Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Biblical" Parenting, Conclusion

This is the final part of a series of posts reviewing Reb Bradley's book "Child Training Tips".
Read the introduction here.
Read criticism #1 here.
Read criticism #2 here.
Read criticism #3 here.

Read criticism #4 here.

To briefly review, my first criticism of Reb Bradley's book "Child Training Tips" discussed the way his advice pushed parents toward the worst possible interpretation of their child's behavior at the expense of mercy and understanding.  My second criticism looked at the extreme level of control that parents are urged to have over their child's mind and body, which can prevent the child from maturing and can put the parent at risk of developing abusive habits.  My third criticism looked at the shockingly broad definition of rebellion and the abusive use of spanking to force children to change their opinions and feelings.  My fourth criticism discussed how isolation weakens families by removing other sources of support, and how isolation negatively affects children's social and emotional development.  Now here is my conclusion:



To parents:


Being a parent is incredibly challenging, and the constant stream of conflicting advice about parenting only adds confusion to the challenge.  There's an extra level of stress for many devout Christian parents because raising upstanding citizens is not enough for them; they also desperately want their children to share their faith and religious convictions.  It's not surprising that even good and caring Christian parents could get sucked into this severely authoritarian parenting approach, believing it to be in their children's best spiritual interests; they need to feel in control of their child's destiny because they believe the stakes are so high.

If you are one of those parents, perhaps it will be a little easier for you to see the relational damage of this parenting approach if you witness a parent outside of your own faith employing these techniques on their child.  Is it ok for an atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Orthodox Jewish parent to force their child to follow their beliefs about religion, punish their child for expressing disagreement, and isolate their child from other influences?   In another religious context, doesn't this look like abusive parenting?  Doesn't it look like the parent cares much more about their own opinions than about their child?  Don't you feel sympathy for the poor child, and suddenly find yourself believing that the parent ought to let their child have the freedom to choose his or her own opinions?  What makes you think that the experience is any different for the child if the parent happens to be a Christian?


Yes, it's hard to realize that your child's destiny is outside of your control, but it can also be incredibly freeing.  It allows you to be relationship-focused rather than goal-oriented toward your child.   Parenting mistakes are impossible to avoid, but as much as possible, let your errors be on the side of unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, understanding, patience, grace, peacefulness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  A parent who personally lives a sincere and virtuous life and who also has a positive, open, and accepting relationship with their child will make a much more valuable contribution to their child's life than any parenting technique from this book ever could.


If your children are already grown and your relationship with them is strained, please don't underestimate the power of a heartfelt apology, of repeatedly telling them how proud you are of them (without a hint of disapproval), and of absolutely never giving them unsolicited advice.  My own nearly-destroyed relationship with my dad was able to come back from the brink of total destruction because of these changes that he made, and today, amazingly, we actually respect each other and enjoy each other's company. 


To kids who grew up with this type of parenting:


It's very likely that your parents had your best interests in mind, and that they made personal sacrifices in order to participate in this lifestyle.  Because of this, they may be very resistant to acknowledging that their choices caused you harm.  Don't let that stop you from processing your past for yourself, acknowledging your own feelings, and trying to overcome the negative effects of that lifestyle for yourself.

The word "bitter" gets thrown around a lot whenever a person faces their past and admits their pain.  See that accusation for what it usually is: the defensiveness of people who feel threatened because they have not come to terms with those experiences for themselves.   Realize that your emotional pain, like physical pain, is there for a reason, and should not just be ignored.  Luckily, it is possible to face your past and create a better future for yourself, even without the support of your parents. 

You may feel like you don't deserve to be loved.  You may have a lot of trouble having and voicing your own opinions.  You might avoid getting close to people out of fear of rejection.  You might feel disconnected from the rest of the world and excessively worried about its dangers.  You may feel socially lost, confused, and anxious.  You might feel like you don't know how to enjoy yourself or have fun.  You may feel like every problem or even emotion you have is nothing more than your own spiritual failure.  These are some of the effects that I experienced, but every person is different; some people are affected more while others are affected less

I personally found it helpful establish a lot of personal space between my parents and me, meet a lot of different kinds of people, hear about the experiences of others who have left fundamentalism, talk extensively about my own experiences and memories with a few empathetic and nonjudgemental people, experience unconditional love from my spouse, and see a good therapist.  There have been ups and downs, of course, but overall the life I have today is better than I ever imagined possible.  I hope for the same for you!

Feel free to share your perspective, opinions, and experiences in the comments, or send me an email: pasttensepresentprogressive [at] gmail.com. 

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