The ABC network recently aired the show “The Parent Test” with its premise to stress test twelve of the most popular and current parenting styles to find which is “most effective” (read: happy and healthy). Some of these styles may sound familiar:
I am not sure why I decided to watch it, given that my first reaction to the trailer was, “Well, considering none of this will likely be “biblically-based,” this is going to be a mess!” Yet here I am reflecting on the season. Let’s call it a “cultural assessment.” Though I knew I was not watching for tips, tricks and tactics, I recognized the draw a show like this would have on people. Maybe you do too. If you’re anything like me, I’m often scraping for help in how to raise my three boys. Somebody help!
High Achievement parenting may sound enticing because what parent doesn’t want to help their child do well? Natural parenting sounds great because this world is bombarded with lots of technology, so pursuing play and the outdoors sounds magical, and maybe it even hints at your childhood. Helicopter parenting ensures that our kids are protected and safe, something we all desire. Traditional parenting tugs on our longing to pass on the history and traditions of our family and faith.
"Out of desperation, I may be tempted to institute such practice and “good news” immediately. But, are those styles the whole narrative? Even in those moments of desperation, you and I can probably agree, that God’s best—His Word—is what we desire to raise our children by."
Something new and shiny like one of these styles can pop up right at the same time that I find myself struggling to disciple and raise my boys. Out of desperation, I may be tempted to institute such practice and “good news” immediately. But, are those styles the whole narrative? Even in those moments of desperation, you and I can probably agree, that God’s best—His Word—is what we desire to raise our children by. So where do these philosophies, theories and styles fit in this whole parenting and “training up our children in righteousness?”
First let’s start in the beginning, in the Garden. God’s original design in Genesis 3 included freedom in relationship and practice within God’s boundaries that He set. Bring in sin and further aid is needed. God describes in Deuteronomy 6 the way to train our children in righteousness is to teach them His commands as you go about your day and life. His commands were and are still the boundaries born out of relationship and for relationship.
This is first, foremost, and foundational to the way that we raise our children. His standard, ways, and Word are the ultimate source for all things, including parenting. So then, why are there so many more words in this article? Because there is also the recognition that God gives us freedom in our relationships with our children to know ourselves and know them individually. Through those unique relationships we can share God’s best and heart.
"God describes in Deuteronomy 6 the way to train our children in righteousness is to teach them His commands as you go about your day and life."
Our freedom, however, can be the tricky part. The part where we scrape for the answers in our most desperate parenting situations. We love our kids. We don’t want to “fail” them and don’t want them to fail. So “good news” of any kind can sound so alluring. We might have a bit of the Athenian Compulsion in us. If you look at Acts 17:16-21, you’ll see the Athenians were described as people who “spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.” They were known to hear “good news” and immediately take it and applaud it (probably apply it too).
I have one particular child who brings me to the place of “I have no idea” daily. You might use the terms “spirited,” “strong-willed,” “challenger,” etc. Whatever you name it, it’s hard. It is easy for me to fall into the Athenian trap of hearing something new, that sounds good, that could help us parent this child in particular, and immediately adopt it. The Athenian’s example is convicting because as Paul points out, they were really groping for the Good News and taking shallow substitutes, just like I can. This ultimately results in Syncretism. Thankfully, a better “good news” example was given earlier in Acts.
"It is easy for me to fall into the Athenian trap of hearing something new, that sounds good, that could help us parent this child in particular, and immediately adopt it."
The Berean Spirit is our better answer. The Bereans “received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if it was true (Acts 17:10-12).” Their process to hearing “good news” was to test it before applying it. Their belief was founded on what was already true and always true in God’s Word. This new “good news” could be implemented because it was based on God’s Good News already revealed in all wisdom and truth. Though this is speaking of the death and resurrection of the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, the same principle can be applied to our parenting.
If we follow the example of the Bereans, we can hear something that sounds good and test it against what we know to be true in God’s Word. This approach becomes more effective the more consistently we’re in the Scriptures. From there we can 1) Choose to apply this “good news” because it has been proven as truth, wisdom, and aligning with God’s character. 2) Choose to apply parts that are congruent with Truth and ditch the parts that aren’t. 3) Recognize this isn’t of God and His Word at all.
"God’s Good News for parenting includes both- be gentle, loving, kind, patient, slow to anger while also expressing love through correction and discipline."
Let’s try this process with a style that wasn’t represented on the show “The Parent Test,” but one that I have observed in use by both believers and nonbelievers recently: Gentle Parenting. At its core, I noticed an emphasis on gentleness, kindness, love, and patience in the way that we empathize, understand, and respect our children. That sounds so beautiful because those are Fruit of the Spirit. Those are attributes of God. God’s kindness is the very thing that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
So at first glance, this seems to represent God’s character and truth. But with closer examination, I noticed something lacking with Gentle Parenting: discipline. That is not of God’s character. We know from God’s Word that He disciplines those He loves (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). God’s Good News for parenting includes both- be gentle, loving, kind, patient, slow to anger while also expressing love through correction and discipline. One without the other is not really love. While recognizing the draw of Gentle Parenting, this “test it” framework guides me from taking the one-sidedness of this style on its own. Instead, I can be reminded of what is already true of God’s Word and character along with the fuller truth that love includes Godly discipline.
"Let us grope for God’s best, His Good News, where HE reveals His wisdom and truth to us in our own 'parent test.'"
What “good news,” practices, theories, and styles do you need to go back and test against God’s Word? How might this framework give you the ability to work through the new things you hear and see used in parenting? Hopefully you’ve gained greater confidence to live in your freedoms, within the relational boundaries God has established, between you and your child, and, ultimately, you and your Creator. Let us grope for God’s best, His Good News, where HE reveals His wisdom and truth to us in our own “parent test.”