If I were to sum up the core difference between fundamentalism and unfundamentalism it would be to ask this one question: where does the power lie? Fundamentalist governments are authoritarian, the power lies at the top, ruling with an iron fist. Fundamentalist churches operate in the same top-down flow of power, but will use spiritual justification to maintain that hierarchy. Fundamentalist parents hold the power they have over their children, and raise them without giving them a true voice and autonomy.
But if we dig deeper into the implications of fundamentalist parenting, there are some specific ways the underlying divergent value systems impact everyday parenting. Below are six ways fundamentalists parent contrast with unfundamentalists:
- Original Sin vs. Original Blessing. Fundamentalist parents believe a sin nature resides at the core of their children’s being whereas unfundamentalists view their children as first and foremost created in the image of a Good and Loving God. I am using theologian Danielle Shroyer’s terms where she writes in this piece, “belief in a sin nature begets sinning.” When a parent expects a child to “sin”, they push their children into a cycle of shame and guilt where children’s mistakes are interpreted as inevitable, compounding a sense of self-hatred. It doesn’t have to be this way, we can reverse that cycle and invite our children into a story of an unconditional love that empowers us into goodness. Blessing, as much as sin, can become a self-fulling prophecy we give to our kids.
- Misbehavior vs. Development. Fundamentalists categorize children’s behavior into black and white moral stances. Unfundamentalists seek to learn children’s normal developmental milestones. For instance, when a toddler throws a tantrum, fundamentalist parents may judge the child for acting out his sinful nature, but a two year old testing boundaries and flexing his emotional muscle is quite a normal and healthy part of his development into maturity. How a parent responds to the same behavior then has opposite outcomes. Punishment and shame is appropriate for a toddler tantrum if it is seen as immoral behavior, but an unfundamentalist parent will first enter into compassion for the child’s growing pains, and respond with coping mechanisms to walk with them through their development.
- Rigid Rules vs. Gentle Guidance. When misbehavior is relegated to black and white categories, what guides a fundamentalist family are rigid rules that correspond with every infraction. Although I think structure and clear expectations are healthy for children, unfundamentalist parents always leave room for exceptions to the rule. They will err on the side of grace, every time, in responding to children when they veer off of expectations. This is not to be mistaken with permissive parenting and never enforcing rules, but to take into account contextual factors into our children’s behavior. Perhaps they did not get enough rest. Perhaps there are neurological differences that is affecting the way they view the world. Maybe this is a normal phase of development. A wise parent will consider and imagine possibilities before responding with a clear cut rule and response.
- Evangelize vs. Evangelized. A fundamentalist parent will have as their highest priority to convert their child into their religious system, getting their child to pray the prayer, and then discipling them into spiritual maturity. What if, instead, we trust our children are born with a vibrant spirituality, and instead of converting them, we are to be evangelized by their representation of God’s image in the world? Instead of conversion, unfundamentalist parents seek to simply share our spirituality with our children, exchanging what we see of God’s work in our world with one another through our daily routines as a family.
- Explanation vs. Experience. Every family goes through ups and downs: health and disease, love and heartbreak, successes and setbacks. Fundamentalist families tend to have an explanation, and often a spiritual justification, for the things that happen to us. If a tragedy happens in a family, they are eager to rush in with an explanation that God is trying to bring about some larger purpose. Certitude brings comfort and is a way to cope with trials in life. Unfundamentalist families make room for authentic faith crises. They don’t try to explain everything away, aware that life is life and sometimes bad things happen. It may sometimes be less comforting when we can’t find a grandiose spiritual purpose for our pain, but I think it allows us to actually experience life instead of expending our energy explaining life. When God feels absent or far away, unfundamentalist families know we still belong to one another and can be a light to each other while we walk through darkness.
- Static vs. Evolving. Fundamentalist parents are conservative about change. Fear is a driving motive in much of fundamentalist parenting—fear of change, fear of the unknown, and fear of the future. Although tradition and nostalgia can become a beautiful aspect of parenting, unfundamentalist parents will be open to new information in an ever-changing world and how that impacts their children and their own parenting. When we expect new things from our children we remain vigilant in continuing the task of learning about and from them afresh throughout their childhood and beyond. Parenting becomes a dance of mutual flourishing as we listen together with our children of the new ways God is continuing to speak into our world.
Sign up here to get updates on Unfundamentalist Parenting.
Join our Facebook Group, Raising Children Unfundamentalist.