Fear-Based Parenting

Parenting is often an integral feature of Christian marriage.  In a Christian egalitarian marriage, husbands and wives consider themselves joint leaders of the home and children.  So in light of some other discussions currently in the blogosphere on this subject, I’d like to talk about a form of Christian parenting which I am convinced should be avoided.

Latebloomer at Past Tense Present Progressive is blogging about Reb Bradley’s book Child Training Tips.  Calulu at Roadkill on the Information Superhighway is blogging about Michael and Debbi Pearl’s To Train Up a Child.  So I’d like to chime in today with some thoughts about the method of child rearing which the two books share: they call it “Biblical parenting” or “Bible-based child training,” but it bears no resemblance to the way Jesus spoke of or treated children.  Instead, it takes a few proof texts (mostly from Proverbs) and builds an entire harsh, repressive and unjust regime out of them.

This is not something I can remain silent about. It goes directly against “do not provoke/exasperate your children” in Ephesians 6:4.  It convinces parents that, rather than bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they should raise them strictly under law and without grace.  I call it “fear-based parenting,” because it appears to be founded on two foundational fears:  1) that your child is evil by nature, and 2) that your child will remain so and be lost for eternity unless you force the child into being good.

These are the basic messages taught in fear-based parenting:

1. The parent-child relationship is by nature adversarial.  The child wants all the power in the home, and your job as a parent is to resist the child’s attempts to seize it, and to hold all the power yourself.

2. Your child’s most fundamental nature is selfishness and rebellion against authority.

3. A child’s will is inherently deceitful and wicked, and must be subdued/broken by the parent.

4. Spanking (with some sort of “rod”) will remove the rebellion from your child’s heart. If the child responds to a spanking with anything other than complete submission, you need to spank longer/harder until the child’s will is subdued and broken.

5. To use any other method of discipline than spanking is unbiblical and only encourages your child’s rebellion and selfishness.  To show your child any mercy will only teach your child that he or she can get away with bad behavior.

6. The goal of parenting is complete, cheerful and instant obedience of the child to your will, because this will transfer to complete, cheerful and instant obedience to God’s will.

7. Any act of your child’s that is not completely, cheerfully and instantly obedient is, by definition, rebellion.

8. If you raise your child according to these “biblical principles,” the outcome is certain: your child will become a “godly” adult.

Now, I am aware that orthodox Protestant doctrine says that humanity is sinful by nature and in need of salvation.  I’m not contesting that;  in fact, I find it comforting whenever I (or my kids) do something I wish I (or they) hadn’t done.  No need to get excited or overreact– it’s just human nature.  But I believe this understanding should result in more mercy to my children– not more harshness and law.  They are not different from me.  It was the kindness of God (Romans 2:4) that brought me to repentance.  So why would my harshness bring them to repentance?

The thing is that these “biblical parenting” ideas focus exclusively on human sinfulness, while ignoring or forgetting other basic, orthodox Protestant teachings:

1. Humanity, though sinful, is also made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and it is in God that we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Paul said in Romans 2:14-15 that non-Jews who never had the Law still have “the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”  This influence of God’s Spirit towards good in all people is known theologically as “common grace.”

2. None of us can save ourselves or anyone else; we are completely dependent on God’s grace to bring us to salvation.  Romans 3:23-24.

Nowhere does the Bible say that the nature of the parent-child relationship is a power struggle.  The opening chapters of the book of Proverbs are about parents lovingly giving their children instruction, not establishing dominance over them.  In any event, the Proverbs are by genre a set of wise sayings about how life generally works; they are neither promises nor commands.  The passages about using “the rod” need to be understood in the literary, historical and cultural contexts in which they were given.  The Parenting Freedom blog has a cultural/language study that makes it plain that what the Proverbs are talking about, and what the “biblical parenting” advocates say they are talking about, are in two different universes!  And in any event, to take a few verses on “the rod” and conclude from them that spanking is the only God-given method of discipline, is to give those verses a scope they were clearly never intended to have.

Nowhere does the Bible say that our goal as parents should be to break our child’s will.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:4, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not keep them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  If the “biblical parenting” experts were correct, Jesus would have said something more like, “Those children who have been subdued to obedience may come to Me.  All others should be kept away, because their hearts are wicked!”   Children are by nature innocent and trusting, and they are geared to desire adult approval and to want to please their parents.    If you don’t believe me, just spend a little non-judgmental time with some young kids!  This is the image of God in their humanity.  It is not negated or driven out by original sin.  To interpret your child’s every action as a play for power or as an act of selfishness, is to disregard the image of God and His common grace in your child.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  To see another’s action through the eyes of love is to see it believing well of that person and hoping for the best in that person.  It is not to view every action with suspicion as motivated by selfishness and power-grabbing.  This goes for our children as much as for anyone else.

Nowhere does the Bible remotely imply that any act of another human being can train someone into complete, cheerful and instant obedience to God.   Titus 2:11-14 states unequivocably that it is the grace of God that teaches us to deny ungodliness and live righteously.  “Biblical parenting” is actually a way to play God, seeking to control the outcomes of our children’s lives and eliminate all uncertainty.  But that is not faith– it is fear.   Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Emphasis added).  Having a thing and seeing it is certainty.  Hoping for it and believing in it is faith. Faith faces uncertainty and trusts God.  Fear seeks to control outcomes so as to eliminate uncertainty– not realizing that the elimination of uncertainty also eliminates the need for faith.

Parents, we need to trust God with our children and not live in fear.  Jesus said to do to others as we would have done to us.  This command doesn’t disappear just because we’re talking about our kids.  Would we want to have our every motive suspect, our every action viewed in the worst light?  Would we want to beg for mercy for something we’ve done, and to be given no mercy lest we think we’ve been given a license to get away with it next time?  Would we want to be expected to drop everything, no matter how important to us, at the moment someone over us speaks a command, and be expected to not only show no frustration, but to feel no frustration, even when our dearest desires are denied and thwarted?  Do we want our frustration and lack of cheerfulness, when we show them in spite of ourselves, to then be interpreted and punished as rebellion?

If we would not want these things done to us, we should at the very least not do them to our children. But to truly obey Jesus’ words is to go further, and to do to our children what we would want done to us.  To be listened to.  To be treated with understanding and compassion.  To have our motives interpreted with “I believe the best of you.”  To be given mercy even when we know we don’t deserve it.

I’m not saying we should ignore it when our children do wrong.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t discipline our children or give them boundaries.  Boundaries and discipline are good things we give our children– but when the boundaries become chains, and the discipline becomes harshness and injustice, they are no longer good.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

Fear-based parenting is full of punishment.  But love-based parenting is full of faith and trust in God for our children.

Please– if you can bear it– read this blog post by one who has suffered under fear-based parenting, and please stand with me against it.  If your church, or anyone else, recommends a fear-based parenting book like To Train Up a Child or Child-Training Tips, please speak out.

Children are hurting.  It needs to stop.

About krwordgazer

I'm a 40-something Christian from the Pacific Northwest: paralegal, mother of two, wife of 24 years, with a BA in English from the University of Oregon Honors College.
This entry was posted in Kristen Rosser, Leading the Home and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Fear-Based Parenting

  1. Pingback: Fear or faith-based parenting? | A Quiet Simple Life

  2. So glad to have found you. What a thoughtful post this is. I’m currently reading a book called Grace-based Parenting and getting heaps from it. blessings, from Victoria

  3. Reality says:

    Your concept is flawed:

    Titus 2:
    2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.
    3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
    4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
    5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
    6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.
    7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,
    8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

    Control, structure and authority are required by HIS plan. Romans and Hebrews 13 both speak of such; otherwise look to Matthew 7:20-23 for the results, especially the “DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS” part.

    The Greek word hupakouo describes the same obedience for children to parents in Ephesians 6:1 and for the wife to her husband in 1 Peter 3:6.

    The children are to learn submission and obedience from the mother and authority from the father. Look around you for absolute proof in countless decades of failure and blaspheme of the Word of GOD in testing this theory.

    You fail to teach and do your job; then wish to derive ignorance and blame Society on the results?

  4. krwordgazer says:

    Reality, I believe many of your interpretations of scripture are flawed; however, rather than getting into a debate about this, I’ll just say this. I can no longer support any hermeneutic (method of Bible interpretation) that results in rigid rules and laws that often cause actual harm to the persons they are promoted to control. Jesus and Paul both said that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was primary. Augustine said that any interpretation that caused anything other than an increase of love to one’s neighbor (and in that we must surely include one’s spouse and children) could not be a correct interpretation. Turning the Bible into hierarchical, authoritarian rules requiring the beating of children or the subjugation of women is something I will never, ever agree with.

    In other words, we are so far apart in the way we read the Bible that I cannot see continuing discussion as fruitful. There is also the fact that you are responding to an old post on an inactive blog.

  5. Reality says:

    The first and greatest command, as Jesus said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37).
    “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).

    I sorry HIS plan does not fit within derived realities and individual scopes. Is strive for knowledge and wisdom no longer there? Have you asked your husband to teach you at home (1 Corinthians 14:35)? Couch time together in the Word create a new level of closeness.

    “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Gensis 3:16)
    “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23)
    “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
    Your husband is responsible for your actions and must give account. Your public presentation is still there, continuing to have impact and leaving messes for others to clean up; that is why I am here. I see nothing having to do with GOD or love in any of this.

    We should definitely not teach others to hate their children; “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24 ). We should provide all of Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord”.

    Should we not teach the difference between love (agapao – to provide when and what is needed) and abuse? Should we not provide the results in love “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) Abuse is very different problem; mostly due to the failure of your own ideals and teachings.

    Have you actually reviewed the Decretum Gratiani or Augustine’s authority imposed within?

    Both the Law and cruse are still here, and all are evil; but Grace does now shield us (Romans 5). You have no structure, no bounds or observance of GOD ordained authorities (Romans and Hebrews 13); then wish to promote concepts to others and expect GOD given Grace to be instilled in return? Again; I pray you do not hear “DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS”.

  6. krwordgazer says:

    Fine. You have appointed yourself as a judge and teacher here to set me straight. You’ve had your say. Any readers who do still come here can decide for themselves whose interpretation makes more sense to them. I encourage readers to do more reading to determine the facts behind this assertion that my type of interpretation is the one that leads to abuse.

    For the rest, just because I don’t agree that those scriptures you have prooftexted mean God wants my husband to rule over me, or that parents should treat their kids as I have outlined in this post, doesn’t mean I rebel against authority.

    It is not your personal responsibility to “clean up” every “mess” (by which you appear to mean something you disagree with) you find on the Internet. Remember, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity.” Please move on.

  7. Reality says:

    Do you always need to have the last say; but say nothing?

    You presented and judged yourself in such; I am only the messenger. I present the Word; “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

    Those not taught structure, control and love at youth are and spread abuse. They bully, abuse and teach others such as they grow older. Many such look inside themselves and see the root problem; but it is a monumental task to crawl out of the hole dug by others that failed to teach. That is why it is called blasphemy of the Word (Titus 2); it breaches GOD’s plan and presented commandments. This is the mess that others clean up constantly; look at the world around you for explicit proof.

    This presentation was pointed to me as failed guidance. You quote the Archbishop of Split “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things”; a very good teaching. Within unity who do you serve? Within liberty why do you serve such? Within charity; I cannot turn the cheek of others impacted. (Revelations 2:20). Did you want Grace sprinkled on that?

  8. krwordgazer says:

    Shall I give you the last word then? Very well, you have it. The readers can decide for themselves who they agree with.

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