“Biblical” Parenting: Introduction

“Biblical” Parenting: Introduction September 3, 2012

by Latebloomer

Every once in a while, I realize something shockingly obvious, something that confronts yet another false assumption that has managed to cling to my mind even as I’ve moved further and further away from my fundamentalist Christian roots.

In the whole Bible, there is not a single verse that credits parents for having raised a good child.  Nothing from God, nothing from any adult sons or daughters in the Bible.  Not one word of thanks, not one word of credit.
It would be easy to insert a few parental credit verses into the Bible.  Maybe we could add a little phrase here or there in the Old Testament, such as “King David, because of his godly parents,” or “Moses, thanks to his childhood training;” or maybe we could stick something in the New Testament epistles: “The fruit of the Spirit and of spanking is self-control.” No? Perhaps the Gospels then?  Maybe Jesus on the cross could say something like, “I couldn’t have gotten where I am today without the support of my godly mother Mary.  There she is, people.  Let’s give her a round of applause!
But those verses are not there.  So why do fundamentalist Christian parents today feel they have so much control over their children’s destinies?  Why do they think that they can help their child get closer to God by getting in the middle?  Why do they put so much pressure on themselves, considering themselves failures if their children grow up to take a different path?
In the homeschooling circles that I was raised in, many of these unhealthy ideas about parenting came from several books that claimed to be about true “Biblical” parenting.   First on the market was a 1979 book by Richard Fugate, called “What the Bible Says About Child Training.”  Fugate’s book appears to have inspired two other books that surpassed his own book in popularity: Michael Pearl’s 1994 “To Train Up A Child” and Reb Bradley’s 1995 “Child Training Tips.”

Based on these books, the small collection of homeschooling families who attended Reb Bradley’s church Hope Chapel along with my family had high hopes for their children.  Yet in the dozen years since, many sincere and dedicated parents have seen all their work fall apart before their very eyes as their children reached adulthood, or even earlier.  I am one of many who didn’t “turn out right,” yet another disappointment to the former parents and leadership of Hope Chapel.Everyone responds a little differently to poor results.  Some, like Michael Pearl, laugh at the critics and refuse to self-reflect at all.  Others, like Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, who were just young parents when we attended Hope Chapel together in the late 1990s, apparently felt that they could avoid poor results by doubling down in intensity on poor little Lydia Schatz, who was disciplined to death in 2010 at age 7.Of all these responses, I find Reb Bradley’s 2006 blind spots article, “Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling”, to be the most promising because it represents a very small step in the right direction.  Here is a quote from the introduction to the article, in which Reb Bradley acknowledges the unexpectedly poor results:

“In the last couple of years, I have heard from multitudes of troubled homeschool parents around the country, a good many of whom were leaders. These parents have graduated their first batch of kids, only to discover that their children didn’t turn out the way they thought they would. Many of these children were model homeschoolers while growing up, but sometime after their 18th birthday they began to reveal that they didn’t hold to their parents’ values.

Some of these young people grew up and left home in defiance of their parents. Others got married against their parents’ wishes, and still others got involved with drugs, alcohol, and immorality. I have even heard of several exemplary young men who no longer even believe in God. My own adult children have gone through struggles I never guessed they would have faced.

Most of these parents remain stunned by their children’s choices, because they were fully confident their approach to parenting was going to prevent any such rebellion. Some were especially confident, because as teens these kids were only obedient.  Needless to say, the dreams of these homeschool parents have crashed, and many other parents want to know what they can do to prevent their own children from following the same course.”

When I first scanned over many of his points in that article, I was encouraged by the things I saw; acknowledgement that parents don’t have total control over their children’s destinies, a de-emphasis on authority, and a much-needed emphasis on relationship and acceptance.

If only there weren’t this little paragraph at the end of the introduction [emphasis mine]:

“After several years of examining what went wrong in our own home and in the homes of so many conscientious parents, God has opened our eyes to a number of critical blind spots common to homeschoolers and other family-minded people. Bev and I still stand behind what we have taught on parenting in the past. However, we urgently add to it the following insights.”

It is because of that sentence, and because of my own desire as a new mother to deliberately throw out the unhealthy ideas of parenting that I was raised with and around, that I have decided to critique Reb Bradley’s book “Child Training Tips: What I Wish I Knew When My Children Were Young.”

My critique will be posted in several installments online for the purposes of discussion, and I welcome any comments or feedback from the authors, from parents who have used this parenting approach, from now-grown children who experienced these techniques, from parents who are considering using it, or from horrified online bystanders.

Comments open below

Latebloomer is on a journey away from the ideals she was raised with in the conservative homeschooling culture.  Becoming a wife and mother has prompted her to re-evaluate her childhood experiences in an effort to avoid repeating those mistakes.  Her blog Past Tense Present Progressive is her place for sorting through her thoughts.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce



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  • Good for you, LateBloomer. I remember the day my husband and I had a discussion about “What the Bible Says About Child Training” and deliberately decided not to follow it, but to treat our children as human beings and fellow heirs of grace. We did not want our parenting to be focused and centered on “the rod,” but on love and understanding. Thank God we did. We now have two emotionally healthy, independent teenagers who think for themselves and are secure in their power to disagree with their parents, but without any need to break with us, for we’ve never given them any reason to have to.

  • Laura

    I saw that paragraph too when I read the article a few months ago and found it ridiculously jarring. The entire rest of the article is a mea culpa about how he did parenting completely wrong, but right there he’s negating the whole thing. I guess he can’t help it. “We screwed up big time, and told you to do as we did; but while I now see that we were wrong, you should still do as we did.” What?

  • Kat

    I was raised (mainstream) Catholic. I rejected church at 13, was a rebel through my teens and 20s, and now in my 30s am considering children of my own. My sister and I are both atheists. She goes to atheist meetings and everything. My brother is an agnostic. So all three of my Catholic mother’s children have no interest in church or god.
    I do believe I can raise moral, warm hearted atheist children, because I’ve seen first hand that the religion of your raising is easily rejected. The morality of your raising has a long reach, however.
    Perhaps all the purported godless teens and adults raised in rigid Christianity saw through the Bible talk; saw the truth. That real ethics demand being honest to our teen children, and so forth. That Jesus wanted us to love, and that makes sense. Being isolated from the culture at large, oppressing our naturally sensual selves, blind obedience, and the like all have nothing to do with Jesus’s message of love.
    Parents need to understand that only messages that make sense will stick to their child’s moral compass. Love and tolerance make sense. Oppression, hatred of the other, literal Biblical lifestyles and so forth don’t make sense. They are a burden in the heart to maintain. Teen and young adult offspring walk away from unnecessary burdens in their joyous, ignorant self-centeredness, and are better off afterwards.
    I am just a peanut gallery reader of NLQ. But I do intend to be a parent and look forward to an analysis of the various traps that others have fallen prey.

  • Laura

    Kat, it’s still a good article if you ignore that particular stupidity. Bradley talks about the trap of trying to get his children to behave a certain way, not for their benefit, but because of how their behavior reflected on him. Anyone, including an atheist, could slip up there. And making sure your kid doesn’t find love and acceptance outside the home in a context that’s bad for him – that could be any cult, for instance – and being drawn to it because he’s not getting it from his parents. For that you have to look at not just how you’re treating your kids, but how your kids perceive that you’re treating them. I think it’s a worthwhile read. It’s just revealing, how he can’t let go of telling other people what to do even when he’s just said he was wrong.

  • Rae

    I’ve sort of been there as a former homeschooler.

    One of the things I think is a huge, huge issue in this respect is that in more authoritarian parenting styles, things that are forbidden or required are backed up with “because I’m the parent and I say so”, and trying to discuss the rules, lobby for them to be changed, or in some cases, even asking “why?” is considered disrespect. You’re going to end up having absolutely no experience parsing out what are morally right and wrong decisions, or heck, even whether your morally neutral decisions are going to have a positive or negative effect on your life. I’ve seen it happen with many, many “good” kids who just had no idea when they were getting in over their heads.

    I’d actually had people question my decision to go to a secular college – everyone in my church and homeschool circles saw the two acceptable paths as Christian college, or if you couldn’t afford that, community college – and ask me “But what about the temptation of being able to have guys in your room? How will you be sure you can go to church?” And I’d always confront it head-on, saying that if I couldn’t keep my faith or morals in college, how would I keep them in the real world? And if I was doing it out of an obligation to rules, then was it really faith?

  • desiree

    Interesting point- about the Bible not mentioning how awesome someone is because of their parents! I think it’s interesting that the Bible does mention bad parenting examples, like Eli with his sons.

  • Arakiba

    Blind, unquestioning obedience to those in authority is the prime virtue for fundamentalists. All of their so-called morality is based on obeying and doing what you’re told. It’s not a good way for human beings to live.

  • It’s the illusion of control. And great point, they should teach that in parenting classes.
    It is so hard to wrap my head around the fact that beating your child for every real (and imagined) infractions can be labeled as good or godly parenting. It is the exact opposite of what is true.
    My three kids were little angels, sweet and funny. Some say I got lucky but I think it was my attitude. I honestly felt that everything they did was great. They weren’t perfect, but I didn’t expect them to be. My son is high functioning autistic and one daughter had trouble in high school and beyond. The youngest breezed right through. None of them turned out to be religious.
    I think the biggest difference was that my kids always knew I was their greatest ally. We are a team. There was no microscope over their lives to catch them doing something to justify a harsh punishment. I raised them to think for themselves, to be independent, and make good choices for their own lives. When they have a problem, we talk about it, it’s not me dictating to them. I want them to reach their own conclusions and how the heck would I know what that is?
    I have three grown adults who are excellent people. My autistic son delivers newspapers so he works seven days a week. One daughter works in health care, like me, and my other daughter is so successful it takes my breath away. I admit I brag, but it’s about them, not a tribute to me.

  • Laura

    Jaimie, my daughter is 25. She told me recently that she didn’t think she would have children, that she didn’t think she would be as awesome a parent as her dad and I were. “I’m really pleased with the way I turned out,” she said. After I was able to stop laughing long enough to catch my breath I told her I was really pleased with the way she turned out too, but her dad and I can’t take credit for that. I am not a believer in the blank slate, I told her. You are who you are from birth if not before. We did the best we could – we actually parented heck out of her – but I know how easily it could all have gone south.

    (There are always reasons why I won’t get grandchildren. I sent her “Portrait of a Lady” last year and now Henry James is one of those reasons. I’d like grandkids, but whether she ever marries and has children is her business – if she’s happy, I’m happy.)

  • Jenny Islander

    The one time I recall it coming up was in one of Paul’s letters to Timothy, in which he credits Timothy’s mother Lois and grandmother Eunice with teaching him the Christian faith. Note the lack of a patriarch.

  • That is so great. It’s so true that if they are happy, we are happy. That’s what matters. Your daughter sounds like a terrific person and the same age as my youngest, who told me for years that she would never have children. Since she is very career driven I totally believed her.
    So last year I was knocked sideways when she called and told me she was pregnant. She’s not married and lives with the father but who cares? Grandchild!
    She worked all the way through and took care of herself. She got gestational diabetes and went on that strict diet and stuck to it. Her labor and delivery were a nightmare, with an emergency c-section. She never complained. And she is a great mother. I mean, wow!
    Sorry, long winded. The point is, you never know. I think it’s much better that they wait until they are ready.

  • Is this the verse you’re referring to? “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim 1:5).

    Even there, Lois and Eunice didn’t get credit for Timothy’s faith. Paul just pointed out that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were also Christians. Apparently, because of their faith, Timothy had the opportunity to learn the Scriptures and then choose faith for himself: (2 Timothy 3:15) “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.

    It’s interesting. like you said, that there’s no patriarch. In fact, according to Acts 16:1, Timothy’s father was not a Christian: “He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek.”

  • priya

    nise words

  • priya

    open on talks for much

  • me

    A pastor once gave us Fugate’s book. It gave me nightmares and made me want to vomit. I am no theologian, but I could tell that is was the opposite of a Biblical approach. Scripture was twisted and misinterpreted, and most of the conclusions were made up completely by Fugate. It was the worst book I ever read. We left the church and never looked back.

  • me

    Amen. Good for you!

  • me

    My husband and I had the exact same experience.