One issue here is the transformation of the meaning of parenting. In premodern cultures, the main role of parents was to teach children the family trade. If a child was born to a farmer or blacksmith, the parents would teach
the child the skills essential to participate in that business. Further, this would teach children their roles in the community. For modern and postmodern parents, the emphasis is on meeting the needs of children to enhance their flourishing. The modern and postmodern method for ensuring a child’s flourishing is to engage them in many activities outside the home. When it was time for Tom’s son Nathaniel to attend preschool at the age of three, there was a huge amount of social pressure to decide which was the perfect day care center based on educational outcomes and pedagogy! When the open enrollment day arrived, we went to line up for registration at 5:00 a.m., and we were dismayed to see that there were already fifteen parents ahead of us in line. For preschool day care! The point here is that these types of decisions are assumed to have a profound effect on a child’s well-being— that somehow this single choice would determine the outcomes of Nathaniel’s life.
It is certainly helpful for parents to gain a solid understanding of the biological, psychological, and social development of children so that they have realistic, “age-appropriate” expectations. But in the long run, they need to feel confident in themselves as they nurture, discipline, guide, and relate to their own children. Together, husband and wife must be coleaders in deciding what is best for their children. This develops as they integrate expert knowledge with the personal knowledge that comes from building a secure relationship with their unique children and empowering them to be all they can be.
As contributors to the growing body of expert opinion, we hasten to point out that our quarrel is not with expert opinion but rather with the dogmatism under which some advice is given. We advocate informing parents about child development and parenting methods as well as encouraging them to critically analyze the information and compare it with biblical principles. Parenting is inherently a values-based process. Parents need to listen to and engage with expert advice and opinions and ultimately decide for themselves if and how to apply these opinions in their families. One’s identity as a partner and parent will inform how one parents his or her offspring. This identity is crucial because the family is their family, and they will inculcate this meaning and identity in their children. Effective parenting must always account for the particular needs of each child and the family as a whole, incorporating or discarding ideas accordingly.
Various New Testament passages describe the Christian life as growth from spiritual infancy to maturity. Theologically, this process is called sanctification, and the goal is becoming more Christlike. The new believer starts as an infant and eventually grows up in Christ. One moves from a state of dependency—in which others model, teach, and disciple—to a mature walk with God. The book of Hebrews describes how new believers need spiritual “milk” like a baby does, and the expectation is that someday they will receive solid food as a mature Christian (Heb. 5:11–14). As this growth occurs, the believer begins to disciple others. Although the believer is always dependent on God and the Holy Spirit in that growth process, there is also a natural progression in maturity, leading the believer to be used by God to serve and minister to others.
The human developmental process encompasses a similar progression from dependency and infancy toward maturity and adulthood. Maturity is often defined as self-sufficiency and independence from one’s parents. Most developmental theorists, however, hold that maturity involves more than independence; it entails the capacity to contribute in a positive and constructive way to the good of others. For example, Erik Erikson (E. Erikson 1980; J. Erikson 1997) identifies the virtue of care as the hallmark of adult identity development. In adulthood, the resolution of the struggle between generativity and despair is one of the lengthiest stages. In this stage, individuals identify, develop, and maintain commitments to career, family, and community. These commitments and behavior result in care. However, people may experience regret or lack of concern about career and family, experiencing stagnation. As Donald Capps (2000, 2008) describes it, stagnation results in acedia, which is apathy or a profound experience of disinterest in and inability for empathy. This is a spiritual malaise. The spiritual cure for this is renewing one’s spirit and understanding one’s purpose. This means care is essential to Christian development.
The New Testament describes empowerment as the building up of one another in the Christian faith. It involves loving and serving others and helping them mature spiritually. This description is consistent with the social-science literature regarding the type of parenting that helps children mature. The parenting model we present in this chapter focuses on the parent- child relationship. Each parent and each child is developing and maturing throughout the entire process. We believe that our model, which emphasizes empowering children to maturity, is a needed alternative to models that
emphasize control and coercive power. Our model is based on engendering hope and growth in parents and children as they journey together toward maturity.
Speaking for a moment from our personal experience as parents and grandparents rather than as experts, we would challenge parents to concentrate less on the technique of good parenting and more on the process of being a parent. Good parenting is a matter of interacting with our children day in and day out. It is these day-to-day experiences that build our relationships with them. The covenantal bond between spouses forms the basis for the covenantal bond with the children, securing children and parents together. Children experience the truth that their parents are with them and for them, which provides security even when correction and discipline are needed. Even though the suggestions that follow offer useful guidelines that contribute to an understanding of the child-rearing process, parents can function more freely and openly in their role if they are simply willing to be more genuine with their children.
The Basic Components of Parenting Styles Now that we have dispelled the notion that there is one correct way to parent children, we will investigate what the social-science literature says about various parenting styles. Parents and other primary caretakers have a significant impact on children’s emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual development. While some parenting styles encourage growth and empowerment, others hinder or block growth either by fostering dependency or by expecting premature self-reliance. Before we analyze these various styles, it will be helpful to examine some of the components that go into them —namely, approaches to discipline and types of leadership.
Approaches to Discipline Early research into parent-child relationships distinguished between
permissive and restrictive parenting. Proponents of permissive parenting, while not denying the need for discipline, stressed that a child’s greatest need is for warmth and security. The restrictive school of thought, while not rejecting parental affection, emphasized that a child’s greatest need is for discipline, responsibility, and self-control.
Recent literature has taken the same approach but describes the two main dimensions of parenting in terms of responsiveness and demandingness (Carlo et al. 2018). Responsiveness focuses on how parents are engaged emotionally with children’s experiences and expressions of feelings. Highly responsive parents tend to be more accepting of the children’s actions and feelings and less punitive. Demandingness describes parents who have higher behavioral expectations for their children and consistent enforcement of those standards and expectations. Some of the research on parenting and parenting styles also uses terms like support and control: Support is defined as making the child feel comfortable in the presence of the parent and giving the child a sense of acceptance and approval as a person. Control is defined as directing the child to behave in a manner desirable to the parents. Examples of control include giving guidelines and setting limits.
Based on the parental support and control dimensions, Diana Baumrind (1996, 2005) identifies three types of parents—authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive—each of which differs in effectiveness in eliciting obedience and responsibility in a child’s moral/character development. A number of studies have found that a combination of high levels of support and control—authoritative parenting—is most conducive to developing competency and mental and behavioral health in children and adolescents (Akcinar and Baydar 2014; Larzelere et al. 2013; Pinquart 2017). An interesting finding here is that authoritative parenting is associated with better educational outcomes for children, among other things (Majumder 2016). The authoritarian style (low support and high control) produces children who respect authority but who show little independence and only moderate social competence. Permissive parenting (high support and low control) tends to produce children who lack both social competence and interdependence.
It is important to incorporate both dimensions into the parents’ style. Children need both nurturing and emotional support and clear expectations and parameters. As parents gain more experience and learn more parenting tools, they begin building their parenting toolbox. We generally encourage more gentle and supportive parenting strategies with children. As behavior escalates, even when parents have been consistent in setting boundaries, they may need to be firmer and more creative in establishing consequences for misbehavior.
Disciplining children takes time, patience, and wisdom. Parents who employ corporal punishment as the primary or even exclusive method of discipline are admitting bankruptcy in disciplinary approaches, demonstrating an inability to be creative and effective. Although coercive punishment does work when parents are attempting to eliminate certain behaviors, it also teaches children that force is what counts. Consistent use of physical punishment eventually leads to dominating or imposing power. This may lead children to retaliate or try to get even. An effective parent wins a child’s cooperation by leading rather than coercing.
A comprehensive study of African American, European American, and Hispanic children examined the relationship between physical discipline, emotional support, and behavior problems in children. It was found that parental spanking increased the level of problem behavior in the child over time, but only when maternal emotional support was low. Additionally, corporal punishment was associated with higher degrees of parental frustration regarding children’s misbehavior (Irons et al. 2018). Parental support is a key factor in how children respond to spanking. The social- science evidence is becoming more and more conclusive about the overall negative effects of corporal punishment (Larzelere et al. 2010; Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor 2016). We strongly discourage using physical force with children since there are so many other effective ways of discipline.
Unfortunately, the terms discipline and punishment are often confused in our society. Some Christians defend physical punishment based on verses such as Proverbs 13:24: “Those who spare the rod hate their children.” However, in applying that verse, it is important to consider how the rod was used in the pastoral culture of Old Testament times. It was an instrument to guide ignorant sheep, not a means of beating them into submission. Note how the verse concludes: “But those who love them are diligent to discipline them.” Discipline is instructive and restorative, used to correct and teach appropriate behaviors. The heart of discipline is to educate children in the proper path.
It is important to recognize that child-rearing patterns considered authoritarian in Western culture might be viewed differently in other cultures. What seems to make for the best disciplinary parenting practice is the certainty or consistency of the practice as opposed to its severity. For example, Asian families frequently exert coercive control because of the
demands for high achievement and conformity in the culture. Children in these homes tend to adopt their parents’ family and societal values.
The evidence suggests that corporal punishment and physical abuse tend toward more negative child outcomes, and there is only a slight difference in the size of this effect between abuse and physical punishment (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor 2016). Continued exposure to corporal punishment is associated with increased adult antisocial behavior, lower educational outcomes, and maladjustment (Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor 2016; McKinney, Morse, and Pastuszak 2016).
Physical punishment leads to disempowerment, whereas natural and logical consequences lead to empowerment. Punishment is ultimately discouraging to a child. Children who are physically punished are receiving a severe consequence for their action, but there tends to be little instruction or guidance for improvement. Physical punishment emphasizes that the parents are in control of the environment, which reduces a sense of personal agency. The best way to empower children is to have them face the consequences of their behavior and hold them responsible for their actions in a consistent, firm, and loving manner. Recognition of the consequences of one’s behavior leads to internal control, whereas punishment focuses on external means.
Logical and natural consequences serve to stimulate children’s creative responses. Parents who fail to honor and respect their children will find that their children fail to honor and respect them. The traits of an effective parent include wisdom, vision, a sense of humor, patience, encouragement, and good judgment, not the exercise of superior power. Using everyday situations to teach consequences promotes the child’s self-confidence, ability to take others into account, and responsibility for one’s own behavior.
In our metaphor of children as agents who are able to influence and engage their social environments, increasing self-regulation is key. Parents have a crucial role in providing emotional support for their children—this is the responsiveness dimension we discussed. Parents must also provide consistent boundaries or standards, which reflect the demanding side of parenting. Erring on the side of permissiveness or responsiveness fosters adults who have difficulty managing their emotions and delaying gratification. Erring on the side of demandingness results in rigid, distant, and domineering adults who have difficulty connecting emotionally with others.
Types of Leadership Building on research about leadership and small groups, we suggest that
empowered parenting involves two different types of leadership skills (J. K. Balswick et al. 2003): instrumental and socio-emotional. Instrumental leadership is task oriented, focusing on the things that need to be accomplished in the group. Such leadership organizes activities, sets goals, and generally keeps the group focused on accomplishing those goals. Socio- emotional leadership, by contrast, is person oriented and concentrates on maintaining a healthy relationship among group members. Research indicates that both types of leadership skills are necessary if small groups are to function well. Interestingly enough, it has also been discovered that the two types of skills are rarely found in the same individual.
The studies on instrumental and socio-emotional leadership in small groups apply to the family as well. Instrumental parenting aims at inculcating beliefs, values, and attitudes. It involves teaching children what they must know and how they must behave to be in good standing within the family. Socio-emotional parenting attends to the emotional nature of the relationship between parents and children. Whereas instrumental parenting focuses on tasks and content, socio-emotional parenting focuses on the affective bonding between parent and child (Baumrind 1996).
Alternative Parenting Styles Having briefly defined parental support and control as well as the instrumental and socio-emotional aspects of parenting, we are ready to combine these two areas to discuss alternative styles of parenting and their effects on children. We will consider various instrumental styles and then several socio-emotional approaches.
Instrumental Parenting Figure 6 represents the four styles of instrumental parenting. Two
dimensions are involved: action and content. Parenting styles can be classified as either high or low in action. That is, some parents engage in and thus demonstrate the type of behavior they want their children to adopt; other parents make no such effort. Parenting styles can also be either high or low in content. Some parents verbally communicate through a rich elaboration of
rules, norms, values, beliefs, and ideology; others simply do not bother to teach their children.
Parenting that is low in both action and content is the neglectful style. Proper behavior is neither displayed nor taught. Because the parents give no direction verbally or otherwise, the children are on their own to latch on to any social norm or form of behavior. The parent who is neglectful in instrumental parenting is also likely to be neglectful in socio-emotional parenting. This style leaves much to be desired, since the children lack good supportive care and must learn by trial and error to fend for themselves.
Parenting that is low in action and high in content is the teaching style. The parent, in effect, says to the child, “Do as I say but don’t look to my behavior as a model.” Children in such a situation feel that they are being