Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is Your Parenting Style Biblical?

This post may be a bit controversial. But I feel strongly that it needs to be said-perhaps to warn current generations not to repeat past mistakes of their predecessors and of contemporaries who think they are teaching biblical training principles.

I've cried tears for the children and babies that I've known who have had to endure “baby trainer” techniques promoted by parenting movements and practiced by well-meaning Christian parents. These particular techniques do not promote attachment nor take into account developmental capabilities of the infants and children and there is a high potential for long term impact in the families who use the misguided and un-biblical methods passed off as Christian parenting principles. While I do believe in child training, I also believe that God intended parents, mothers especially, to be attentive to the needs of their children. Through the nurture and awareness of the child, God's care for His children is learned. Without this, children learn that God is vindictive, un-caring and even distantly detached from their lives. They don't learn that they are a special creation of God with value and purpose. Instead, they learn that they are de-valued and incompetent to do anything God would ask them to do.

Children who grow up without having their needs met, are among the ranks of those who later have difficulty in peer relationships, display juvenile delinquent behavior and poor school performance. Later in life, they may end up continuously unemployed, repetitive job-hoppers and even as statistics in the justice system. (Not all who do these things can be traced back to an origin of unmet needs but many are. Not all who have unmet needs will make poor life choices either. Each person has a free will to choose his or her path in life but I speak in general here when I reference the cause and effect of childhood neglect.)

One only needs to look at the foster care system to see percentages. High numbers of those who have been neglected and abused age out of the programs and never find placement in a loving environment. They tend to perpetuate the neglect and violence that was done to them. Even those who are saved late have slim odds for recovery, without factoring in miraculous intervention and love. (Mind you, I am not saying that all children who experience abuse will abuse, but a high percentage do. I'm also not saying that rescuing foster children is a lost cause. Certainly not! If I believed that, I would not be doing so. What I am saying is that humans have basic needs for these--among other things: love, acceptance, nurture, having hunger and thirst met and close physical touch. When these needs are not met, there are consequences.)

Lack of basic need fulfillment is often the primary causative factor of Reactive Attachment Disorder and other co-morbid mental health disorders. Children with these labels learn that their needs which are not considered important by adults must either: 1. Have no real importance. As a result, they become forever minimized or nullified OR 2. Become met elsewhere. In order to survive, the children must find a way to meet their own needs and become their own boss/caregivers and in doing so they develop no healthy attachments to others. Either one of these core values will remain forever a part of a person's psyche unless they discover the miraculous power of God's love in their lives through the love of another person. And even then, they will battle in their minds to hold onto truth and reject the lies from the damage done in early childhood.

But, you say, “Our kids aren't foster children and our home is a Christian home where we believe in discipline and order.” So do I. Any who know me well, would verify that I do. But one thing that pains me is that I've seen countless people in the the Christian School movement, Homeschooling, and other church settings who have mistakenly become abusive in their attempts to control and raise their children. I've seen also that in attempt to not produce self-centered children, there have been some who became neglectful of their children's basic human needs.

I've seen the end result, as the teenagers grow into adulthood to be: rebellious, bitter, denying the faith and even hating their parents for all the abuse and neglect perpetrated upon them. Once in a while, you will hear of a case where the victimized child victimizes the adults who hurt them. That is the law of sowing and reaping in full force.

Child training is important. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:6 that we are to train up a child in the way he or she should go and when he or she is old they will not depart from it. Most people think that means that if you raise them in the Faith they will remain in the Faith. Some have ventured to say that the “in the way he should go” means “according to his or her natural bent.” Although the traditional understanding of the verse is applicable, the verse also can imply that we need an understanding of each child's natural ability, needs and talents. Since every child has basic needs to be loved and nurtured, a parenting view which excludes meeting those basic needs is an unbiblical approach.

"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Let me ask you a question. How is it nurturing to ignore your baby when he or she is left to cry over a basic need? I'm not talking about catering to every little whimper when you know that each need has been met. What I am referring to is the parent who ignores changing a wet diaper or breastfeeding a crying baby just because it is not on the schedule yet. I'm sorry but this offends me. Explain how that is nurturing, please. Note: schedules and structure are important but they have to be applied with understanding and grace. Anything else is legalism.

Now, I've cared for colicky babies and dealt with disagreeable behavior in children. I worked as a nanny, helped in Christian schools, taught in youth groups, Sunday school, junior church and raised a child with multiple disabilities. I'm currently raising two children with special needs. I've also been a foster parent. I've seen behavior during some of this experience that would make most parents' skin crawl but there is one thing I have never believed: I never felt that subtracting nurture from the picture would help any negative behavior in those situations.

Even though the children I now work with are past the stage of infant dependency, each one still has the need to be loved, given attention and appreciated as well as encouraged in their God-given potential. Not to mention that they each have their own methods of understanding and communication. I train each of them differently.

As children who did not have their needs met in infancy, they have developed defensive responses to certain situations and environments. Survival skills have grown instinctive behavior that is socially unacceptable in many circles. But this can be undone. I've seen the power of nurture and love in their lives. I've seen what God's promises and direction have done in their hearts and faster than the world deemed possible. Are they perfect? No. Neither am I? Do they have baggage? You bet. Does this mean they are unreachable or that God does not have a plan for their lives? Absolutely not! If their free will aligns with biblical training and blessings, then God's total healing is possible.

But much damage is done by a lack of nurture. Parent's, please don't take this lightly. There are many parenting experts out there who will give you psychological and humanistic advice on parenting. There are many within the church who claim to be promoting biblical values but are instead, giving you theory that will cause deep-rooted problems. We, the Christian community as a whole, feel sorry for those who grew up in the foster care system without loving parents. But we should also watch ourselves and our tendencies in the church to follow winds of teaching and whims in the child training movement. We must listen to what these child training “experts” are really saying and practicing and compare it with the loving guidance of the Bible. We should keep our children close and spend time with them regularly throughout the day. They need quality time with their parents. They also need quantity.

When you are sitting at the computer, involve them, show them the funny videos, Facebook comments and anything that is appropriate. When you go about doing your daily chores, include them. Give them a job to do next to you. If they are too small to participate, put them in a snuggly on your back and talk to them constantly. You're not just talking to them. You are building their language skills and their trust in you as their parent. When they cry, soothe them, entertain them, distract them. This teaches them. Ignoring them does not teach them. It makes them resentful. (Though obnoxious behavior can be ignored temporarily, it needs to be addressed in a non-threatening way at some point. Just don't let it rule the situation. You can still be large and in charge without neglecting your child or being abusive.) But remember to use a communication method that is age-appropriate and educationally-appropriate according to their understanding level regardless of their ages. Sometimes you can train through humor and role playing. Sometimes, a firm reprimand in a loving tone is helpful. Either way, keep in mind your child's natural bent and needs and refrain from abusive and harsh techniques. Notice I said “harsh” not “strict”. Some children's personalities and/or life experiences require firmer direction and supervision. Keep in mind the attitude with which you address them needs to be loving, though.)

I am not an expert. I'm am merely a parent who has grown up in the church and seen that Christians aren't perfect either. It is easy to become involved with ventures and ministries and drag our children along with us without including them at their own level where appropriate. I've seen children hanging around churches for hours on end in boredom. Why is this? Why don't the parents make them a part of what they are doing instead? Why don't they make it a fun teaching opportunity? Why doesn't one parent play with them in the parking lot while the other takes care of business? Why doesn't someone help these children find their own callings and purposes in the Kingdom instead of assuming that they are too young to be used of the Lord? Samuel was a young boy when called to lead Israel. Daniel was a teenager. Naaman's little servant girl used her words to lead her master to the prophet in Israel who could heal him of his leprosy. Who told these children that God could use them? Why weren't they told, “You're too young. Stop bothering us while we adults do ministry.”? Actually, some were. Samuel was told to go back to bed. Thank God, he was persistent. In some homes, Samuel would have been told to wait until he was older to minister to God but Samuel's mother had brought him to the temple to serve God at a young age-after she nurtured and weaned him! I can imagine that during this time, she poured her heart of love on this her only child, the promise from the Lord. As one who suffered many years of infertility, I do the same. I view my children as a promise from the Lord. They are a heritage. They are not to be ignored, neglected or deprived. They are an investment. They are not always fun to raise but they are a joy to me.

There has been too much oppression of children in the church. It needs to stop. I do believe in biblical authority but I also believe that just as God is our higher authority and he has placed creativity and freedom in our lives, so we should respond with our children. We point the finger at the world where error is rampant and rightly so sometimes but we need to look in our own camp as well to make sure we are caring for and raising children in a way that is consistent with the world view of having a loving, heavenly father, who is patient, firm, caring, knows our needs and meets them. It is true that He disciplines those whom He loves, but it is His goodness and mercy that bring us to Him and causes us to remain attached to Him.

6 comments:

JoJo Tabares said...

Wow! I haven't really seen this. I guess I'm quite blessed to see some wonderful parenting in the Christian community. I do see too much indulgence outside the church in an attempt to be their children's best buddy and avoid training them at all. So I guess I see the opposite. We do need to strike that balance of nurture with discipline and sometimes there are times when I pick my battles and plenty of times when we all just are silly and have fun. Though provoking post!

BeckyJoie at Leaders in Learning said...

JoJo, it's not as prevalent in the current church era as it was when I was growing up and when my oldest son was little but there are still pockets of it here and there. And yes, indulgence is another abuse of parenting that will not train up loving an godly children.

You are right. Balance is key. Thanks for the comments.

krisandalanna said...

BeckyJoie this is so true! It was refreshing to read someone else's take on parenting that matches up with mine!

familygregg said...

http://familygregg.blogspot.com/2008/07/wow.html


and

http://familygregg.blogspot.com/2008/05/reactive-attachment-disorder_19.html

BeckyJoie at Leaders in Learning said...

Dawn, I had not read your blogposts on that since I did not know you back when you posted a similar blog back then. I think we came to similar conclusions on the topic, though. Thanks for leaving the blogpost links so we could read them.

Jeff and Laura said...

Years ago when I was working with preschoolers I had a student who was very emotional. He had a very difficult time seperating from his parents, much more so than any other child I had worked with from this age category.
His parent were wonderful people. Very strong Christians with good morals, a strong sense of what family should be, and I really liked them.
Not long after this child had begun at our program he started asking to be spanked with an object. He kept saying he was a bad boy and wanted to be good and needed to be spanked with an object in order to be good. He had not done anything wrong, no one had gotten upset with him, he simply thought of himself as a bad boy until he would receive punishment.
It was so difficult to watch. I believe the parents had unknowingly taught their young child that he was bad and that in order to become good he needed to have punishment.
A report was filed with the child protective agency, whom interviewed the parents and found no issue. The parents removed their child from the program he was in and nothing changed for him.
I thought it was too bad that a little brainstorming and education had not been conducted. I think the situation could have been improved quickly and easily if a different approach had been taken.
Instead I think the family withdrew from the preschool believing they were being persecuted and continued with their pattern.
I've found that some times parents just don't know of another option when it comes to disciplining their child. They do what was done with them and do not always have the ability to look at the situation differently on their own.