that God not only loves them but that He loves them uniquely and specially. The primary way to give our children grace is to offer it in place of our selfish preferences.”

As I read these words, I realize how often I have been loath to extend grace to my children and have allowed my own tastes and opinions to be presented to them as a holy standard, when the truth is that God’s Word is the standard we ought to be pointing toward. How often I have even been tempted to put my own spin on Scripture in order to “prove” that my preference is the “right” one. And I have remembered the times when my first thought was “what would other people think about me, especially as a homeschooling mom, if my kid does x, y, or z.” It has caused me to repent of my own sin of loving myself more than I have loved God or my children.

But here is the wonderful truth of discovering grace in parenting as found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Praise God, “all” includes those times when we have failed to extend the same grace to our precious children that the Lord has extended to us!



  Hillary wrote @

I teared up reading this because it demonstrates what beautiful grace and humility you showed within your relationships with your children. For those of us who did not have this, it exposes the ache of what-should-be-but-is-not. Instead of condemning your children as worldly, you embraced the image of our Creator in them. Instead of railing against culture, you humbly grew spiritually because of them. Instead of listing their flaws and inadequacies, you took their preferences in stride, realizing what is truly important in life. You chanced a tarnished reputation by truly loving your children, and I venture to suggest that a better reputation has been granted to you. Those of us who need godly examples of grace-ful parenting will be forever grateful.

  thatmom wrote @

Oh Hillary, I am so far from there yet! It took me 20 years of being a mom to just get a small glimmer of how it should look. It is the trophies in my hall of shame that I want to share so the grace of God can shine through and others can see how all encompassing it can be. {{{{{}}}} to you, dear sister. I see that same grace and mercy in you.

  Kathy wrote @

(sigh) You have been posting the gist of what my talk was recently, including recommending Tim Kimmel’s book. I guess that’s no surprise, though, since I had been influenced by your podcasts and posts that emphasized the grace of God and parenting with grace when I wrote it. I wish I had known and used half of what I know now about God’s grace when my kids were younger.

I think I still have the “tattoo letter” (impassioned, righteous and probably a good example of eisegesis) on my computer. Our somewhat free-spirited (and full of grace) son wanted a cross, maybe a Celtic one, and we persuaded him no, but I think our reasons were based more on pride and “What would the family think?” than on truth. We won the victory in the tattoo wars, and thankfully, there are no battles of rebellion and dysfunction in our family, which is more due to the grace of God than anything we did!

I can say now the main thing is that they are walking with the Lord (which they are) rather than if they were to have a tattoo, dreadlocks, or (fill in the blank with numerous extrabiblical no-no’s).

  Cindy K wrote @


I’m so glad you wrote about this, and I think I will put this link into one of the posts I wrote about multigenerational faithfulness. I was amused to read this, and then I received an email about a new post on Richard Sandlin’s blog, talking about “The Unconventional Approach.” He says that Saul’s armor was not meant for David who did quite well enough with his minute stones.

I wouldn’t exactly argue that tattoos qualify in quite the same way, but the principle is the same for me.

And Hillary, I so feel the ache when I read here sometimes, too. It is a double-edged sword for me rejoice to realize that other people get it right while I see wisdom I wish I’d been able to benefit from. Wisdom doesn’t come cheap though! (Karen’s daughter, the pioneer for her sibilings just as you were for yours may have some aches of her own, too. Karen has talked about some of them here, and some of this takes some practice. 😉 I too am glad that Karen kept at it.)

[…] Read more here: giving our children the freedom to be different ~ grace in parenting, part three […]

  Kathleen wrote @

Karen, this is such a good thing to share. I’ve not purchased the book yet (Grace-Based Parenting, but have learned bits here and there) and have been changing many of my ideas on my kids’ personal preferences.

My oldest son came home from the Army with a Ranger creed tattooed on his forearm in Vietnamese. I was initially saddened (just because he’s got a tough creed on his arm), but I can see that Jesus is working in him. It also caused me to look at tattoos as more like ear piercing, and a cultural thing. We actually see a lot of it in the NW, so it is kind of common among younger generation believers, too.

While I may personally not try a particular style of clothing, or hairstyle, this is how I have come to view tattoos, as some people’s creativeness.

I’ve also learned to loosen up in areas where grace is needed with my kids. They’ve probably extended much grace to me, as well. I remember having the discussions with my son about his Christian rock band music [grimace in embarrassment ] and he was just enjoying his freedoms, while I was sure he was in rebellion (he wasn’t; it was my legalism). I also remember when he wanted to put gel in his hair and make it spikey. I thought I would faint because of his “worldliness” [have mercy!] Oh, I just wish I could do it over again, but he and I talk about these things now. My children really do teach me so much in the areas I need to grow up in!

  Hillary wrote @

Aww, Karen and Cindy. . .thank you.

  Elizabeth wrote @

I just stumbled onto your blog this afternoon. And, although I’m not a mom I find this post fascinating!

  thatmom wrote @

Hi Elizabeth and I am glad you stumbled in here!

Please come back any time and feel free to share your thoughts!

  wysiwyg wrote @

You have spoken of my upbringing and consequently the first LARGE portion of my parenting my own kids. It is all very sad but it is nice to hear about other’s journeys. Thanks for sharing. Do you have a private email?
I have also been checking on your recommended reading list page- do you have a list to share by chance?

  Corrie wrote @


I can totally relate and you stated it all very beautifully. Yes, our own legalism blinds us and causes us to see rebellion when there isn’t any.

Wonderful post, Karen. I am learning these things in the trenches. My son got a tattoo when he was 18. The only thing I cared about is that he went to a place that was clean and reputable. He is such a neat guy and I am so very proud of him. The tattoo is a NON-issue. If it weren’t for the mercy of Christ and His patience shown me, I would be kicking myself everyday for all the stupid and rigid standards I tried to inflict on my children.

I am learning to enjoy them for who they are and they are all so very different. I have a daughter that I call my “beatnick”- she is very artistic. I have a daughter that is very feminine but I call my “tomboy”. All four of my teenage daughters are so very different and have very different tastes and likes, I can’t imagine having the same rigid standards that I had a decade ago and trying to shove them into that strict mold.

I hate when people try to do it to me, why would I want to do it to my children?

  Lin wrote @

Thanks for writing this. I needed it! God saw fit to give me a child that is a polar opposite of me and I find myself starting to become a bit legalistic about some things.

I hate that because my mom was the opposite and granted me much freedom in expression exhorting me to give Glory to God in all things.

So what if she wants to paint her room orange and pink? She thinks it is pretty. :o(

  thatmom wrote @

Corrie, I had a friend recently comment to me that it is such an adventure to raise a family and to see how different they each are and I really liked that!

  thatmom wrote @

Mandy, you can e-mail me at

  thatmom wrote @

Oh and Mandy I sent you a list of books via e-mail and will be adding a list to the website one of these days.

  thatmom wrote @

Lin, I think your daughter sounds very fashionable…pink and orange are everywhere this spring.

  tammie wrote @

I am an african american homeschooling mom. I was wondering about your thoughts on the ATI and BIll Gothard. Is there the same eliments of racism from your point of view in this movement as with the NFIC?


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