3 essential stages of parenting

Recently, I heard a leadership podcast that suggested there are several essential stages of parenting. That message got my mind thinking about one of my personal passions—showing people what God is like through our actions.

This passion and that podcast combined to create the following—3 essential stages of parenting.

Stage 1—Show God’s Loving Authority

This stage, which stretches to the first years of school, is about one simple message: You, child, are not God. You are not running this world. You are not the Lord who gets the last word. There is a God, and you don’t see him when you brush your teeth.

What does that look like in parenting? Constantly setting rules and punishing the violation of those rules. Say, “Do this,” and applaud if they do and discipline if they don’t. Let your rules be clear and your words be golden. Pray for the energy to be predictable in your response. Kids need to learn that they are loved by a frustratingly consistent authority. There is a higher power, and it is not them.

This is an essential stage because we are all born with a love of the last word. Paul described it with these all-too-accurate words—“It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). If you’ve ever raised a kid, you know how much that kid hates submitting to any law, rule, or parental decision that gets in the way of what he or she wants to do. Therefore, the first stage of parenting is to give kids a glimpse of the God who loves us but insists that he is not looking for a successor.

Stage 2—Show God’s Wisdom

This stage, which runs through the grade school and early teenage years, is about the whys behind your whats. Share the reasons behind your rules.

What does that look like in parenting? It might be sharing an experience—“You have to get nine hours of sleep [rule] so you’re not as grumpy as you were the other day [reason].” It might be sharing a Bible passage—“We pray [rule] because it says here that God loves to answer our prayers [reason].” It might be the sad story of someone you know—“You can’t hang out with those guys [rule] because I don’t want the same thing to happen to you [reason].”

Parenting in this way gives us a glimpse of the God who didn’t just pick his rules out of a cosmic hat. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). God is pretty smart, and smart parents give their children a glimpse of his wise and loving heart.

Stage 3—Show God’s Grace

This stage, which covers the high school years, is about giving our kids the freedom to fail and showing them grace when they do.

As much as we hate seeing our kids suffer the consequences of sin, they will. Therefore, we must allow sin to happen while we are within ears’ reach to give them grace. No helicopter, bulldozer, or defense lawyer parents. At this point, hopefully, our kids know the rules and the reasons behind them. Now is not the time to shout the rules in their ears as if they are deaf (they’re not). It’s not the time to nag with an “I told you so.” Now is the time to express your disappointment in their choices and remind them that you and God still love them.

Don’t bail them out of detention, the ticket, or fallout with their friends. Let them learn that choices have consequences. But when they are broken by their own stupidity, give them Jesus. Let them know that God has been forgiving sinners since the beginning of time and he is still in that business today.

As one pastor put it, “There might be consequences, but there is no condemnation.” Look your child in the eye and say, “Jesus still loves you. You know that, right?”


Obviously, these three stages overlap a bit. Giving grace doesn’t have to wait until freshmen year! 

But I pray this framework helps shape your parenting and gives the next generation a glimpse of our loving Lord who is full of wisdom and grace.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as the lead speaker for Time of Grace, where he shares the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.

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