“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalm 127:1
After my conversation on the podcast with Jameesa Smoot, this scripture kept coming to mind. Referenced often by Sally Clarkson, I have pondered it many times since my first pregnancy and coming into motherhood.
These times we live in are interesting, to say the least. Many people lament over the breakdown of values and morals, but I also see a building up of goodness as much as the world outside of God knows how to do.
One way we’ve seen this happen is in the uptick of focus on the intentionality needed in parenting. There are countless Instagram accounts, blog websites, physical books, and even research articles dedicated to unpacking specific parenting styles and the effects these have on our children.
As a therapist and social worker I realize that I probably have a very specific algorithm on the internet designed to feed me more of this information that I find fascinating, but I think all of us are exposed to it at one point or another. We are all trying to figure out: How do we parent our kids well, in support of their emotional, physical, spiritual, and cognitive development?
Some of the proposed (or villanized) styles fall into the following categories. See if you recognize any of them, and if you’re like me you might see one that jumps off the page screaming–”THAT’S THE RIGHT WAY TO PARENT.”
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting
Gentle vs. Permissive Parenting
The message of all of this noise is simple: Find the right way to parent, or mess your children up for a lifetime. Phew–no pressure! Simple does not equate to healthy, however. The problem with these assertions is that it simplifies the equation too much. There are so many factors in the raising of a child that there is no way that perfect adherence to one man-made framework will ensure the success of our children.
Most of the time, the consequences of legalistic adherence to your parenting style of choice look something like this:
First, we are tempted to shirk wisdom given to us by well-meaning friends, family, and/or mentors simply because they don’t align with our values.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve almost (or actually) shrugged off the well-meaning advice of women in my church, friends, or family because “they don’t parent like I do.”
In a season where I am woefully insecure, desperate for help, and falling short daily, the truth of the matter is that I need people in my corner. I need the perspective that comes from hindsight and lots of trial and error. I need help.
But, when I am so strictly aligned with one parenting style, instead of running to people I trust with children who are faithfully following the Lord, I run to the impersonal research available at my fingertips.
We are a church desperately in need of integrating the wisdom of the older generations, but our worldly knowledge has tempted us away from giving honor, respect, and attention to those who have lived through these seasons.
Stress out over doing it all right
The second way strict adherence to our parenting style of choice trips us up is by adding a heavy dose of stress and anxiety.
Instead of flowing naturally from a heart surrendered to Jesus, our parenting becomes robotic, forced, and expends all of our emotional resources so that by the end of the day we are left irritable, exhausted, and able to give nothing to our homes or spouses after the kids go to bed.
Our society is experiencing a major rise in anxiety-related disorders, and I believe part of it is because we are trying to be so good, by everyone else’s standards, all the time, on our own strength.
Jameesa and I chatted about this on the podcast episode, that often times our desire to “get it all right,” often works against us and actually causes us to be less gracious and more irritable.
Don’t accept help for fear that others won’t parent perfectly within this specific style.
In a season where isolation can be devastating, perfectionism in our parenting can drive us even further into our circle of “one.”
No matter if offered help is abundant or scarce, we find ourselves internally managing who we think will parent most like us. While to some degree this is beneficial–we don’t want to leave our children with someone dangerous–it can also be counter productive by causing us to discount anyone who won’t interact with our children just like us.
In Episode 5 of the Motherhood Named and Known Podcast, Jameesa hit on this point o flawlessly. She realized with the birth of her third baby that she needed help, and so would have to surrender and trust God that the people she was receiving help from loved her children and would do just fine.
Though the above are not an exhaustive list, they are the major downfalls to grasping and striving for perfection to a certain parenting philosophy. And so, when I started to realize the folly of such perfectionism and striving, I was tempted at first to abandon my ideals and just parent in whatever way I saw fit.
Thankfully, as I sought wisdom from others–both real-life friends and those I only know through their online and writerly presence, I found that giving up was not the best way, either.
One day, while praying a prayer of surrender and pleading to God about my mothering, a new term came to settle in the quietness of my mind, and it’s been my driving parenting style ever since:
Spirit-led parenting is not a man-made formula, but one that is based on a deep knowing and walking with the Lord. Spirit-led parenting does not come from my own will, and ability to “get it all right,” instead Spirit-led parenting comes from a life force that is fully not my own.
In my prayer that day, I realized that though the worldly wisdom I was following had elements of godliness, it was missing one very essential piece–being driven forward by the Creator Himself.
Instead of a parenting style that heaps anxiousness, and drives us into this strange mixture of insecurity and pride, Spirit-led parenting gives us confidence and grace–lifts the pressure from our own shoulders to do anything but walk closely from the Lord.
This freedom of spirit in our selves drives a different kind of result than the perfectionism we described earlier:
Sensitivity to the Spirit allows for flexibility: Instead of rigidity and always doing things the same way no matter the kid or situation, Spirit-led parenting allows us to be fully present–sensing the needs of our selves, our children, our homes, and our communities to find what works in that moment instead of setting a one-size-fits-all formula for the rest of our parenting days.
The Spirit is concerned with all members of the family, including you: Did you catch that in the earlier line? Sensing the needs of our selves. Though motherhood calls us to high levels of self-sacrifice and self-surrender, we are never our healthiest selves and most loving mothers when our basic needs–physical, emotional, and spiritual go perpetually neglected. When considering our own needs, generally self-sacrifice looks like, “not right now,” as in–we can pursue the meeting of that need at a later time rather than right when we might want it. But perfectionistic parenting drives us to this strange masochism, where we almost glorify a woman diminishing to a shell of herself because she has had neither time to sit down, take a shower, or take in the Words of Life. Spirit-led parenting means that as you mother your children, your needs are taken up into the hands of the Creator and you will be sensitive to the days, times, and seasons where your body and soul might need a bit more tending.
Allow other Spirit-led individuals into your life to counsel, lift the burden, and come alongside you: And finally, Spirit-led parenting gives us the grace to lay down our pride about “knowing it all,” and allows us to hear the words of wisdom that come from the generations of women who have the perspective of a life well-lived, and the benefit of seeing their parenting with the long-view. The Spirit will never guide us into an echo-chamber of people who only agree with us, but will invite others to speak into our lives from differing perspectives. That diversity allows for perspectives that go beyond our weaknesses, and bolster the strengths offered to our children as we raise them in faithful communities.
Spirit-led parenting is not easy. There is no formula or one-size-fits-all method. There is only walking closely with the Lord, submitting to him, and surrendering to him every single day.
Download this guide for a guide through the scriptures to do your own study of what Spirit-led parenting might look like in your own life.