Have you ever met someone who had been raised by an abusive father or had an absentee father and struggled to understand God, the father accurately? Or maybe you have experienced this struggle yourself. The Bible tells us God is our father and if we have not had a father who accurately reflects God’s image, then we may struggle to truly understand the character of God.
Your parenting style in general can also become a stumbling block to the faith of your children. You don’t have to be an abusive or absentee father to negatively impact your children’s faith, and you don’t have to be a perfect parent to strengthen it. You just need to monitor your style of parenting a bit more carefully.
There are three basic parenting styles – authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. They are on a continuum, but most parents fall primarily into one of the three styles. These styles, in turn, tend to model for our children how we believe God “parents” us. When our style doesn’t accurately reflect God’s parenting style, our children grow up with serious misunderstandings about God, scripture, Christianity, obedience and other areas impacting their faith. So what does that look like in “real life”?
The authoritarian parent is the classic “children should be seen and not heard” parent. They are strict, with lots of rules and consequences that can be harsh. There may or may not be other toxic parenting behaviors present. Authoritarian parents are not emotionally close to their children and would not be considered particularly loving or nurturing in the ways they interact with them. When their children want to talk with them, they are often unavailable physically and/or emotionally. Children raised in these home environments often view God as overly strict, mean, judgmental and unloving. They may reject God because they cannot bare more strict rules and harsh consequences from a God who seems to be far away and uncaring. If they attend church as adults, it may be primarily from a sense of fear and/or duty only.
At the other end of the parenting spectrum is the permissive parent. These parents have few if any rules. If a child misbehaves or gets in trouble at school for breaking rules, not only are no consequences given (consequences aren’t given for disobeying parents, because there are few rules to disobey), but these parents may even rail against the teacher for having rules, enforcing them and giving consequences when those rules are broken. Children raised in these homes often reject God because He has rules, expects our obedience and hands out consequences for rebellion. They, too, may describe God as harsh. If they attend church as adults, they tend to only see God as a loving giver of blessings and reject any or all of God’s commands – even when they clearly appear in scripture. They may also reject the idea that there is a hell or that anyone deserves to go there for rebelling against God.
Authoritative parents are what one might call moderate parents. They are often strict, but their rules are in their children’s best interest. These parents are willing to discuss rules and boundaries and may adapt some of them as children grow older. Their rules are consistently enforced and just consequences given for rebellion. Authoritative parents are physically and verbally affectionate and nurturing. They listen to their children with respect, but expect respect in return. They apologize when they make a mistake and they forgive their children when they repent. They are the most reflective of how the Bible portrays the character of God and how He treats us. Children in these homes are most likely to not only remain faithful, but also obey God’s commands (as much as possible) out of respect and love. They are most likely to be productive Christians – serving others and sharing their faith. They tend to have an image of God that most accurately reflects scripture, accept God’s commands as Truth and understand Heaven and Hell are real – as are the eternal consequences for a rejection of God and His commands. Children raised in these homes are also more likely to see the wisdom in God’s commands and view them as a way God protects them from the natural negative consequences of disobeying them.
It’s important to be honest about your parenting style. Ask close friends and relatives which parenting style best describes you. Think about your parents’ parenting style – yours is probably a close replica or the exact opposite. If your children are older, ask them. Or think about how you view God and how your children see Him and which parenting style that view matches..
If your style is not authoritative, make necessary changes. Apologize to your children, as changing your style will impact them. Make sure the ways in which you describe God and discuss His commands is an accurate reflection of scripture and not a response to how you were parented. Being an authoritative parent is best for your children in general, but it can also make them more likely to be faithful Christians as adults.