Some parents embark on the great task of raising a child already convinced of a particular parenting method. They’ve done the research, read the books, scoured the forums, and have made up their minds. Other parents embark on the great task of raising a child without having put any substantial thought into methodology. They haven’t completed the hours of research, haven’t read the books, haven’t scoured the forums, and basically intend to learn as they go. What’s remarkable to me is that parents from both camps can be successful. I expect we’ve all known wonderful parents who have raised wonderful kids through following—or not following—a particular method. And I expect we’ve all known parents whose chaotic parenting practically begged for a method or parents whose too-rigid parenting actually brought harm to their children.
I was recently doing some research on the topic of family and encountered Andreas Kostenberger’s thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of following parenting methods. I found that his thoughts are quite similar to mine. Here’s my summary of the advantages and disadvantages of following a particular parenting method.
First, following a method gives confidence to the parents that they have a plan and a purpose in their parenting. By researching, learning, and implementing a method, parents will have an overall plan and purpose in mind, and hopefully one that is deeply grounded in biblical principles. They will know their calling and know what they hope to accomplish in and through their children.
Second, following a method provides predictability and consistency. Parents will be unified in their overall approach to parenting, and be unified in the nitty-gritty of parenting, like laying down expectations and responding to children’s good or poor behavior. Children will be confident in the expectations that are upon them.
Third, following a method binds parents together with others who follow a similar approach. Such likeminded parents can form supporting communities (whether in the real world or online) to discuss successes and failures and to ensure they are properly following the method.
Yet there are also some potential drawbacks with following a method. Obviously, the greatest of these is that the method itself is faulty or unbiblical. But putting that aside, and assuming that the method is drawn from the Bible, what other drawbacks could there be?
First, following a method can give false confidence in parenting. In the short- or medium-term, a method can deliver results in conditioning children to avoid negative consequences and pursue positive ones. Yet methods that are too rigid can motivate children to rebel in the long-term as they begin to gain their independence. Such rebellion often does not become visible until the children are well into their teens. Meanwhile, methods that are too lax can leave children undisciplined or unprepared for life in this world.
Second, following a method can take the emphasis off people and shift it instead to principles. There is always the danger that we regard children as little projects more than real people. There is always the danger that parenting becomes abstract rather than deeply personal—the mere following of principles instead of the careful shepherding of souls.
Third, following a method can reduce the individuality and uniqueness of each child. While it’s clear that all children need affirmation and discipline, the specific forms may need to be as unique as the individuals themselves. Methods may compel us to treat all children as if they are the same rather than looking for the ways in which they are each unique.
Here is how Kostenberger summarizes.
A proper approach to parenting needs to leave adequate room for the relational component in parenting. Christian parenting should be undergirded by wisdom derived from meditation on Scripture, the filling of the Holy Spirit, advice from others (this is where quality literature can be very helpful if it is balanced and based on biblical principles), and relational experience with the child. Ultimately, we should be careful not to rely on any one human method that, no matter how biblical it may claim to be, is always one step removed from the Bible. Our supreme trust should be in God and in his Word, and we must humbly acknowledge that our understanding of Scripture is not to be equated with the teaching of Scripture itself.
It seems to me that we, as parents, can and should learn from methods, but be very cautious about following them too rigidly. We must always ensure our confidence in parenting has not subtly shifted from the goodness of God to the performance of methodology.