Kids are Not Adults – a guest post from Kelly Russell

[Today’s guest post on kids and parenting is from Kelly Russell, the Caffeinated Wanderer. Her growth as a parent will sound familiar to many of us who have either navigated the journey or watched friends who have grown as parents.]


My husband and I started out parenting with the very best of intentions. We were so very excited at the thought of bringing new life into our home. We bought books, read articles, and talked often, long into the night, about how we would raise our children.  Unrealistic expectations was our motto.

After our daughter was born, we immediately realized our expectations were faulty. Nothing went according to plan with this girl. Not only did our firstborn come out a daughter (we had been told by the sonogram technician that we were having a son), but she decided to come a month early. She woke up every two hours at night for the first year and struggled to learn to breastfeed for 6 weeks. Parenting was a smack in the face and our plans were trampled on. Desperately, we searched online and through parenting ministries and from books on what we did wrong and how to fix it. Through our sleep-exhausted states, we wondered, why did this look nothing like we had prepared for? What happened? What part of our final preparations had we missed?

Rule-Based Parenting – the way of authority

Somewhere in that first year we learned that there was a system of raising kids that promised good results: rule-based/authoritarian parenting. Many things planted seeds of legalism into our hearts, but it was one parenting book that I read and discussed in my women’s group at church that pushed it into full-grown Law loving and very little Grace living. I was pregnant with our second child and the book seemed to assure godly children if we parented a certain way. First time obedience was taught and we were scared for our children’s soul falling away from God if we didn’t follow the “biblical way.”

Soon we implemented that first-time obedience. Any hint of our child resisting our parental authority was seen as rebellion. Melt-downs were seen as a sin issue and not sitting still when told to at a restaurant put our child’s very soul at stake. We were on call at all times to pluck out any weeds of sin from our kids in order to bring them close to godliness.

Amidst our growing strictness, our natural and powerful love for our children never diminished. We were never at peace with the method of parenting we had subscribed to. Something was not right.

The Way of Parenting Grace

I remember at one church, where children were expected to sit absolutely still and keep quiet for the 2 hour service. I was weary having to take our middle child out every few minutes to be reprimanded because, at three, she could not sit still. At some point during that morning, I knew something was wrong. The following week I heard about grace-based parenting and looked into it. This different form of parenting wowed me at first because it was so very different from what I had been taught.

I wish I could say we threw out all legalistic parenting books right away, but this turning away from legalism and embracing grace was a slow road. We had to begin thinking in terms of child development and age appropriate behavior. We had to learn that we could not expect kids to act like grown-ups.

Our world likes to expect children to act as if they are tiny adults. Secular culture and Christian culture alike sometimes ascribe to “children should be seen and not heard.” We have no patience for childish behavior, maybe because it requires an amount of grace to that little one we are not willing to give.

How often have you heard of someone complaining because a baby cried their whole flight? Do we stop to extend grace to these little ones – and their parents? Do we remember that the baby on the airplane has developmentally the right to show that she is tired and her ear hurts from pressure?

What about those toddlers who melt down during grocery shopping? Do we realize or understand that maybe that toddler throwing a tantrum next to the lettuce is overtired and does not know how to deal with this? Usually I’ll overhear comments that go along the line of “When I was a kid, I would have been smacked for that! This world is making brats out of our kids!”

Parenting is a balance of guiding with love and giving grace by not expecting a child to act as an adult. We must respect these younger people and let them know we take them seriously. Laughing at kids and what they say in earnest seriousness is not respectful. Expecting perfect behavior when the child is upset or hurt or tired is not respectful. We must not expect adult behavior from someone who is not yet an adult, and then be surprised when we don’t get it. Our children know the true love of God when we are careful to calm them and allow their childish behavior instead of expecting more than they can give. Can we meet them where they are in their stages of life, knowing that one day they will be adults but for now they are young?


More from Kelly – As always on the internet, I feel it best to give a disclaimer: I am not advocating for free-range parenting. It is fact that children need to be taught how to treat one another well and how to deal with emotions and boundaries. Rather, I am advocating for less authoritarian parenting and more understanding about developmentally appropriate behavior.


Kelly RussellKelly Russell is currently a blog author and home educator. Her goal is to equip and help facilitate a love of life-long learning. She hopes to encourage people of all ages to explore the world through books, nature exploration, and hands-on education. She is passionate about many things – education, reading, travel, faith, health, writing, Jane Austen, Doctor Who, and photography – and she enjoys sharing the things she learns with her husband and six children. You will find her at her blog, Caffeinated Wanderer, on Twitter, and Instagram.

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19 Responses to Kids are Not Adults – a guest post from Kelly Russell

  1. Pingback: Kids are Not Adults

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks for the guest post, Kelly!

    I remember working at day camp once where one of the moms told me she treated her 9 year old like another adult because she wasn’t ready to have a child. Even though I was young, unmarried and without kids, I thought that odd even then.

    Understanding children and learning how they develop and mature is one of the blessings of parenthood for me. My kids do not emerge fully formed at birth. They change and grow as the years go on.

    • Kelly says:

      Thank you for letting me guest post, Tim.

      That is an odd comment that that mother made. I feel sorry for that 9 year old! What a burden to be put on someone’s shoulders.

  3. Thanks for this post, Kelly. Your words “thinking in terms of child development and age-appropriate behavior” are key, I think. We can’t expect them to act like adults if they’re not — and besides, sometimes the way adults act is NOT something to strive for! I find it very challenging, having 2 kids with special needs, to get the “age-appropriate” part right. My son is 13, but cognitively he is more like a 5 year old (he has delayed speech, is into things usually enjoyed by younger kids like Barney videos etc.) — yet I need to remind myself that he is a teen. The other day I was whistling or humming or something, and he said a sharp “No!” I said to my 17-year-old daughter, “Hmm, he doesn’t like it when I do that” and she said “I guess he’s just being a teenager.” 🙂

    Parenting is a challenge at every stage. We need a lot of grace for ourselves and our kids. Thankfully God’s mercies are new every morning, because I depend on that fact daily.

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Jeannie,

      It is interesting that you bring up special needs because one pivotal point in bringing about change in us as parents was that one of my kids, who is special needs, could not deal at all with our method of law-based parenting. She truly was not phased by harshness. It forced us to look outside of legalism and to search for different ways to help her – and us! It was very freeing and opened our eyes to true grace.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    Great post, Kelly.

    I recently read a book titled The Teenaged Brain, written by neuroscientist (and teen-brain researcher) Frances Jensen. It’s excellent at showing why teens (not just children) aren’t adults and need grace for all their what-were-they-thinking?! actions. Their brains aren’t mini-adult brains; they are truly marvelous and vulnerable organs. Though Jensen obviously isn’t religious, she has lots of common sense advice for parents about how to handle the issues facing teens, including everything from drug addictions to sports concussions to stress and sleep. These are all areas that teen brains handle differently from either their previous child brain and their future adult brain. Our teenaged children need us, the adults with fully formed brains, to stay calm, understand what’s going on, show them grace during this stage of life, and provide the boundaries that they cannot yet see the need for. (BTW, there’s lots of neuroscience in the book, but it’s readable even for the layperson.)

    • Kelly says:


      Oh, this book sounds interesting. Thank you for sharing it! I’ll need to add it to my list. Next week is my oldest’s 13th birthday – my first teenager!

      The brain is definitely a “marvelous and vulnerable organ” and science still knows so very little about it. This kind of helps me think through parenting issues a little bit more outside-of-the-box: “okay, I’m not really sure *why* my child thought/acted this way, and they probably don’t know either.” It gives me a chance to work with my kids in relationship and to figure out problems and behavioral hurdles together.

  5. DesiringFreedominChrist says:

    Thanks for this post. Parenting is SO HARD – the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Like most people, I think I knew more about parenting before I had children. I’ve become much less judgmental about children’s behavior since having my own kids. There’s a kid throwing a tantrum in the store? It’s your kid today, possibly mine tomorrow. No reason for me to feel superior about my children and parenting skills!

    My church is huge into “first time fast” and spank, spank, spank. I’ve sought out alternative Christian perspectives on guiding and raising children, and I’ve come to the point that I’d rather read a secular opinion about parenting than another Christian book arguing for more spanking. I don’t necessarily think spanking is wrong, but I also don’t think the Bible teaches or commands the spanking of children, particularly young ones.

    Spanking seems very black and white, cut and dry, and if it works for a particular child, effective. I haven’t quite figured out how to make “grace-based parenting” something more than endless conversations and negotiations that wear me out and leave me wondering who’s actually in charge. How do you actually teach obedience in grace-based parenting?

    • Kelly says:

      Hi DesiringFreedominChrist,

      Regarding how to teach obedience in grace-based parenting: it really depends on the family and child. That answer isn’t really practically helpful and is probably one reason why parents struggle with that approach.

      Honestly, relationship-building is huge in our family. We choose to allow our children the option to obey instead of forcing it from them. When the relationship is good with our kids, generally they want to obey or try their hardest. And at the same time, my husband and I are a little more relaxed in expecting too much from them. Most of the time, our kids surprise us with going above and beyond. 🙂

      And, of course, some kids are easier than others. In our own family, one of my children is not compliant at all. We have to reach her in a different way and exercise more patience with her than we thought possible.

  6. srs says:

    Might you disclose which parenting system and book caused trouble? (I’m writing this as a first time Dad who worries about reading the wrong parenting advice/rules for our 3-month old daughter…) Thanks!

  7. Bill M says:

    “I remember at one church, where children were expected to sit absolutely still and keep quiet for the 2 hour service. I was weary having to take our middle child out every few minutes to be reprimanded because, at three, she could not sit still. ”
    At two hours long you would have to take me out and reprimand me for not sitting still and I’m likely older than your father. Also in a two hour service watching a kid squirming around would conceivably be more interesting than what comes from the podium.

    Having been through the toughest job I ever had, parenting, I find I am able to give a lot more grace to parents of misbehaving children that I did when I was younger. When around a crying or frigidity child I feel the discomfort of the parent and at the same time glad it is not me.

    • Tim says:

      “At two hours long you would have to take me out and reprimand me for not sitting still and I’m likely older than your father.”

      You and me both, Bill.

    • Kelly says:

      I couldn’t agree more with you, Bill. We ended up leaving the church for many reasons, but the length of the services was one of the factors.

      “When around a crying or frigidity child I feel the discomfort of the parent and at the same time glad it is not me.”

      Yep! Now that my last child is 2 1/2, I am glad that we are no longer in the really small years. Those years just plumb wore me out!

  8. Pastor Bob says:

    Unrealistic Expectations – so much can be written about this, much has yet to be written.
    In the work I done (some of ministry is work!) I have learned to stress taht the route you initially took was –
    – a starting point.

    Children will follow the basics, with their own variations. Parents and parenting skills vary by the person, and the given point in time. Flexibility is needed, patience is refined, and challenged yet again. To assist in this I have stressed “parenting mentors,” a couple with children at least three years older than ‘yours’ to guide, help and encourage.

    The “basics” do not change too much (special needs excluded) but – change is the operative word. Reading your adaptations shows the most important part of this to me, CHANGE.

    yet the flip side is consistency, being the / a parent is not easy, yet the child will benefit form a consistent approach, tempered with firmness and love in vary amounts. The scale tips form sisde to side, often quickly.

    I remember the ‘wishy-washy’ father telling me that he did not appreciate me telling him about his son’s latest misdeeds. His rant went so far as to tell me that he as the parent knew best what to do. My response was that after I shared the observation(s) – the next part was up to him, nad that since he did NOT ask for advice, i had not shared that at all.

    He apologized next week, and thanked me for simply sharing the observation.

    I share this for parents need help, and encouragement. The parent becomes the expert on the child, the Children’s Ministry Pastor / Youth Pastor is an ‘expert’ on the age behaviors. I am an encourager, and will do so -forever.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Joel Horst says:

    My observation of the legalistic, authoritarian system I grew up under was that it pushed young, preteen children to act more like adults; but then when we hit our teen years, that same authoritarianism held us back from gaining independence and thinking like adults. God doesn’t control His children, and neither should we.

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