When I look at my little toddler, I am so glad that I am no longer a fundamentalist Christian.
First, I don't believe in total depravity anymore, so I don't feel compelled to interpret his actions with negative terminology.
The doctrine of total depravity is a common belief among fundamentalists. It teaches that every person is born with a sin nature, separated from God, and capable of the worst kinds of evil. It also says that proper parenting can mitigate the effects of the sin nature, but only a relationship with Jesus can make a person capable of true goodness.
If I believed that my child had a sin nature that predisposed him to evil, that would certainly predispose me to interpret his actions very negatively.
When he insists on exploring the world and touching everything, I could see it as stubbornness. Instead, I am free to see it as healthy curiosity and a drive to discover the world. I see him examine everything very carefully by touching, turning, throwing, hitting, and chewing it. I see him learning about cause and effect by repeating the same action over and over. It's beautiful to see his excitement about his discoveries, and I don't want to diminish that by creating a power struggle.
When he fights sleep at bedtime, or wakes up multiple times during the night, I could see it as defiance. Instead, I am free to assume that he has a real need. Perhaps he needs more comfort so he can fall asleep feeling peaceful and loved. Perhaps he is genuinely hungry or thirsty. Perhaps he is in pain from gas or teething. Perhaps he is uncomfortable due to the temperature. Perhaps he is about to experience a developmental milestone and is having trouble relaxing. One thing is certain--he is not awake for fun, so I breath deeply and try my best to patiently meet his needs.
When he takes toys from other children, I could see it as selfishness. Instead, I am free to notice that he also spontaneously gives his toys to others. He is just starting to experience social interaction and he will be working on social skills for the rest of his life. The learning happens one step at a time, and I will try to encourage him as much as I can to find the balance between thinking of others and taking care of himself.
When he screeches for me to pick him up, I could see it as manipulation. Instead, I am free to see that he is just learning to feel and communicate, and crying is one of his main tools of communication right now. It is good that he uses those sounds to help me see when he is upset. After all, he is dependent on me for his physical and emotional well-being. His feelings are real to him and just as valid as mine. I want to be aware of his feelings so I can make the best decisions possible for our family as a whole.
My child is not depraved. He is a good person with a lot of potential.
Second, I no longer believe that spanking is a necessary part of parenting, so I won't feel like a bad parent for not hitting my child.
When my son was only 9 months old, I was horrified to discover that my first impulse was to smack his hand to stop him from touching things after I said no. I had this impulse even though I have not been in the fundamentalist culture for almost 10 years now. Luckily, I did not follow through on that impulse--in what world is it right for an adult to hit an infant??? In the fundamentalist world it is not only acceptable, but also necessary, according to Reb Bradley's book "Child Training Tips", Richard Fugate's book "What the Bible Says About Child Training," and Michael Pearl's book, "To Train Up a Child."
Contrary to these fundamentalist teachings, I believe that my child is a person who deserves to be treated with respect. Purposefully causing physical pain to a child is inhumane and disrespectful. Besides the physical pain, spanking promotes feelings of shame and badness because it causes the parent and child to focus on the negative. And it doesn't have any redeeming qualities, since it doesn't achieve anything besides short-term fear-based behavioral modification.
I prefer an approach to parenting that is about teaching, not punishment. Spanking is a punishment tool rather than a teaching tool because it has no real connection to the child's misbehavior. Children can learn better from a positive and affirming relationship with their parent. They can learn from open discussion and good examples. They can learn from making things right when they hurt someone else. That relationship dynamic will prepare them much better for adulthood than experiencing the physical and emotional pain of spanking.
Finally, I no longer see blind unquestioning obedience as a positive thing in my relationship with God, so I don't expect that of my child.
Many fundamentalist parents see their role as preparing their children for a relationship with God. But rather than focusing on displaying God's love and patience to their children, they focus on demanding respect and obedience from their children, hoping that their children will grow up to be more obedient to God. So, just like the parents are not allowed to question God's Word or feel angry at him, their children are not allowed to question or be upset at the parents. Just like the parents believe there are consequences for disobeying God, they impose consequences on their own disobedient children. Just like the parents believe that God judges their hearts and motives, they also judge their own children's hearts and motives. As parents, they become obsessed with authority because they feel that their children's eternal souls are at stake.
Due to my shifting opinions about the Bible, reality is not black and white to me anymore. I don't feel like my role in life is to unquestioningly obey God as revealed in the Bible; instead, I have responsibility to decide for myself what is right and loving in today's world. I want to promote those values in my relationship with my child as well.
So instead of obsessing about obedience and authority, I want to foster an environment where my child can thrive, discover his interests, and find his place in the world. I want him to feel confident, to think, to question, to choose for himself, to say yes and to say no. The end result of parenting should be a happy and independent adult who knows that I will love him no matter what, no matter how different from me he is.
In conclusion, although I am sure that there are good fundamentalist parents out there, I would not have been a good parent as a fundamentalist. I will spend this Mother's Day feeling grateful for the opportunity to do things differently in my family. I will spend the day enjoying every little kiss and hug my baby gives me and think about how lucky I am to get to watch him grow up. Happy Mother's Day to me!