red flag: parenting styles

Amy’s link to a post on “Mommy Wars”, along with a flurry of activity the last few weeks elsewhere on the world wide web has set me to thinking.

And to being thankful for the Holy Spirit. I definitely appreciate the red flags He occasionally waves, indicating that perhaps I’ve just read, thought, said, or discovered something a bit “off”.

There was one such red flag last week when I realized how deeply mothers associate themselves with schools of thought or philosophies of behavior. A “beware” sounded in my ear.

Here’s what happens: We’re all, always, looking for the right way to be a mother, the right way to parent, the right way to not fail our kids. Built into each of us — whether through personality, background, or culture — are instincts. And we hear an idea and say, “Aha! That sounds right!” Eventually, you may hear a whole string of “aha” ideas, find out it has a name and an official wikipedia entry, and realize that not only does your style have a title, but there’s a whole circle of mamas out there with the same ideas! How comforting is that? To find out there are whole books written to answer each of your questions as your refine this style that you’ve decided is yours? To know there are forums with dozens of trying-hard moms asking and answering the same dilemmas you face? Magazines, conferences, groups… You’ve been adopted into an official mama club!

But here’s the deep, deep problem with that: we begin to identify with a philosophy, rather than with Christ and His Word. We begin by perhaps agreeing with the outlying principles of a certain school of thought, but eventually, we’ve bought the whole thing. Our ideas on the basic nature of man, the relationship of parent-child, the goals of parents, the end-result desired for our children: all of these are now defined and articulated by whichever philosophy we’ve decided is “us”.

And that’s dangerous.

That’s not how a Christian is supposed to live life.

Want an example? Okay, how ’bout me: I came to mothering with lots of ideas inherited from my mother. Imagine my amazement when I discovered that much of what she’d taught and modeled to me was attachment parenting. (I can hear my mom now: “Attachment what?”) As I read about this philosophy of parenting, I realized how much I happened to fall into that “camp”. But when I began to notice “attachment parenting” in the profiles of Christian mama bloggers, a red flag went up. See, my ideas about how I respond to my baby’s cries, or feeding them on-demand in favor of schedules, and about nurturing them and ministering security and comfort to them were a result of my mom’s Bible studies, maternal instincts, and discoveries about how God designed babies’ and mother’s bodies.* As I continued those Bible studies on my own, the instincts that had been cultivated by my mom just grew stronger.

But I saw the trap before me — to jump from my Holy-Spirit and Bible based parenting into a camp defined by a human philosophy. A philosophy that would eventually influence my thoughts on human nature, parental authority, and goals for my children.

See, books and research, forums and magazines can perhaps help to confirm a God-given instinct. But when they become our identity, we can find ourselves going down paths not carved by the Word.

This goes for all parenting “methods”, not just the one I’ve given as an example. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for us mothers to go around saying, “I’m attachment,” or, “I’m Babywise,” or “I’m gentle discipline,” or whatever your flavor of choice may be. There are “hook-line-and-sinker” ideas in all of those that should not simply be adopted as our own. (With attachment parenting, for instance, you eventually come to the belief that children are basically good.) The Bible tells us to sow with a view to righteousness, to sow to the Spirit — if we want to see Holy Spirit fruit. That means we must do more than simply grab at the most natural to us parenting style; we must purpose to have our minds renewed, our choices refined, and our lives characterized by Kingdom values.

Perhaps our parenting choices should be guided by the Word of God itself — a Word rich with principle, wisdom, direction, and all manner of guidance for every moment of life. Perhaps our questions should be posed to men and women of the faith who have borne fruit and whose wisdom is seen in the lives of their loving-the-Lord children…and not to a stranger in cyber-space who makes us feel comfortable because she just admitted to screaming at her children, too. Perhaps when Dr. Phil, or even Dr. Sears, makes a statement about the psychology of children, we should be quick to run to Scripture. And when the world tells us what kind and loving parenting is, we should be ready with the knowledge of what God says love and kindness are.

The world doesn’t need another generation of parents who think they’ve got the corner on the market with their new ideas and techniques. The world needs a generation of radical, take-God-at-His-Word disciples who are raising up a generation even more in love with Jesus.

So, I guess I’m writing this to stir myself and challenge you: don’t be an attachment mama or a Babywise mommy, or whatever.

Be a Christian.

(*This is not my subtle attempt to tell you that this is the only right way to parent. I’m just telling you about me, so you can understand the close parallels I found in attachment parenting.)

16 Comments red flag: parenting styles

  1. Nancy

    I am grateful that you are a thinker.
    And not only any kind of thinker–but one who thinks under the watchful eye of God.

    love you, D!

  2. Sarah Diederich


    Thank you SO much for this post.
    It really gets at the heart of something BIG and crucially IMPORTANT!

    Anything and anyone but the Word of God is faulty!!! Somewhere, and at some point, philosophies fall apart in light of God’s truth.

    For the record, (on kind of the opposite end as you) I practice the principles as outlined in the Babywise books. After trying “attachment parenting” and failing miserably, becoming an emotionally drained wreck-of-a-mommy and wife, I called a “veteran” mother in the church who is of the same disposition as myself, and she recommended Babywise.

    After implementing some of the principles, I saw a complete transformation. I felt like I was able to mother with the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to with constant sin.
    My husband and I have found this parenting style to be a blessing to our family, and really allow us to have four children so close together without falling apart.
    I have come to realize it as God’s provision and Grace for ME. I must emphasize that I am in no way promoting Babywise to anyone! I just want to illustrate how God came in during my time of great need, taught me, guided me, and even used principles from the Babywise book to help me find what worked for our family. God knows every fiber of our being…He made us! And the Holy Spirit is the best comforter, teacher, and helper I know! I appreciate how God has helped me to find a balance between using scheduling principles, and being flexible and loving enough to give my children what they need. I will continually look to Him and His word for how I can become a better parent.

    So, any new mommy out there seeking parenting wisdom…follow Danica’s advice: “Be a Christian”

    Thanks, Danica for your insight and reminder to live our lives grounded on the Word of God. I value you, your parenting style, and committment to giving your children God’s very best! :)

    Love in Christ,
    Sarah D.

  3. TulipGirl

    One of the “older women” in my life whose children are mostly out on their own and still have a strong relationship with her, leaned towards practices that looked more “attachment parenting” with her children. She did those things because that was the best way to nurture her children, and most consistent with their beliefs and lifestyles. Something she said recently, “. . .the thing is that at the age my kids are, I rarely think in terms of parenting style. . . . and I’m sure we all parented differently when these boys were babies. But now, you know, the commonalities are what I see–commitment and supportiveness. . . .”

    Personally, I’m outspoken about the problems I see (practically, developmentally, theologically) about the teachings by Gary Ezzo. And yet, I strive to emphasize that my concerns are about misinformation and the way those teachings can misguide parents. The reality is, the Christian parents I know are all committed to their children–and it is that love and active involvement in their children’s lives that makes the difference–not parenting style.

    And we DO all mess up as mothers. . . God’s grace and a mother’s love cover a multitude of mistakes. . .

  4. TulipGirl

    While in general I find wikipedia to be helpful, I’d disagree with this citation, “(With attachment parenting, for instance, you eventually come to the belief that children are basically good.) .”

    As someone whose parenting looks more like gentle discipline/attachment parenting, I’d just want to point out that “the belief that children are basically good” is not a Christian AP “doctrine” (though it is quite common in the broader AP community.) I have a VERY strong view of sin and the reality that we are born “dead in sin.” The “basically good” view is not common among the Christian mothers who I know who also AP. Just wanted to add that. . .

  5. Angela S.

    The Spirit must be trying to get our attention on this subject big time. It’s been right at the forefront of my mind for days now. How often I’ve seen “attachment parents” or “gentle discipline parents”… well, you know the types… branch off and say to me, “I know people don’t really agree with our chosen lifestyle, but we’ve prayed about it and this is what God has called OUR family to do.” BIG RED FLAGS have always gone up when I’ve heard that. Especially when the family has to leave church early (or permanently) because their out-of-control (no, really IN CONTROL… of the parents) 2yo dictates it.

    The reason why I really notice the red flags is because I myself have fallen for some of the psycho-babble modern day phylosophies on child rearing. God just wouldn’t let me stay comfortable there, and so I’ve been one very uncomfortable and confused momma almost my entire motherhood career, digging through one faulty phylosophy after another searching for what God wants, instead of digging the Word of God! The problem is that these parenting styles are presented in an “aha, that makes sense” format, and slap on a few good scriptures for good measure, and you’re off and racing after a cardboard bunny on grayhound track while the Enemy and his demons start casting their bets for your child’s soul.

    Take it from me, a casualty who thankfully believes there’s still some kind of parental ressurrection for me and my children. I pray He doesn’t tarry!

  6. Danica

    (I just want to clarify once again that I am not trying to denounce any particular methodology, but rather, am pointing out the danger of identifying with one so strongly that we begin to interpret Scripture according to our method, rather than measuring our methods against the Scripture. And perhaps more for women than for men, realizing that our method is leading us astray may be especially hard once we’ve found a strong identity and fellowship within a certain method. Our minds are more easily deceived than we [I] would like to think, and we’re only “safe” when continually submitted to and washed by the Word of God.)

  7. Mary L.

    Hi, I just wanted to stop in and say that I visit your blog (ahem lurk :) occassionally. This message was such a blessing to me. I’ve been married just a year and we are expecting our first baby and I have several friends with strong parenting/childrearing/birthing opinions and as I visit more and more “mommy blogs” I am finding these same strong opinions. I find myself horrified by the comments that Christian women leave for one another on blogs as they debate this or that parenting strategy. Thank you for your post, it helped put it all in perspective and in good time too :) as my husband and I will soon be putting all our parenting ideas into practice. Thanks :)

  8. Danica

    Mary — Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you found some encouragement here. It blesses me, for sure, to hear when others are encouraged here.


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