Christian vs. Secular Parenting

Christian vs. Secular Parenting March 14, 2016

What does it mean to raise children in a “Christian way?” For generations, it’s been assumed that factors such as going to church, being baptized, reading scripture, praying, and other religious traits were prominent signs of Christian parenting while not doing these things were considered “secular.”

The religious practices of parents and their children certainly reflect various values and beliefs, but at the core of parenting, both secular and faith-based parents have deeply shared similarities, and regardless of spiritual beliefs, the biggest parallel of both is their ability to love.

Nothing is more Christ-like than being loving. Despite Christendom’s tendency to assume otherwise, Christian parents don’t have the market cornered on love and secular parents don’t have the market cornered on sin. So when it comes to parenting, we all need to have grace and patience with each other, because parenting is one of the most challenging, mysterious, unpredictable, wonderful, rewarding, and crazy things a person will ever have to do.

Being responsible for a human being—maybe even being responsible for more than one—is a frightening task. We’re supposed to feed them, clothe them, teach them, and help them survive within a vast world filled with all sorts of wonderful good and horrendous evil.

And while we’re trying to accomplish this impossible task, we’re told as parents that there’s a billion wrongs ways to parent and only a handful of right ones. To make matters worse, Christian Culture routinely promotes rhetoric that reinforces the idea that Christians have a sacred duty to “raise their children up in the way of the Lord,” with each individual pastor, church, and community having their own distinct opinionated ideals of what this looks like—adding to the already stressful burden of just trying to keep our kids alive past breakfast.

So what exactly is ‘Christian Parenting?’ Essentially, it’s simply emulating Jesus—being kind, caring, encouraging, sacrificial, empowering, uplifting, hopeful, and loving.

unfundamentalist parenting

The amazing thing is that some of the most “Christian” parents are non-Christians. They may have never attended church, read the Bible, prayed, or even considered themselves spiritual, but by being a loving parent they are participating in a Divine act—they are being Christ-like.

For too long the term ‘Christian Parenting’ has come to represent many things other than Christ. It’s meant staying away from bad words, bad habits, bad relationships, bad entertainment, bad education, bad politics, bad theology, bad media, and “badness” in general.

It’s meant looking a certain way, supporting a particular political party, defending a singular social cause, entering a distinct socio-economic status, practicing various traditions, believing specific doctrines, maintaining a certain religious etiquette, and identifying with numerous attributes that have little to do with being Christ-like.

Christian parenting is not about going to church, memorizing bible verses, or labeling yourself as a ‘Christian,’ because you can do all of those things and still be missing love. In fact, you can do all of that and be downright mean, hurtful, hateful, destructive, manipulative, and abusive.

If you want to truly be a Christian parent, be a loving parent. Regardless of the unlimited parenting techniques, styles, and methods used, this is what children will remember most: Was I loved? And as our children grow up, this is what we’ll ask ourselves over and over again: Did I love my children and family to the best of my ability? Was I loving?

So before we overanalyze how to best help our children sleep, eat, learn, socially engage, mature, and generally get through life, let’s first make sure we love them. Because we can get so distracted by the other stuff that it can cause us to forget to simply show them—and tell them—that they’re loved.

When love isn’t the focus of our existence, the pressures of being the perfect parent—or spouse—can change us to be motivated and inspired by factors such as power, fame, success, and wealth—things that can corrupt, weaken, and even completely eliminate love.

And there will be times when we don’t feel loving, or loved, or anywhere close to what we think is that blissful state of being. When that’s the case—and as a parent this might seem like 99% of our day—we must simply be present and bravely commit to existing as a parent, even when we want to give up. Sometimes, this is our most heroic act of love—not giving up.

This is why Christian parenting should be about Jesus, because Jesus is love. Christian parenting isn’t a church, a denomination, a particular style, brand, book, or trend—but rather it’s love incarnate. And what is love incarnate to a child? It should be their parent. So as parents, we often most become like Christ when we daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute choose to love our children.

A more apt term for ‘Christian Parenting’ is ‘Christ-like Parenting.’ And if we look at the people around us, regardless of their race, religion, or creed, we can typically spot Christ-like parents despite whether or not they identify themselves as “Christian.” Because Christ-like parenting is simply love-based parenting.

It may sound cliché to talk about love being the foundation of parenting, but it’s amazing how often we avoid talking about it, laugh it off, or even completely forget about love. And it’s amazing how precious it is within a family when it manifests itself.

It should also be somewhat comforting to know that Mary and Joseph would’ve failed parenting if judged by today’s Westernized standards: They couldn’t keep Jesus safe. They couldn’t keep Jesus away from hanging out with prostitutes, corrupt politicians, thieves, and the worst of the social outcasts. They couldn’t talk Jesus into staying local and finding a good job. They couldn’t prevent Jesus from causing all sorts of scandals, conflicts, and anxiety. They couldn’t protect Jesus from a dangerous life that ultimately led to an premature death—one of the worst deaths imaginable as a parent.

But Jesus was loved, and in turn Jesus loved the world. This is our charge as parents: to love—to love our kids, to love our neighbors, and to be loving to everyone.

And just like Mary and Joseph, things won’t turn out how we expect. Our children may not be “successful,” they may not fulfill all of the hopes and dreams we have for them, they may make mistakes and do terrible things, but God calls us to love them nonetheless.

Despite anything and everything, we are called to love—just as God loves us.

Image: Pixabay

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  • Jacob Turnquist

    Excellent thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

    • stephen mattson

      Thanks for reading, Jacob!

  • Kangaroo52

    Not bad. Of course, the term “Christian” as you’ve used it is cultural rather than religiously-based, i.e., it’s a more user-friendly way to say “fundamentalist,” and conveniently exclude folks like liberal Mainline Protestants and Catholics who like what the Pope has to say about the poor but not about gender roles.
    I’ve known Christian fundamentalist parents, more mainstream Christian parents, parents of other religions, and secular parents, some of each of which are good, bad, and everything in between.
    The big problem I see with Generation X parents (those born 1965- 1982 or thereabouts) of all of these types is “helicopter” parenting. You know what I mean.
    With the more fundamentalist types it often manifests in desires to coddle children from the world and employ strategies which do more bad than good like half-effort homeschooling are employed.

  • jekylldoc

    This is sound doctrine. And good advice. We are Jesus embodied, and nowhere as critically as in the home, relating to our children. I ended quite a few days, as a stay-at-home dad, praying “Jesus, give me more love and patience in my heart.”

    I hope this blog also develops a bibliography of some resources for parents struggling with parenting in general and faith issues in particular. I learned a lot from Parents magazine, and there are other resources which can provide really helpful guidance.

  • Nick G

    I find the attempt to co-opt all good, loving parenting as “Christian” deeply offensive.

  • Zeldacat

    I find the *need* to say Christian parenting should be loving far far more offensive, Nick. Of course it should be, and loving parenting isn’t exclusive to any faith or philosophy. But he’s reacting to entire schools of thought that encourage the sort of parenting that involves horrors like beating infants, because it’s “Christian.”

    In other words, we’re not the true audience for this.

    • Nick G

      The Christian (and non-Christian) parents who beat their infants have mostly convinced themselves they are being loving. There’s not a word about beating infants in the OP.

      • Zeldacat

        I didn’t say there was, but an extreme example of how unloving some types of Christian parenting can be. And if you have to convince yourself you’re being loving to your kids by doing something you would rather not do (barring circumstances like unavoidable unpleasant medical care) then you’re doing something wrong.

        • Nick G

          It’s not necessarily the case that parents who have convinced themselves they are being loving by beating their infants would rather not do it.

  • KJV1611

    I love this article because I sometimes feel guilty about not forcing my children to attend church but they are great kids. My bests friend has never taken her children to church because she and her husband decided to let them decide when they are older if they want religion. She honestly has the most compassionate children.