In the case of longitudinal complementarity, parents complement each other over time. One parent may be better at dealing with infants or young children, while the skills of the other emerge once the children have developed greater cognitive ability. In the case of situational complementarity, parents complement each other on a day-to-day basis throughout their parenting years. Here the situation determines which parental skills are most needed. Thus, at times, the parent who is more capable of helping a child with homework is needed; in other instances, the parent who is more able to provide encouragement when the child lacks self- esteem is needed. Notice that these types of complementarity require a high degree of communication and flexibility. This type of complementarity allows each partner to express his or her needs (intimacy), express grace and forgiveness as challenges arise, and be mutually empowering as talents, skills, and responsibilities are developed and used to parent. All of this is built on the covenant between the relational partners. Complementary parenting offers an advantage in that one parent does not have to meet all the child’s needs. The main point is that both parents have an essential role in the empowerment of children.
While children benefit from having both parents involved, it is imperative that parents agree on the basic parenting process. We would warn against parental determinism—the view that parenting is a one-way process—for
there is sufficient evidence that “child temperament plays an important role in shaping the coparenting relationships” (Szabo, Dubas, and van Aken 2012, 554). One certainly must take into account the personality dynamics that play a part in the relationship between children and each of their parents.
Parenting that empowers children to maturity is conceptually similar to the New Testament depiction of discipleship. Jesus gathered and trained disciples, empowering them to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20). Parenting follows a similar course. The ultimate reward for parents and children is a relationship that grows into maturity so that when the children have been empowered, they will in turn empower others.
Developing a Mature, Reciprocating Self
The outcome of parenting, as was the focus of the previous chapter, is the development of a competent, productive adult. In the United States, the route to this outcome is fraught with concern and challenge. Parents are given many expert opinions—often contradictory—that contribute to this sense of uncertainty about parenting the next generation. This anxiety is further exacerbated by the internet dumping an overload of information on parents, many of whom are ill-equipped to evaluate the quality of the information being provided.
As we mentioned in the preceding chapter, we believe that parents need to resist bowing uncritically before expert opinion and simple formulas that guarantee parenting success. It is more important to develop a parenting philosophy that takes into account cultural beliefs, family of origin (FOO) heritages, personal strengths and limitations (both one’s own and those of one’s children), knowledge derived from firsthand experience, and common sense. Confidence in one’s ability as a parent comes from integrating these elements with the clear findings of child development professionals and solid biblical principles. Parents who wait with bated breath for the next gem of wisdom from the so-called experts are setting themselves up for disillusionment when their offspring do not automatically develop into the ideal children they were promised. Child-rearing is a much more complex process than most people realize.
In chapter 2, we introduced the family developmental systems perspective, and in this chapter, we use developmental systems theory (DST) to understand child development (Ford and Lerner 1992; Lerner 2018). Consistent with biblical assumptions about human nature, DST provides an integrative approach to child development.
Many child development theories are limited in that they split explanations of development into oppositional camps—nature versus nurture, individual versus the group or family, mechanistic versus organismic, continuous versus
discontinuous (stage) development, and so on. In its emphasis on relationalism, DST emphasizes the interaction among all factors that contribute to human development. In other words, DST incorporates the context of the individual’s development (family, community, etc.) into understanding how biological, genetic, relational, and psychological factors affect human competence.
Rather than focusing exclusively on the unique contributions of nature or nurture, DST emphasizes the interaction between them as playing a significant role. A proper understanding of child development must consider an interactive rather than an additive process. It is not enough simply to add together the influence of the mother, plus the father, plus other family members, plus peers, plus school and church; we must consider the overall impact of all these factors interacting together on the development of a child.
Some key assumptions in DST (Lerner 2018) are that (1) child development includes a multiplicity of biological, cultural, social, and psychological influences; (2) influences are reciprocal in that parents not only affect their child but also are affected by the child at the same time; (3) each child is a unique human; (4) the development of each child is different; (5) children are active choosing agents, participating in their own development; and (6) children are created for community. At the end of this chapter, we revisit these basic assumptions as we critique child-development theories in light of biblical assumptions about being human.
Jack Balswick, Pamela King, and Kevin Reimer (2016) seek to understand human development from a Christian theological viewpoint. In doing so, they note that developmental theories lack a guiding teleology, an understanding of the goal of development. Implicit in all theories is a soft teleology, or the idea of what is optimal human flourishing. There is a lack of consensus regarding this ultimate goal of human development, as each theory and researcher tends to focus on a limited number of variables and theories of human nature. Balswick, King, and Reimer cite this lack of teleology as a developmental dilemma resulting from the lack of a theologically informed understanding of development completeness. The naturalistic assumption underlying most developmental theories alludes to survivalistic inclinations (humans evolve based on characteristics that best contribute to the survival of the human species) but lacks theological explanation.
A secondary issue tied into the developmental dilemma concerns the difference between description and prescription. Many developmental theorists and researchers attempt to describe the natural process of human development over the course of the lifespan. This description is needed to understand and document how humans change over time. When experts try to popularize these theories and research, they are offered as normative or prescriptive, meaning that this is how
human should change over time. A move from description to prescription is a move from science to scientism. It incorporates morality as important questions arise: Does this theory and research contribute a moral good? Does this understanding of development consider cultural and other influences on human development? How does this research reflect naturalistic or mechanistic views of human nature (called psychological anthropology)? Science alone cannot answer the questions of the developmental dilemma—we must propose a theological telos.
In response to the developmental dilemma, we begin with the assumption that humans are created to reflect the image of God. The theological dimension of human development is sanctification, or the process of becoming Christlike. While part of that image includes rationality (mind), the relationality of God, as exemplified in the relationship among the three persons of the Holy Trinity, is also a core part of that image. Being created in the image of God encompasses a relationality that simultaneously includes differentiation and unity. From a theological perspective, the goal or purpose (teleology) is for people to develop a mature, reciprocating self—a self that in all its uniqueness engages others in relationships (Balswick, King, and Reimer 2016) that reflect the renewed or sanctified nature of Christ. As Hebrews 1 reminds us, Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, representing humanity and allowing access to God the Father. Therefore, our understanding of child-development theories centers on how each child develops into a reciprocating, relational self with respect to God and others, as emulated in the incarnation of Christ, the perfected image of God.
Theories of Child Development Theories of child development consist of systematically organized knowledge accumulated through empirical observation of children. A good theory is like a pair of glasses in that it allows one to focus more sharply on that which is being observed. This is important to remember, as each theory tends to focus on a select aspect or domain of human development. These theories tend to describe distinct aspects of child development, and they shed light on the total developing person when taken together. We draw attention to the major child development theories so that we aren’t blinded by one theory while ignoring the others.
To illustrate this point, let us suppose that representatives of the major theories of child development are watching a child playing in the family living room. Although the observers will be exposed to the same behavior, they will not see it through the same set of lenses. Each observer will perceive the child’s activity through lenses of predetermined notions about human behavior. The cognitive
development theorist will be especially aware of the particular stage of development; the psychoanalytic theorist will look for unconscious motivations in overt behavior; the symbolic interactionist will concentrate on the child’s self- concept; the social learning theorist will pay special attention to what the child has learned from observing others. Although it is not a conscious process, all theorists engage in selective perception, viewing the child’s actions in accordance with their own general conceptualization of human behavior.
It is also important to discern the goal of each developmental theory. In The Reciprocating Self (Balswick et al. 2016), we learn that each stage theory’s teleological focus is described in the final stage of development. In other words, the highest accomplishment or the competence that humans should strive for occurs in or is described by the final level of development. We need to understand the Christian-worldview implications of these views of human flourishing in order to discern their relationship to the reciprocal self and becoming more Christlike.
Table 5 compares the major theories of child development that conceptualize development as emerging in specific sequential stages. After presenting brief summaries of each theory introduced in table 5, brief summaries will be given of four important non-stage-specific theories—object relations, social learning, sociocultural, and social ecology. Due to the specific nature of moral development theory and faith development theory, they will be summarized in the following chapter on family spirituality. A good strategy is to consider how these theories are complementary and not just contradictory in yielding insights into the child development process. As a summary, we will compare and contrast the strengths and limitations of each based on biblical assumptions about being human.
Psychoanalytic Theory: Internal Focus The father of psychoanalytic theory, Sigmund Freud, began by describing the
newborn baby as all id—a bundle of unrestrained instinctive energy seeking gratification via expression. Although he posited that the id contained both a positive instinct (Eros, or life) and a negative instinct (Thanatos, or death), Freud described the id as amoral, impulsive, and ruled by unconscious and irrational demands for immediate gratification. In other words, the motivating or animating force for human development is the gratification of one’s instinctual drives. Therefore, Freudian psychological approaches are often referred to as drive- reduction models. The id seeks the immediate gratification of these drives regardless of social context. Freud saw parents as attempting to impose their own wishes on the child, which when internalized by the child formed the superego.
You can imagine the internal struggle between the id wanting immediate gratification and the superego (the internalization of parental wishes) seeking to deny the immediate gratification of impulses of the id. The superego operates as a moral police officer attempting to contain the id, or to find more socially and morally appropriate expressions of id impulses. The third part of the personality, the ego, develops out of the struggle between the id and the superego. The ego (self) functions as a type of internal diplomat. The ego attempts to calm the wishes of the id and the superego by finding acceptable ways of rewarding each. The superego rewards the ego by building up self-esteem but punishes the ego with guilt when it does not comply (Freud 1949, 1954).
TABLE 5 Major Stage-Specific Theories of Child Development