Child-Centered Parenting and Family Life

Who said it would be easy raising children in the modern world? Paul Dinolfo offers some important insights, based on scriptural principles and pastoral wisdom for parents today. Paul is the senior coordinator of the Work of Christ community in Lansing, Michigan, USA. The following article is excerpted from Paul’s booklet entitled, Child-Centered Parenting and Family Life. While the booklet is primarily addressed to parents in the Sword of the Spirit communities, his insights are beneficial for all Christian parents who want to raise their children to be strong faith-filled Christians. 

Paul writes in the introduction: “The purpose of this booklet is to cast light on some of the problems that can develop when our priorities lack the proper balance, giving particular attention to a special challenge of our modern age: child-centered parenting. We will discuss ways to address these problems, both as parents and as communities.” 

Conflicting attitudes towards children 

There appears to be two growing, contradictory attitudes towards children in contemporary western society.  On the one hand, an alarming number of parents are abandoning, neglecting, or abusing their children. On the other hand, there are also a growing number of parents who are becoming overly absorbed in the lives of their children. While these parents are certainly well intentioned, it is wise to ask: Is this approach really good for the children?

These well-meaning parents believe that they should involve their children in an ever-expanding list of organized activities and programs. In addition, these parents believe that it is very important that they are also involved, albeit as spectators, in all their children’s activities. As a result, family life increasingly revolves around and is shaped by the activities of the children. Traditional family patterns such as having dinner together, family devotions, family night, and family chores take a back seat. After all, there is only so much time. Family patterns become a low priority and, ultimately, dispensable. The family’s involvement in other stable relational groupings (e.g. extended family, neighborhood community, church community) also tends to suffer, as this flurry of activity leaves little room for much beyond work and the children’s activities. 

This modern development is in contrast to all of human history prior to the last few decades in which:

  • children organized all or most of their own non-school activities
  • children were trained by their parents and teachers to integrate into adult environments
  • family patterns were a priority
  • the family was normally integrated as a family into larger stable relational groupings (e.g. extended family, tribe, church community, village or neighborhood community) 

Today, many young people do not know how to relate well to adults and how to act in adult environments.  Family structure, especially extended family structure, continues to weaken and decline; and natural community is almost non-existent.  This is not good for adults or children, or for the family as a whole.

A significant shift in pastoral priorities

Finally, there has been a significant shift in parental priorities. Traditionally, Christian parents have focused primarily on the character formation of their children. They believed that good character was the key to success in life. While most parents today give lip service to the importance of character, the truth is that their actions indicate a different set of priorities. Their actions would indicate that they actually believe academics, sports, talent, popularity and proximate happiness (not character) are the keys to success in life. 

The Bible paints a radically different picture: that true happiness flows from good character and serving others. 

“Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” 

Luke 17:33 

Strategies for parents

  1. Be aware of the problem. Simply knowing the problems associated with child-centered parenting should help us to avoid it in practice.
  2. Be open and accountable. We in the Sword of the Spirit have a wonderful resource in our men’s and women’s groups. In these small groups we can discuss our parenting approach and get the perspective of Christian brothers and sisters who know us and our children well. 
  3. Attend and review community teaching on parenting and family life. 
  4. Keep focused on our mission as a people: a mission that includes our children. 
  5. Look for ways children can serve in the home and beyond. It is good for children to have regular chores. It helps them grow in responsibility and faithfulness; it gives them a sense of place and accomplishment. It is also good for them to serve outside the family home, for example visiting elderly relatives and doing chores for neighbors with special needs. Develop your children’s talents and abilities with an eye for future service in the community. 
  6. Look for mature parents in your community, parents who have raised children who are righteous, responsible, faithful, and motivated. Ask them what they did and discuss your approach with them. 
  7. Live in community neighborhood clusters. Choose schools or home-school networks that include other community families. 
  8. Evaluate family decisions, especially those that consume significant time, money, and resources, with all family priorities in mind.

This article is excerpted from Child-Centered Parenting and Family Life, © by Paul Dinolfo. The article was first published in Living Bulwark, October/November 2013 Issue.

Top photo credit: image of family and grandparents together, from, © VectorMine, stock photo ID: 442397087.  Used with permission.

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