BK (before kids) I met 2 women with vastly differing parenting styles, both of whom rooted their parenting in their beliefs about the nature of God and humankind—their theology.
Donna emphasized God’s order and the sinfulness of humanity. Therefore, providing babies with a structured environment including scheduled feeding, napping, and playing would corral their sinful natures. The baby was not the center of the universe. Instead the baby was a part (albeit an important part) of a community, so the baby’s needs didn’t trump the needs of the mother, the marriage or the rest of the family. And because Donna eventually had 6 kids, her emphasis on order may have been a necessary survival skill!
Kathy stressed God’s unconditional love and omnipresence. Believing that children’s relationships with God are fundamentally shaped by their relationships with their parents, she practiced her own version of Dr. Sear’s attachment parenting—on-demand feeding, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping. When I invited her to speak to graduate students about parenting, she wore her youngest daughter in a sling the whole talk!
And then there was Nancy, who didn’t talk about her theology of parenting, but about the practicalities of parenting. Her advice at my baby shower? “With our first child, we wanted equality of child-rearing so we both woke up to feed, diaper and care for the kid every night. And we were both exhausted all the time. By child #3, we decided to divide and conquer!”
When I got pregnant I asked a friend with a 10 month old, “Do I go with Donna, Kathy or Nancy?”
“Oh Nancy all the way,” said my friend who hadn’t slept in 10 months, “Do what works.”
Yet always the idealist, I wanted my theology to guide my parenting. But which aspects of God’s character should I emphasize?
As someone who’s never been particularly orderly, Donna’s parenting style was out—I just wasn’t capable. I liked Kathy’s priority of God’s unconditional love, my education inclined me towards attachment theories of parenting, and if it would lead to my kid securely experiencing God’s love, why not?
But when our daughter was born, just keeping this tiny creature alive whupped my butt. We moved cities 2 ½ months later. Our daughter didn’t sleep more than 1½ hours for the first 8 months of her life. I tried to work while my husband went to grad school and we had no money for childcare.
More sobering, when our daughter entered her terrible twos, my anger and control issues came out. No matter how I wanted to mirror God’s goodness to my child, instead, too often, she received impatience and ill temper instead.
So my theology of parenting changed. God indeed is good—unconditionally loving, omnipresent, and ever-forgiving.
But I’m not God.
As my 3 (now teenage) kids are too happy to point out regularly, I’m imperfect. So here are the great theological treatises that get proclaimed in our house:
- God loves you. I love you. But I’m out of energy and need space.
- God wants you to ask him for everything you need and honors the persistent widow. I’m not God. STOP ASKING/WHINING/PESTERING!
- God has the capacity to listen to you forever. I don’t.
Frankly, my clearest acts of practical theology are when I apologize and ask my children for forgiveness.
We’re resigned that our kids will need therapy to work out all the ways we’ve messed them up. But I’m OK with that because I’m trusting that God’s love, mercy and healing can cover all the ways we fail.
And that’s good theology for parents.
What is your theology of parenting?
What aspects of God have shaped how you raise your kids?
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