As a counselor to addicted, co-dependent, and emotionally exhausted people, Jeff VanVonderen recognizes the need for a grace-oriented message. While he writes for those of all religious backgrounds, his pastoral work has given him a sobering view of how spiritual misconceptions can result in families struggling with guilt, exhaustion, and manipulation. In contrast, Families Where Grace is In Place offers hope by clarifying psychological truths and principles of grace, acceptance, and support.
Church-going American parents are particularly prone to cultural messages implying that an environment of discipline and control is the singular way to produce good children. For several decades, these messages have been predominant in Christian culture. While loving parameters are certainly an element of healthy parenting, VanVonderen understands that trying harder and using psychological methods of control are neither accurate nor helpful routes to healthy, happy families.
One of my favorite aspects of Families Where Grace is in Place is VanVonderen's focus on marriage. Marriage plays a pivital role in family functioning, but few family counseling books offer the honest views of Christian marriage that VanVonderen writes about. Fewer still offer such realistic, grace-filled solutions.
What is striking about this book is VanVonderen's candor and transparency. Instead of shying away from uncomfortable truths about dysfunctional families, he uses these families' struggles and stories to highlight how true Biblical principles do not create pressure or support performance-based love, but instead promote forgiveness, freedom, and joy within families.
Originally published in 1992, Bethany House Publishers re-released Families Where Grace is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame in 2010, adding questions for small group discussion. VanVonderen's message of grace is spreading among Christian authors, churches, and other faith-based groups to the point that grace-based parenting is becoming the predominant message for families. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, if your parenting tendencies lean towards control and behaviorally-based reactions, you'll find VanVonderen's truths to be transformative.
Other posts in the 5 Books that Changed my Parenting series: