Sunday, April 5, 2009

Resisting 21st Century Child-Centred Parenting

There’s been a dichotomy in parenting approaches over the past century. Up until the 1950s and 1960s the predominant approach was that of children ‘being seen, but not heard’; however, parenting styles have undergone a vast transformation since, to the opposite extreme of permissive parenting; a trend that continues today.

Both authoritarian and permissive styles of parenting have their good features but, as models for parenting, both are basically flawed.

The authoritarian, whilst achieving the discipline required in developing ‘compliant’ children, runs the risk of producing adult children who do the right thing but have never been taught why i.e. the moral why.

The permissive parent, on the other hand, achieves a devoted love toward the child which grounds itself on the reef of reason--the very tenet of its motivation is shot in the fact that children don’t learn much of value to set them on their way. As Stephen R. Covey said, “If we do not teach our children, society will. And they--and we--will live with the results.” And the results will not be good.

I believe that, contrary to some popular opinion, both these styles are alive and well in today’s society. I see evidence of them both, as we parents struggle to achieve the right balance, and I see how destructive and unbalanced they both can be; in my life and in others’.

So, what is the answer--what achieves the good things of both authoritarian and permissive styles, yet answers their flaws too?

First, we must understand that the role of parent and spouse is uppermost in relationship; to that of the children. Mum and dad need to be husband and wife first. The children come an important (and close) second.

There’s a very good reason for this. Children need to see their parents loved and loving each other. For the single parent, it’s most important that the child can see their parent as loved, perhaps not be another person, but at least by God.

This highlights an important second point. Children need to feel secure; this can only really happen when the first is achieved i.e. they need to know Mum and Dad are okay… and if the parents are not together, they need to see Mum and Dad, separately, happy and at peace in their separate lives. Any dissonance here is bad for the child.

When parents are loved they’re naturally content and at peace, and they interact with their children in secure ways.

Child-centred parenting undermines the marriage relationship and the family structure as a whole. This is the third point. It elevates the child up to equal status with the parent and gives undue respect for place--this is not something that the outside world will reinforce, and it will generate a dissonant alienation in our children’s minds, causing confusion, unrest and insecurity, as to the love that the parent(s) provide(s) as compared with the truth the world provides. (Refer, again, to the Covey quote made above.)

The world will thus be seen as an unnecessarily nasty place, when in fact, the world is just the world--basically a just place, give or take. (When our children achieve a balanced perception of the world, we’re doing our jobs as parents.)

I can personally attest to this point: the issue of child-centred parenting is especially marked in single parents and step families, where the biological parent has adapted into this style to protect (themselves and) their children as a result of an often-messy break-up. (What break-ups are not even slightly messy?)

The key for all parents who’ve ventured into permissive parenting is to restore the familial balance, by elevating the marriage relationship (based in love) above all other immediate family relationships. The children are welcome members of the family, but they do not undermine the crucial core of the family--the marriage. This is God’s design for marriage instituted right back to Adam and Eve.

For the single parent, this is difficult. With no partner, how relevant is the above statement? It is even more important for the single parent to have dialogue with the Eternal Parent, and be guided and loved by him. It’s a key that the single parent enjoys peace and happiness so his or her kids can see it and derive the necessary security.

Getting the balance right is hard. But, with knowledge, determination and persistence, parenting dichotomies can be negotiated.

Parents, let’s stay informed and focused, so we can be empowered and secure for our children’s sake.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Acknowledgement to Garry & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come… Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), p. 47-48.

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