I recently spoke to a packed room of moms hungry to know more about “Everyday Grace in Parenting.”

I wondered if anyone would show up to this particular session because it feels like there is now so much conversation about “grace in parenting” (which is such a good thing) but I assumed the moms at dotMOM Conference have heard enough about this particular topic and they’d rather attend a different session that hour.

But what happened thrilled me. I wasn’t thrilled because my room was overflowing (because I know the attendance had nothing to do with me personally) but because it showed me that moms are still open and eager to discover what it looks like, practically speaking, to weave the unconditional love of God into how we establish our authority, require obedience, and train and discipline our children. It showed me that moms really care about giving their kids grace upon grace.

I was temped to open the session by saying “I know you have all come to discover how to give grace to your kids, and I’m here to tell you … I actually have no idea.”

Why does research consistently reveal that we have never witnessed a generation of kids who are more stressed, more riddled with anxiety, or more depressed than this one? Because they feel the overwhelming pressure to get it all right so they can feel all right about themselves. Their identities are in their accomplishments. Their lovability is in their performance.

Yes, I wanted to start with laughter but more than that, I wanted the moms to know that I am with them on this journey.  That I, too, am still discovering day in and day out what it feels like and looks like to a) accept and enjoy God’s unconditional love for me in all of my parenting weaknesses and failures and b)  to be a broken vessel of that love to my kids in THEIR weaknesses and failures.

I wanted my fellow moms to know that we are in this together and we never “arrive” because if we did, that would mean God’s grace is something we can actually fully grasp.  And if it were limited to our understanding and imagination, we’d all be in big trouble because that would mean God’s grace isn’t as wide and long and high and deep as Ephesians 3:17-19 tells us it is.

When I was done speaking, a kind woman, by the name of Karen, introduced herself and essentially thanked me for one particular thought I shared in the session.

She was referring to something I’d said when I was speaking about the importance of grounding our child’s identity in Christ.

It was something along the lines of:

“Our children need to know that their good behavior does not make God happier with them, and their bad behavior does not make God angrier with them.  They need to know that because of Christ’s perfect performance and obedience on their behalf, God’s love for them and pleasure in them is utterly unwavering.”

Karen went on to explain that she is a youth worker in her church and the number one issue/struggle she sees in the kids she minsters to is that they believe their behavior makes them more lovable, or less lovable, to their parents.

And because parents often serve as a template for how children understand the love and grace of God in their lives, this means kids link their good and bad behavior to the good and bad feelings God has for them.

Karen went on to share that she has begun to encourage the parents of the kids she works with to have the courage to ask their children an essential, but yes, scary question.

And the question is this:

“Do you feel like I love you more when you have good behavior?”  Or maybe the question sounds more like: “Do I love you more when you obey me?”

You know your child best so I’d encourage you to use the words that you know will resonate most with your child.

But essentially the question is meant to allow children the opportunity -- or better said, the gift -- of being honest about the pressure they do (or don’t feel) to perform for love. To do something to earn something.  To receive love in return for performance.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating.  We all know what the world tells us: "A little more perfect = a little more lovable.”

In other words, the more perfect we are on the outside, the more worthy of love we are on the inside.

(I’ve actually decided that “a little more perfect= a little more annoying” but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Scripture, however, gives us a very different lens from which to understand our lovability.  Scripture tells us that a little more perfect does not = a little move lovable. Jesus does.

Jesus makes us lovable.

The perfection of Christ covering every sinful inch of us makes us WORTHY of God’s unconditional love for us.

So I share all of this with you as a challenge. I challenge I personally engage in often, actually.

See, I was once the mom who put unbelievable pressure on herself to be a perfect parent setting a perfect example for her kids to follow.  And because I wasn’t accepting God’s grace for myself, I couldn’t give grace to my kids.  So I expected something close to perfection from them too.   Things are radically different now, but I can assure you I often find myself creeping back to my old ways.

So now, I often check in with my three boys, giving them the opportunity to express if they are (or aren’t) feeling the pressure I’d once put on them, and reminding them that while my actions don’t always perfectly reflect this truth, I want them to live in confidence that there is absolutely not a single thing that they can do to increase or decrease my crazy love for them, just as there is absolutely nothing that can get between them and God’s love because of the way that Jesus has embraced them. (Romans 8:38-39 MSG)

So the challenge I’m extending to every parent is this:

Have a conversation with your children about what they think makes them lovable.  Ask them the question proposed above: “Does your good behavior make me love you more?”

Let’s be willing to dig deep and discover what our kids believe makes them lovable. Is it their perfection? Is it their performance in school or on the field? Is it their obedience and good behavior?  Because as we all know, that kind of love isn’t really love at all.

Why does research consistently reveal that we have never witnessed a generation of kids who are more stressed, more riddled with anxiety, or more depressed than this one?  Because they feel the overwhelming pressure to get it all right so they can feel all right about themselves. Their identities are in their accomplishments. Their lovability is in their performance.

What they need to know is what makes us lovable is Jesus, who loved us so much that He gave himself up for us.

When our children can anchor their identity in that kind of unwavering acceptance, there is no limit to the courage they will have to live boldly and love fiercely.  After all, we love because He first loved us. (I John 4:19)

Author's note: To learn more about leading your kids in anchoring their identity in Christ’s performance rather than their own, pick up a copy of my newly released book, "Parenting the Wholehearted Child."

Jeannie Cunnion is the author of "Parenting the Wholehearted Child," and a blogger at www.jeanniecunnion.com. She has a Master's degree in Social Work, and her background combines counseling, writing, and speaking about parenting and adoption issues. Jeannie and her husband, Mike, are the proud parents of four wild and awesome boys.