If you have no idea what I mean by “parenting style,” then you are probably better off than most of us who are bombarded with philosophies about parenting. Over the years, discussions have moved from Diana Baumrind’s parenting styles of permissive, authoritarian, authoritative, to opposing camps of Attachment Parenting and Baby Wise, to the loose descriptions presented by Parents magazine of planner, optimizer, and freewheeler.
So, do you have a parenting style? Do you follow a certain philosophy? Can you point to a list of tenants that you follow as you raise your children? Let me suggest that if you do, apparently you are in vogue. If you don’t, you probably have more common sense than most of the world seems to think is possible these days. It might be more accurate to say that you don’t follow an established parenting style—you just have your own!
Personally, my husband and I don’t follow any particular book, list, or philosophy of parenting. I have read a lot of books, lists, and philosophies about parenting, but, other than the Bible, I don’t hold to any of them completely. I have gotten good ideas, and have implemented advice from them, but I don’t “follow” any particular one. We have also gotten advice and ideas from other people, such as our own parents, which has been more valuable than what we have read from the “experts.”
There has been a lot of discussion lately about parenting styles, but I want to present my own suggestions for determining how you parent.
Parent your child. You do not have your friend’s child, Dr. Sears’ child, Gary Ezzo’s child, your pediatrician’s child, your sister’s child…you get the idea. Even more important is that among your own children, each one will be different. From day one I could see differences in the sleeping and feeding patterns of each of my children. Different personalities quickly emerge, different language development, different motor skill development—there are a lot of differences. If I cannot follow exactly the same procedures with my three children, what would make me think that I can follow the same procedures as someone else entirely?
I realize there are certain principles that can apply to all children, but there are some very specific ideas that go along with certain parenting styles. If you try to force things onto your children just because you have adopted a certain philosophy about parenting, you are not parenting your child. Use your mind, your instincts, your sensibilities, and your values to make decisions and care for your child. Your own parenting style must fit your personality, and your family’s needs.
Parent with your spouse. It is imperative that mothers and fathers be on the same page about their children. I think there is a tendency for mothers to spend a lot of time reading and researching parenting techniques, and they may think they are following a style that their husbands don’t know anything about! Mothers, particularly stay-at-home moms, do spend more actual time with their children. We have to make the day-to-day decisions about their feeding and other physical care. We have to implement the teaching and discipline that is needed. However, the values and concepts that form the basis for these decisions should be discussed and agreed upon by parents together. Some couples try to focus on spending time alone together and talking about something other than their kids. Sure, spouses need to talk about other things, too, but what is more important to discuss than their children?
As a mom, I need to be doing the same things with my children that my husband will do when he comes in from work. We need to have rules that are enforced by both parents. We need to have “philosophies” that are shared by both parents. I do not just tell my husband what he is going to do or how he is going to treat our kids. He is the leader of our family. If I try to control our approach to parenting and force him into it, I am simply not respecting the role God gave him when He said, “ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). God does not say that fathers take a backseat to whatever mothers want to do. He also does not say that fathers have all control and mothers have no say in how the children are raised. It must be a joint effort. I realize this is sometimes easier said than done—husbands and wives have different personalities that influence the way they look at raising children. But, if you have a good marriage, you should be able to figure out a way to compromise and work together for the benefit of your children. Talk to each other. Work together. Support each other.
Parent with confidence. Believe in what you do, and do it. You do not need accolades or lavish praises from your friends to feel like what you are doing is good. You also do not need to feel intimidated by people who do not like what you do, or who do things differently. Confidence in our parenting skills should not be based on someone else’s parenting skills, but on the results we see in our children. Are they happy? Healthy? Pleasant to be around? If your expectations for your family are being met, then who cares what someone else says about it? I do not need approval from others for my every decision because I have confidence in my reasoning, my instincts, my understanding of my own kids, and my Bible-based values which guide those decisions. If you are constantly seeking affirmation from others about your parenting, then you lack confidence! If you feel pressured to follow a certain parenting style because that is what all of your friends are doing, then you lack confidence! Peer pressure among moms? Yes, it does exist. Do not fall prey to it. Just because something is popular does not mean it has to be done. It might not be best for you or for your child. Do what is best for your family, do what is right in God’s eyes, and feel confident about it.
Parent with humility. Make sure your confidence does not morph into arrogance. You will make mistakes, and humility allows you to admit them and make changes. Sometimes we even have to admit mistakes and apologize to our children! We can show them the value of being humble when we are not too proud to say that we are sorry for something. Most importantly, we must maintain our humility before God, and be willing to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.
Humility allows you to listen to other people who have valuable advice. There is a difference in trying to cave in to the whims of everyone you know, and in listening to those who have experience and who have proved themselves by raising their children well. Accepting correction, listening to ideas and advice, and seeking help when we need it requires humility. Parents seem to forget that we are not self-sufficient, and we do not know everything.
Humility will also prevent us from trying to force our ways onto other people, thinking that we have all the answers. If we expect other people to respect our family decisions, we should do the same for them.
Parent according to the word of God. The Bible has a lot to say about parents and children. In addition to what is specifically stated, the principles of God’s law should be lived out in our family lives every day—love, forgiveness, obedience, kindness, peace, joy. If you read the principles of a certain parenting style, and you see things that are contrary to God’s word, then you must reject it! All the experts in the world do not equal the knowledge of our Heavenly Father. Let me give you an example. One of the 8 principles of parenting on the Attachment Parenting International website is “Practice Positive Discipline.” The statements in that section clearly state that spanking “can create ongoing behavioral and emotional problems” and that any physical punishment is harmful to the child. God, in the wisdom contained in the book of Proverbs, says that physical punishment is beneficial in correcting a child and driving the foolishness out of him (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15). So, do you listen to the attachment parenting gurus, or do you listen to God Almighty?
I realize that spanking is only one part of the overall discipline and training that we provide our kids, and I am not trying to emphasize that over other biblical principles. But this is an example of how the ways of human thinking are contrary to the ways of God, and we must not let ourselves get drawn away from doing what is right.
There are some good concepts in the established “parenting styles” that are promoted today. You may read the Attachment Parenting principles, or the “Baby Wise” book, and identify things that you want to do and that will work well for your family. But there is a danger in identifying a particular style and deciding that you are adhering to that style. If you develop a loyalty to a parenting style, then you feel obligated to follow it entirely. If you have a problem, you consult that one resource, and you miss out on differing opinions that are out there. You may even take the advice of the people who promote that style over the wisdom given by God—lots of people do.
Don’t follow a parenting “style.” Don’t follow the crowds. Just parent your child, with your spouse, with confidence and humility, and base it all on the word of God. If we spent more time studying God’s word than we spent studying the websites and books of men, we would be much better parents.