Reformers Interview: Julie Lowe - Author of Child Proof

Reformers Interview: Julie Lowe -- Author of Child Proof: Parenting by Faith not Formula

You are a mum and a Biblical counsellor with CCEF. Can you tell us a little about your family and how you got into Biblical counselling?

My husband Greg and I married in our thirties. Before that, I had become a single foster parent to two little girls, sisters ages two and three. As a single person, I’d had a deep desire to foster children and eventually adopt. As a counselor and social worker, I was aware of the challenges involved and I wanted to think wisely about taking on that responsibility as a single person. Was it biblical, wise, and even “right” to do so as a single? I encountered some strong opinions, some from people who thought it unwise. I had to think carefully about doing life in an unconventional way and ask if it could still be pleasing to God. If I never married, would I be able to live out my personal convictions? What did biblical wisdom look like in this instance?

When Greg and I married, our two little foster girls walked down the aisle ahead of us as flower girls. Right before the wedding, we found out that we would be able to adopt the girls, and our wedding became a celebration of God bringing us together as a family. I was given a new last name and so were the girls. The girls were given a mom and dad and Greg and I were given children. As then three-year-old Brittney reminded me, “God knew you needed kids.” Within a few months, Greg and I were asked to consider adopting two little biological brothers. Within the first year of marriage, we found ourselves with four children under the age of five.

Those decisions came with many implications for our parenting. I was both mom and dad for a season. Greg and I both had to work within a foster care system with its rules and regulations. We had to accept regulations on how we could and could not parent, and build relationships with birth parents. We had to think creatively and wisely about how we would address behavior issues and consequences, and how we would help our kids make sense of hard experiences they’d had early on. 

We have since added two more children to our family, along with a menagerie of pets. It’s a full life. Many of our kids are now teenagers and we continue to serve as foster parents. Early on, we adopted the posture that God would build our family as he saw fit. Whether we were given biological, adopted, or foster children, whether we had kids for a season or permanently, we would trust God to bring the children he wanted to our home. We would also trust him for wisdom about when to say yes or no. We have had children come and go. We have had heartache and loss, kids with challenging behaviors and circumstances, disabilities and brokenness. Greg and I have had our own struggles, temptations, and parenting challenges. All of these things have made us lean on the Lord more, as we have asked him to help us understand what Scripture has to say to us, and asked the Holy Spirit to help us apply it to our family. 

In a very good way, our family has required us to approach Scripture, the gospel, and conventional parenting ideals by asking: “How does this apply to our home and our circumstances?” This also has become a theme in my counseling. I have seen families heal and prosper as parents sought to understand their kids and to see how Scripture applied to the uniqueness of their marriages, families, and home life.

I was interested in counseling and helping people since I began a counseling degree in college. I then pursued a Master degree and seminary education in biblical counseling. I’ve worked for CCEF for over 18 years, counseling, teaching, speaking and writing.

Child Proof is a parenting book but you seek to teach faith and freedom rather than formula. What is the difference between faith driven parenting and formulaic parenting?

We all tend to want a formula for successful parenting. We often want a parenting roadmap with directions (like my GPS) that tell us where to turn. And we definitely want the guarantee that our family will end up at the right destination. We don’t want to have to struggle or wonder; just tell us the next step so we can take it. 

Many parents are avid readers. I know I am. I want to get better at parenting, and reading a parenting book by an expert seems like a great way to get the family GPS I’m looking for. But I often struggle to apply what I have read to my own family and to the parenting my husband and I do. I notice in myself and in the parents I counsel the tendency to take what we read or hear and try to craft a one-size-fits-all approach to our children: Do these things and your family will function well. But all too often, we feel defeated, frustrated, and stuck when it seems that we've followed the rules, yet our children still struggle, appear unresponsive, and/or have challenging behaviors.

At that point, we can feel abandoned by God, discouraged, and frustrated. From there, it’s easy to simply revert to our own ways, ways that seem right and natural to us. We move toward a parental pragmatism that justifies our bad reactions, our passivity, and a paralyzing defeatism. What we fail to see during those times is that we have not been abandoned by God as we have attempted to parent. The reality is that biblical truth and biblical principles are always at work and always offer hope and help. They remain true and effective even when we feel that our children are not responsive.

The place where we flounder is in our application of these biblical principles. We want someone to give us ten steps to apply the Bible to our family life and we want it to work NOW! But that is not how it works. Applying biblical principles and truth to your specific family (and mine) also requires biblical wisdom, the kind of wisdom that comes from God and is gentle, peaceable, full of mercy, and good fruit. From that wisdom we are promised a harvest of righteousness that brings peace (James 3:17-18). But it doesn’t come through a formula.

How do we grow in biblical wisdom? It starts with knowing and loving God, and going to him for what we lack. God promises to give wisdom to those who seek it (James 1:5), and the wisdom he gives is tailor-made for our children and for us. It’s a practical expression of what it means to love God and love others. The thing to remember is that, while the biblical principles remain universal and unchanging, the way they are applied in specific ways is unique to each family’s personalities, gifts, difficulties, and circumstances. The way God has structured it, there is much more liberty in how we live out godly principles in marriage and family life than we often give ourselves.

Is it possible that your picture of the ideal family is keeping you from understanding and loving your actual family in ways that God has in mind? Does your image of the ideal family help or hinder you to live out the two great commandments to love God and others?

When we start by wanting our families to fit a preconceived mold, it’s a small step to begin looking for a parenting formula that will help us achieve that ideal. What are some of the parenting formulas you have encountered? As a counselor, I have interacted with many parents who were trying to make a child-rearing formula work for their family. There always seems to be a new recipe for parenting success that guarantees that, if you follow it correctly, the result will be well-behaved, God-fearing young men and women.

 Child Proof: Parenting by Faith Not Formula

Child Proof: Parenting by Faith Not Formula

by Julie Lowe




One of the other key concepts in your book is the idea of not just seeking behavioural change in our children. What is it that we should be seeking?

Most of the time, parents are working to see changes in behavior: children who no longer lie or fight with their siblings, who complete homework or chores, or who demonstrate obedience and compliance. Unfortunately, this is often pursued in ways that fail to model grace and steadfast love. Building bridges with our children takes time and effort. We need to consistently spend the time and energy necessary to demonstrate the character of Christ to our children so that they can see that we truly do have their best interests at heart.

Can you see the difference? One approach values a child’s compliance and good behavior; the other wants God’s character to be shared by the parent with the child. These two approaches need not be mutually exclusive but, sadly, they often are. God calls us to be what we need to be as parents even if our children do not respond as we hope. This frees us to love them and respond wisely to them, and to have hope even when we do not yet see the fruit of our labor.

Why is this so?  If our desire to model Jesus’ character to our children is greater than our desire to have them act a certain way, this allows us to respond to them in ways that are consistent with Christ’s character instead of ways that reflect our frustrated lesser desires, like anger and attempts to control them. We are guided by the Spirit instead of our fleshly desires. Having done this, we can rest in the fact we have done the most important piece of parenting. Whether our children then change or not depends on their hearts’ interaction with God’s Spirit and his Word.

More than Behavior Change

Most of us tend to worry about the behaviors we are aware of in our kid’s lives: vaping, porn, masturbation, lack of motivation in school, self-injury, peer obsession, anxiety, or disobedience. As we’ve seen, parenting formulas focus mainly on changing behavior, and we do, of course, want good kids, happy, peaceful homes, and godly families. But how quickly those good things can become idolatrous demands! These good but out-of-control desires drive us to poor parenting to achieve the desired outcome.

Do you have any tips that you have found helpful to remember this during those moments when you are tempted to simply aim for behaviour change?

When we are motivated by a love for God and our children, our parenting choices are no longer driven by our need to attain particular results. My parenting is no longer controlled by my personal motives, agenda, fears, or hopes, even when those desired outcomes are good things. When we focus on what our role should be in our children’s lives and on knowing them personally, we focus less on their behavioral improvements and more on how the Lord is calling us to shepherd them.

Focusing on our role will also require us to evaluate own responses in family life. We will always wrestle with our own sins in parenting, and we must always be mindful of how our agenda can subtly warp our parenting choices. Do not be afraid to be humble before your children, to apologize for your sins and seek their forgiveness. It shows them that we all need the Savior. It endears you to your children when you walk alongside them, not as a perfect person, but as someone who can sympathize with their weaknesses. 

When our focus as parents shifts to reflecting the image of Christ, we no longer see our children as personal achievements that bring us glory or shame. We begin to see them as fellow strugglers with whom we live, eat, grieve, forgive, and do life. They are people who are entrusted to our care; individuals we strive to know well, speak to meaningfully, and love unwaveringly. As 3 John 1:4 reminds us, we should have no greater joy than that our children walk in truth.

Another main theme is knowing your children and spouse intimately. This seems obvious when you think about it but so often we live shallow lives even with our own family. What is the main motivation for seeking to know your family well?

God has established you as your child’s counselor, educator, discipler, and mentor. As a parent, you are perfectly positioned for this task. Although outside help and professionals can be useful, you are the expert. Very few people in your child's life will be as committed as you are to knowing and understanding them. You spend the most time and energy with your child. You have more conversations and share more of everyday life with your children than anyone else does. You intuitively read their faces, body language, and silences. You sense when something is amiss.

This understanding does not come from some mystical psychic power. It is discernment honed by years of observation about how your child is wired and her typical responses. Your insights come from thousands of big and small events as you have watched your children handle sadness, fear, anger, hurt feelings, and temptation.

You are already an expert at knowing your children in ways that would take a professional counselor months to figure out. Sometimes parents simply need to slow down enough to evaluate and piece together what we know and perceive. As a counselor, when I talk through circumstances with parents, I often find that their perceptions are accurate. Many parents question their instincts, wonder why they feel strongly about something and whether they are wrong. No doubt any good parent should be open to asking those questions. However, as I draw out why parents feel a certain way, facts and details often emerge that support their conclusions. They’ve just never taken the time to untangle their thoughts and perceptions.

Freedom from formulas does not mean that we can parent however we want. It is quite the opposite. Being free from formulas means that we have to roll up our parental sleeves and do the hard work of understanding our children as unique individuals. And it means asking God for wisdom on how to best apply biblical wisdom to our unique child. Every day you have to ask for God’s help, insight and wisdom. Every day we are to live sacrificially to serve the needs of our family.

We do it to love as Christ loves us.

Is there one thing you seek to remind yourself of often as you parent your children?

I try to remind myself that I am responsible for how I engage and react to them. That my focus is not on changing them, but parenting them the way God has called me to. I want to win their trust, and woo them to the Lord by the way I live before them.

Finally, we love to ask authors we interview about their reading. What is something you have found helpful for you in getting the most out of a book?

I tend towards things that inspire me and my faith. I enjoy good biographies and character sketches that compel me to want to be more like Christ.

 Child Proof: Parenting by Faith Not Formula

Child Proof: Parenting by Faith Not Formula

by Julie Lowe




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