Keeping a Balance as Both Between Permissive Parenting and Overly Strict Parenting Styles
While going through Mukkove Johnson's online course on listening to God, Transformations Academy, one of the practice session questions really jumped out at me: “Which do you identify with more: Beloved Child or Friend of God”?
My immediate response was, “The phrase 'friend of God' has been so overused! I definitely identify more with 'beloved child.'”
But then I realized something.
I am both. It's not an either/or question. It's a both/and statement.
You are, too. You are God's child. You are God's friend.
And, ding, ding, ding! The light bulb came on! I can be both to my children, too. I can be their parents while I'm their friend.
You can, too.
If you want to have the best relationship possible with your children, being not too permissive but also not so restrictive as to force rebellion, how do you find a balance?
The Options of Christian Parenting
1. Only a Friend:
This is either/or parenting. I have heard both extremes. I have friends in both camps. I've heard arguments from both sides.
Those who want to be their children's friends believe that authority is a bad word and makes children rebel. There is actually some truth that high-handed disciplinarians don't relate to their kids where they are. This leads kids to experiment down an immoral road.
If children feel they can't ask their parents hard questions, such as about sex, drugs, or peer pressure, they will look elsewhere for answers. The world has plenty of philosophies and enticements that will be particularly attractive to a lonely, aching, confused or angry teenager.
So, many parents push against this authoritarian parenting style by swinging to the other extreme of being their child's friend. They rightly want a relationship with their children, because communication about potential problems can go a long way to diffusing rebellion and keep the children making right choices, so as to keep that sweet relationship with their parents.
However, they take it too far and believe that no discipline should be doled out or that teachers and pastors will teach them enough of the hard stuff about obeying authority that they won't have to.
Relationship with their parents is so crucial to children's emotional, social, and spiritual development. However, parents are also given the ultimate responsibility for raising their own children. Pawning that responsibility off on teachers and Sunday School teachers does nobody any services, especially the confused child.
I love to observe people, and I've observed many a child whose parents refused to discipline them. They are the most spoiled, obnoxious, and demanding children. Because I definitely wanted to stay away from the extreme of over-indulgence, I used to swing to the opposite side of the pendulum to authority only.
2. Only an Authority Figure:
I heard this parenting style a lot in Christianity. In fact, in the middle of writing this, I received an email from a respected Christian counselor that described 3 ineffective parenting styles, claiming that one of them to avoid is the friend style.
Here is an example of the mindset of Authority Parenting:
These moms and dads are insecure and need their kids to like them. They function as adult buddies instead parents.
They hesitate to exercise their authority for fear of the child’s reaction. They’ve bought into the lie that good parenting is all about letting kids make their own decisions and simply 'supporting' them in that.
In contrast to this, the Bible says children are naturally foolish. It is parental authority which works that foolishness out of them (Proverbs 22:15).
Parents who follow Jesus know they have a responsibility to exercise their God-given authority.
They recognize they are not perfect, but they trust God to provide the wisdom and grace they need to lovingly guide and discipline their children.
You can enjoy a wonderful friendship later with your adult children—but only if you are willing to be the parent now.” - Susanne Maynes (emphasis mine), counselor and pro-life advocate.
I grew up in this conservative arena of Christianity that swung too far to the other extreme, into “parents should be the authority, never a friend.” Not until they grew up and left the house and were no longer under your authority.
But that extreme has flaws, too. There are very little connections, very shallow relationships, very little dialogue to train the child as to why they should do what mom and dad tell them to do.
As a result, the majority of children rebel either in their teen years or experiment with sin after they leave the house. A good portion of the children raised in church leave the faith and never return. I believe this is one of the main reasons.
It's because their faith was never theirs. It was drilled into them as a tradition that their family just did. The parents forced their faith down their children's throats and expected their children to accept, no questions asked. There was never a safe space for doubts to be aired, and the children couldn't even turn to a close parent, for the parents held their children at bay.
Unfortunately, this is all too common in my observations. We need to look at the Biblical examples of good parents.
3. Both Friends & Authorities:
What if we can be both?
Matthew 7:7-12, which I've been studying in the Artists and Writers Grow Through the Word FB group, is contextually in the middle of the Sermon of the Mount, I know. And yes, the Sermon on the Mount was a compilation of many subjects.
But what if there is a thought connection between the subjects Jesus taught about? What if it sheds light on parenting, too?
Let's start with Matthew 7:5:
Matthew 7:5: Jesus gave the original “oxygen mask” analogy, centuries before airplanes were even invented. I must take care of myself before I can really take care of others in need. This doesn't mean that we don't take care of others at all, it just means that we need to be in a healthy enough state to be of help. We must judge ourselves first (Matthew 7:1-4). We must examine ourselves regularly first (1 Corinthians 11:28).
Matthew 7:6: Don't give your best to those who don't appreciate you or your effort. That doesn't mean don't give anything to them; just don't wear yourself out giving everything you have to them. We still treat them with kindness and show agape love, selfless love. But sometimes love, because it always acts in their best interest, is tough. Sometimes what's in their best interest is to let them make the mistakes and pay the consequences on their own. Sometimes that's the only way stubborn people learn their lessons.
Matthew 7:7: God, as a good, heavenly Father, the ultimate model of a good parent, does appreciate you and your effort. He wants and loves our best. So keep on asking, keep on knocking, keep on seeking, and you will find. You may not find the answer you want. But you will find Him.
Matthew 7:9-11: He will not give you stones and serpents when you ask for good things, like physical and spiritual nourishment. He is our Jehovah Jireh, our Provider (Genesis 22:14), who gives “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). Christ is the Word (John 1:1-14) that nourishes us (Matthew 4:4).
Personal example of asking the Good Father:
Last fall, we were in the line of Hurricane Florence. I was studying this passage and trying to listen to the Holy Spirit, and He impressed on my heart that I needed to keep asking and knocking and seeking about lessening the hurricane's wrath.
I was a little hesitant to keep asking. Once I had prayed to keep our family safe and to lesson the force of the storm for everyone, it was in God's hands, wasn't it?
But He reminded me of the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow who wouldn't relent until she wore the judge down (Luke 18:1-8). God is not unjust; in fact, I feared that this hurricane might have been partially a punishment.
But God is also merciful. Like Abraham, I asked, “Lord, if there are even just a handful of Your children in harm's way of the hurricane, will you stay your wrath? Will you be merciful to us?” But Abraham quit after a certain amount. I didn't want to limit God's mercy. He told me to continue to ask and knock and seek.
Now, I'm not saying I'm solely responsible for the lessening of Hurricane Florence from a Category 4 to a Category 2; please don't misunderstand me. For all I know, that would have happened whether I had prayed or not.
But, it was a very personal, sweet connection between me and the Lord when I heard that many Christians had been praying, and the storm's force had weakened so much! What a time of rejoicing and thanksgiving! And then, it was already down to a Tropical Depression by the time it came to us, and it went right around us.
And then right after that, several of the requests I asked for were answered in just the way I had asked. Not all of them. God knew what was best for everybody, which is why I asked for His will to be done. And certainly getting answers is not the only reason to pray.
But He does tell us to ask for what we want. He does tell us to keep persisting in prayer (Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 7:7-8; James 5:16-18), because He is is a merciful, faithful, good Father and our good Shepherd.
How can I show His character even a little bit as a parent to my children? I can lead them to the good Shepherd, who will lead them much better than I ever could.
Because we are both friends of God and children under God's authority we can be both their parents while being their friends. We want to have the best relationship possible with your children to train them up to be godly children, both in heart and behavior. Let's not swing too far to the extreme of being too permissive but also not to the other extreme of too restrictive. Let's keep that balance, modeling our ultimate example of good parenting, God our Father.
This post ended up being way too long, so I broke it up into three posts. March will be Parenting Month. ;)
Stay tuned for Part 2, Should we say “yes” or “no” more to our children as Christian parents?
And Part 3, God is our perfect example of a loving and disciplining parent.
Continue on to Part 2…