Author, Parenting the Wholehearted Child, (2014)
Master’s degree in social work
Speaker for Bethany Christian Services and the National Council for Adoption
Council Co-Chairman at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT
Received a BS in Human Development/Family Studies from Auburn University and a MSW from the University of Alabama
Married to Mike
Three boys: Cal, Owen and Brennan
Jeannie Cunnion: Parenting the Wholehearted Child
The 700 Club
QUEST FOR PERFECTION
Jeannie surrendered her heart to Jesus at the age of eight. Her mom had taken her to the movie theater to see Billy Graham’s movie The Prodigal. Later that night Jeannie’s mom prayed with her and she accepted the Lord as her Savior. She was the youngest of three girls and her dad was a pastor of a large Presbyterian church. Although she was raised in a very “grace-full” home, being a preacher’s kid had a significant influence on her desire to be perfect. “It often felt like all eyes were on me and my parents’ reputation seemed to be at stake with each poor decision I made,” recalls Jeannie. Somewhere along the way she began to link accomplishment with acceptance. She desperately wanted to get “it” right, whatever “it” was. “My worth became more dependent on who people thought I was instead of who God says I am in Christ,” shares Jeannie.
When she became a mother her quest for perfection intensified. She read countless parenting books from “how to survive the first sleep deprived months” to “how to tackle the terrible twos.” Now a mom of three young boys, she was determined to get the parenting thing right. However, things began to unravel for her when the parenting tricks were no longer working and her children’s arguments, crying, and temper tantrums left her exhausted. She found herself yelling at her children to stop yelling. Jeannie shares, “I was a girl undone, so much so that my temper tantrums rivaled theirs.”
Around this time, her four-year-old son Cal was given a chance to describe his family in a class project. Cal’s card read, “My Family.” Inside the card Cal described his family as: “Brennan cries a lot! Mommy just raises her voice when I’m not a good listener. She checks the computer too. Daddy works on the computer too. He checks out Thomas the Tank Engine for me. Now that’s the end of my story.” She thought to herself, “How could that be my child’s story when I’ve been trying so hard to get it right?” Although she was devastated to see herself and her family through Cal’s eyes, his card also pointed her to a painful truth: perfectionism had become an idol in her life and it was stealing all of her family’s joy.
“I hadn’t been living in the freedom of his grace, and I definitely wasn’t parenting our kids in the freedom of his grace,” shares Jeannie. Instead of trusting God, she had gotten lost in self-reliance. “My goal was to fix, to control, and to perfect our family.” She thought her gift to God was trying to be, act, think, and parent perfectly. “I was focused on teaching my kids what they had to do for Jesus rather than teaching them what Jesus has already done for them through his death on the cross and his resurrection,” shares Jeannie. She realized she wasn’t giving her kids the grace that God so lavishly gives us in Jesus Christ. Gradually, God’s grace began to transform her heart and her parenting. Her quest to raise perfect children became a desire to raise “wholehearted children” – who live from the freedom found in being wholeheartedly and unconditionally loved by God in Jesus Christ.
GRACE IN PARENTING
Jeannie says parents need to understand why grace is so significant in raising children. God’s unconditional acceptance is not given based on how well we did or didn’t parent today. His love, favor, pleasure, and acceptance are available now not once you become a better parent raising better kids. “You are an imperfect parent covered by the perfection of Christ,” shares Jeannie.
The laws or rules that we teach our children will only show our kids what obedience looks like, but the grace of God transforms their hearts and inspires them to grow and share in his likeness. She says planting seeds of faith in our children’s hearts begins with teaching them who Jesus is and about His loving acceptance of them. Then through seeds of faith such as prayer, reading the Bible, Scripture memorization, and worship, kids can develop a deeper relationship with the Lord. Parents have to be purposeful in building grace if we desire our kids to know and love the real Jesus. Yet we are not responsible for transforming our children’s hearts. The Holy Spirit carries the grace you give and the grace you show to the heart of your child. “You can be a vessel of His grace and a reflection of His love, but you do not have to play God’s role. So breathe. Maybe even smile. God’s got this,” shares Jeannie.
TRANSFORM YOUR CHILD’S HEART
“The most important thing we can do for our kids is captivate them with what Jesus has already done for them,” says Jeannie. That is the essence of raising a wholehearted child. Give your kids grace and see if it doesn’t change you, and your kids, from the inside out. She offers the following advice to help you get started in parenting a wholehearted child:
- Identify your starting place – Ask yourself, “What is my purpose in parenting?”
- Help your children develop a trusting relationship with Jesus – Affirm your child’s identity in Christ. Sow seeds of faith (prayer, Bible reading, worship and service).
- Choose a family Bible verse and virtues – Ask God to lead you in seeking His heart for your family.
- Involve your children in the discussion – Talk to your children about the reasons you are identifying virtues for growing in Christ- like character and give them an opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
- Lead with unconditional love – Give your children the wholehearted and unconditional love of Jesus, which motivates and compels love for Him and for others.
- Surrender – Pray and trust Jesus to do what only He can do in our children’s hearts through grace.
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