Parenting Children to be Good or Not Bad?
by Tara R Wood
There is a popular Christian parenting curriculum that starts with the premise that we are born sinners and basically assumes that it’s the parents’ responsibility to “stamp out” a child’s sinfulness while under their parents’ care. Even a baby’s natural tendency to throw food from their high chair is evidence of their inherent sinful nature and as parents we need to address that sinful behavior from the get-go.
Whether we are born sinners or born perfect and then tainted by sin through our own choosing has born hundreds of years of theological debate. What we believe on this issue, and all the sub-beliefs that branch out from that initial belief, dramatically influences how we will parent our children.
I once debated with someone on whether or not children are born (for the sake of simplicity) spiritually “good” or spiritually “bad”. A Calvinist through and through, she argued the latter. I argued for the former.
Not surprisingly, our beliefs influenced how we approached our role as parents and revealed our very strong disagreements on the way parents should raise their children. She believed her children were born sinners from day one. Her role as a parent was to help her children acknowlege their sinfulness, realize that sinning comes with worldly consequences, and to train her child to choose against sin in order to experience blessings. This was her starting point. She chose to then follow the before-mentioned parenting curriculum as means to address and eliminate her children’s sin. (I should also admit that we disagreed on whether God gave parents the responsibility to “punish” sinful behavior.)
I believe that children are born good and that my role as a parent is to help reveal that good in my children. As my children get older, they begin to learn that there are many choices available to them when it comes to how they choose to behave. Eventually, after they have developed a sense of morality, they can choose to sin or not. My role is to help teach them that God designed life to be more enjoyable when we choose not to sin. But I can’t make them choose one way or another. I don’t punish their sinfulness. I allow them to experience the consequences that result from choosing something “bad” over something “good”, something selfish over something giving, something mean over something kind.
My starting point is that my kids are fearfully and wonderfully made by their Creator and that when he made them he said, ”It is good”. My kids ARE good. I mean, have you seen them?
Remembering this motivates me to help my children realize their goodness and believe that they are ultimately Godly individuals. For me, focusing on how to increase their goodness is easier than trying to stamp out their badness.
Do I think that this other mom is a bad mom? Absolutely not. I know that she has nothing but the best of intentions for raising her children in the way she believes God calls her to. Our starting points are different. And in this case it means how we parent is different, too.
And for those of you interested in what more I might have to say, you now know where it all begins. =)
What is the theological starting point for you? How does that drive your parenting?
Tara R Wood, M.A., CGE is an author and educator providing skills and strategies on how to create a sacred family. Tara holds a Masters in Child Development and a Psychology degree with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Services and became a certified educator with the Gottman Institute in 2007. She has worked with children and parents for over 15 years. Tara is an educator and consultant in parenting skills and conflict, anger and behavior management. Additionally, she was both a regular elementary classroom teacher and special education teacher for Jefferson County Schools, in Denver, Colorado. Tara and her husband currently live in Hudson, OH with their three children.