Some of us grew up in stable, Christ-loving homes. Others did not. What happens when people from difficult upbringings want to raise their children in a Christian home? How do we pioneer a new path for our children?

Pioneer Parents are parents who don’t want to duplicate the homes they were raised in. They share many common traits, the most common being fear. They ask themselves questions like:

• Will the hurtful words my parents said to me fly out of my mouth in a moment of anger?

• Will I repeat my parents’ mistakes?

• How will I parent if I’ve had no positive, godly example?

• Why, when I read Christian parenting books, do I feel like the author can’t relate to me?

• How do I protect my children from possible negative influence of my parents without harming their relationship?

As a Pioneer Parent, these questions have swirled around in my paranoid head ever since I birthed my first child. Thirteen years later, sometimes they still haunt me. How do we break free from harmful parenting patterns? How do we build a Christian foundation in our homes if we’ve had no example? Here are seven tips:

1. Read parenting books with a caveat of grace.

When I first became a mom, I read every Christian parenting book I could find, determined not to repeat my past. I highlighted words until the pages glowed yellow. Instead, with every book I read, I berated myself for not being a perfect Christian mother. Instead of letting the words encourage me to improve my parenting, I would shun myself for not parenting correctly. I didn’t offer myself grace.

Eventually, I learned to see the books as kindly companions instead of angry Pharisees, pointing out my failures. I had to remind myself to be gentler toward me — a sinner in need of grace — and understand afresh that God delighted in me, sang over me. He was not watching me read parenting books and mumbling, "Well, I sure hope she bucks up and parents better after reading this." No, God, as I’ve had to learn, comes alongside me, cheering me when I fail, and giving me confidence as a parent.

2. Find or observe a parenting mentor.

Of all the campaigns I’ve initiated to try to improve my parenting, finding a mentor has been the most effective. I have learned the importance of engaging parents who are raising stable, well-adjusted children. The most rewarding parenting-mentor relationship I experienced happened on walks with my friend Kathy. She had two grown children who were serving Christ full time. Pushing a double stroller as I walked a mile or two around the neighborhood with her, I peppered her with questions, she listening and praying and offering advice.

I’ll admit it’s not easy to find a mentor like Kathy. If you can’t find one, remember that mentors can come in surprising packages. I’ve been "mentored" by kind mothers in the grocery store who answer my questions patiently, by grandparents who get on the floor and play with their grandchildren, by friends who share their trials and victories with me. The most surprising mentor in my life has been my eldest daughter who is now old enough to baby-sit. Watching her kind patience with toddlers inspires me to be a more patient mommy.

3. Say, "I’m sorry."