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RULE-BASED PARENTING CREATES DYSFUNCTIONAL CHILDREN
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
(1 Thessalonians 5:14)
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Being authoritarian is a good thing because we must learn to live under God’s authority. To be authoritarian is to be like God. But if authoritarianism is your only modus operandi, it will scuttle any individualized sanctification needs of your children. It creates a black and white world where adherence to the rules is the only way in which children can earn your favor.
This parenting model is like a big authoritarian umbrella. If the children stay under the umbrella, they will be fine—so the strict parent would want you to believe. “If you do what I say, you will be okay. If you go against my rules, you’ll be in trouble.”
The problem is that a child’s heart does not function that way. The authoritarian parent must give his children more than rules. He needs to nurture them. Authoritarianism is a lazy parenting model.
He lays out the rules and demands everyone’s allegiance. He legislates morality. If the family lives in an authoritarian culture, there will be “subjective evidence” that will support the strict parent’s way of doing things: the younger children will obey.
And when the children reared in legalistic homes push those boundaries, there are nearly always bad consequences, which rarely includes a restorative plan. Authoritarian homes are punitive homes.
The authoritarian parent says, “See, I told you if you don’t obey me, this is what happens.” The more timid children will salute dad’s flag and never buck his system because the consequences are not worth it.
Conditional love wrapped in rules is an awful parenting model. It will keep your children separated from the world while they are young, but they will not be equipped to engage the world when they step out from under dad’s authoritarian umbrella.
God has called you to a pneumatic life; you are to walk in the Spirit as He guides you. The Spirit teaches you how to live well in His world. The Lord did not give you a restrictive list of rules to follow. He gave you an organic relationship that factors in the uniqueness of each child.
Any parent with more than one child knows this, which is why it’s unwise to lay down a blanket list of rules and make your kids obey them while motivating them by fear if they cross the line.
That model does not rear children. It rears robots who aren’t practically equipped to live in the culture they are supposed to engage for Christ. The only kind of person they could engage is someone like them, which is how you form a cult.
The authoritarian parent must also be a nurturing parent. He teaches them clear “ways” to live by as he discerns each child and helps the child overcome his unique Adamic brokenness. You see this idea in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 where Paul talked about three different kinds of people, and he gave the Thessalonians three distinct ways to care for them.
What he did not say is that all three people groups are to obey the same strict code of conduct. Yes, there are biblical ethics to live by, but the Bible is more than an ethics manual.
Your children are relational beings who need specific care. If you don’t provide that kind of unique parenting, legalism is your only option, which will prove to be destructive.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).