In Part 1, we considered 6 ways parenting methods fail and 3 reasons why. In Part 2, we will consider the shortcomings of child-centered parenting and the promise of discipline and instruction.
The Failure of Child-centered Parenting
Parenting isn’t a one size fits all. What works with one doesn’t always work with another. Customize. Focus on his or her particular needs. In the book Nurture Shock, the authors trace the history of the self-esteem movement. The self-esteem movement came along and told us that the “single most important thing in a child’s development was positive self-esteem.” A mass of research, books, and seminars were spawned.
Self-esteem task forces were formed in school districts across the country. Anything that damaged self-esteem was axed. Coaches stopped counting goals and handing out trophies. Teachers threw out their red pens. There was even a school district in Massachusetts that forced kids to play jump rope with an imaginary rope, lest they trip on the rope and suffer embarrassment! Child-centered parenting at its best!
In 2003, Dr. Roy Baumeister, the leading proponent of self-esteem research, was asked to review 15,000 studies on the topic. He discovered that self-esteem did not improve grades, career achievement, reduce drinking or violence. He was quoted as saying this was the “biggest disappointment of his career.” When we place our children in the center of our lives, we set our families up for disappointment.
For many of you, everything bows to your children, including your marriage. Your kids are your little idols. Everything revolves around them. Your concern for their safety cripples their sense of community. You parent out of fear, instill fear in them as a hyper-protective parent.
Your concern about influences leads you to eliminate social and cultural experiences, which isn’t always bad, but when a parent believes that eliminating certain influences is what makes their child better, they are mistaken. Every child is ultimately shaped, not by influences but by their heart response to their influences and options. My son chooses to use rude language, not because of influences but because his heart is rebelling against what Mom and Dad said. Children change, for good and bad, based on what their heart longs for, believes, desires not their influences.
Or maybe it’s about their schooling. The best education no matter what. You pony up the big bucks. Giving to God goes down because you giving so much to your mini-god, your child. And, oh, they have to have a well-rounded social life, so you run around town taking them to dance and soccer and guitar and so on. You are so busy you don’t have time be the church, to live in community, much less to be a family. You live a child-centered life, not a God-centered life. You’ll do whatever it takes to make them happy, to give them positive self-image.
When we make our children our functional idols, we remove the one thing they need most—God. We practically tell them that they are in charge, they are most important, they are god. If they are god, then they have no need of heart change, instruction, or discipline. They will continue to rebel until it gets out of hand.
Fathers as Parents
So method-centered and child-centered parenting so often neglect what matters most, God. If our children are eternal souls, not little idols, then our parenting has to be affected by eternity. If we are going to pursue their highest good, then we need to take their Creator’s design into account. We need to read and apply the Bible. Where our methods conflict with the Bible, we should jettison the methods.
Now, interestingly, there’s not a lot on methods in the Bible. So there’s flexibility. The reason for this is that the Bible is God-centered, not child-centered. In Ephesians 6, there are instructions for children and parents. We’re focusing on parents. Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Notice it begins with “fathers”. Now, this instruction doesn’t remove mothers from parenting, but it places a priority on fathers. If you recall, fathers are designed by God to bring leadership and order into the family (1 Cor 11:3). They are under God’s authority, and are to lead their wives and children according to his instruction.
Here’s a problem: a lot of dads give themselves a get out of parenting pass because they bring home the bacon. Before the Industrial Revolution, both mother and father worked around the house, in the field and in the garden, for instance. They both raised the kids. But after the Industrial Revolution, fathers left home. And slowly they left their fatherly responsibilities behind, until the responsibility was reduced to one— bring home the bacon, provide for the family. This is bad parenting. Making money for your family isn’t even close enough to make you a good parent.
Discipline and Instruction
Here’s a solution: don’t provoke your kids, but bring them up. What does it mean to bring up your kids? Nurture. The word is used a few verses earlier to refer to the way a husband nurtures and cares for his own body. Its intimate, attentive, nurturing. Okay, how? “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Here are two biblical methods for parenting—discipline and instruction. These two words appear throughout Scripture to describe the task of parenting (Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Ephesians, Colossians, etc). Discipline and instruction require time, reflection, and attention to our children’s hearts not merely their influences or esteem.
Most parents lean towards discipline or instruction or even vacillate between the two. If we’re not careful, we will parent our kids like a drunk. When a drunk is pulled over and asked to walk the line, he sways back and forth across the line. He is imbalanced. Imbalanced parenting is dangerous. If we swing too far to discipline, we become a disciplinarian. If we swing too far towards instruction become a buddy. Our kids need parents not buddies or disciplinarians. In our next post, we will examine how to avoid the extremes of child-centered parenting and disciplinarian and buddy by focusing in on gospel-centered parenting.