Parental determinism - it's the idea that if I can just get my parenting exactly right, my children will turn out well. I guess the reverse must also be true: that if I stuff up enough times, I will somehow 'break' my kids. Does anyone else feel this subconscious pressure gnawing at their family life? How does it match up with what we know God says about human nature? What of our trust in His grace and the power of His Spirit?
Having dealt in Chapter Two with the basis of the family, the marriage dyad, Chapter Three of the Balswicks' book The Family deals with the next stage: parenting. It examines styles of parenting, theories of child development, family spirituality, adolescence and later stage family developments. I found the first point the authors made to be somewhat ironic...but also really refreshing: that our culture has become overly obsessed with expert opinion on parenting, and reduced parents to a state of fear. Their own advice to parents is to throw out their how-to-parent books and simply become real parents to their children. If only I'd read this six months ago, before I began my recent odyssey of parenting books!
Parenting involves two types of leadership skills: instrumental and socio-emotional. Within the instrumental (task-oriented) set, parents can teach in two ways, through action or through delivering content (basically talk). Unsurprisingly, those who rate low in both areas are neglectful. Modeling (high action, low content) was more successful than teaching, since children begin to distrust when actions don't match up to words. The highest form of instrumental parenting they named discipling, high in both action and content.
In terms of the other skill set, the socio-emotional (person-oriented), parents are measured on support and control. Those high in both are authoritative; those high only in control are authoritarian; while those high only in support are permissive. Once again, it is the authoritative parenting style (combining both support and control) that reports the best outcomes. So it looks like if we can couple an authoritative approach with an aim to disciple our kids, we are on the right track...so far, so good.
The authors moved on to discuss and critique various theories of child development. These are too complex to do justice to here. While they are helpful in trying to understand our kids in order to be able to serve and guide them, the Balswicks point out that they stop short of the concept of sin. The Balswicks define the heart of sin as brokenness in relationship (with both God and others). I guess what the sociological language might describe in terms of developmental disruption or a need for personal growth, we as Christians should not be afraid to call 'sin', and to confront our need for forgiveness from God. This grace to acknowledge sin within family life and to work at forgiveness must be one of the most significant marks of the Christian family.
Looking at things from this theoretical point of view and trying to analyse one's own family life...it really is almost too much for the brain to cope with. Thankfully, we don't need to think in those terms. As the Balswicks go on to articulate, it is Jesus' servant-leadership that we are aiming for in the goal of empowering our children to attain to a mature, reciprocating self. And isn't it great that we are not alone in doing this? The Spirit helps us and works in our children for the goal that we ourselves are unable to attain. And God willing, that work of the Spirit will be ongoing in them, long after our 'parenting' role has finished.
I'm reminded of one of my favourite Colin Buchanan songs...
Press on mums, in all the chaos, look to Jesus through your tears.
Press on mums, God will guide you through those precious tender years.
And in all you do, do it for Jesus,
who won you life and free forgiveness.
Yesterday, today He is the same.
In all you do, do it in Jesus' name.
And when all your human energy is gone,
look toward your Jesus and press on.