parenting style


Here’s some advice about relating to ‘younger people’ from Karl Barth to his friend Carl Zuckmayer:

  1. Realize that younger people of both sexes, whether relatives or close in other ways, have a right to go their own ways according to their own (and not your) principles, ideas, and desires, to gain their own experiences, and to find happiness in their own (and not your) fashion.
  2. Do not force upon them, then, your own example or wisdom or inclinations or favors.
  3. Do not bind them in any way to yourself or put them under any obligation.
  4. Do not be surprised or annoyed or upset if you necessarily find that they have no time, or little time, for you, that no matter how well-intentioned you may be toward them, or sure of your cause, you sometimes inconvenience and bore them, and they casually ignore you and your counsel.
  5. When they act in this way, remember penitently that in your own youth you, too, perhaps (or probably) acted in the same way toward the older authorities of the time.
  6. Be grateful for every proof of genuine notice and serious confidence they show you, but do not expect or demand such proofs.
  7. Never in any circumstances give them up, but even as you let them go their own way, go with them in a relaxed and cheerful manner, trusting that God will do what is best for them, and always supporting and praying for them.
– Carl Zuckmayer, A Late Friendship: The letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 45.
[HT’s: Travis; Image is of Carl Zuchmayer with his family, Berlin 1928]

BBC Radio 4 will be hosting a 4-week series about parenting called Bringing up Britain which starts this Wednesday 2 April at 8pm. It will be presented by Mariella Frostrup.

[Note: I’m not sure if those outside of Britain will be able to listen online]

There’s a wee passage in Carl Zuckmayer’s correspondence with Karl Barth in which Zuckmayer offers the following comment on American parenting:

If one has lived in America and seen in countless cases what injustice is done to children, one has enough of it. One sees too much that someone, hidden behind misunderstood psychoanalytical maxims, allows them to become little tyrants and ill-humored despots, despots whom adults crawl in front of for pure convenience, only to get peace; and one sees how this takes effect in the unfortunate adolescents when they, brought up without authority, are confronted with the difficulties of life. – A Late Friendship: The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 47.

HT: Travis

Trevor Cairney has recently shared on how research on families and demographic trends have demonstrated a number of significant changes in families and parental practices in recent decades. He summarises the trends under four headings:

  • Family structures are changing – e.g. there are less children in families, women are having children later in life, there are more sole parent households, there are more blended families, children stay at home longer (and many more return as adults) etc.
  • Employment structures are changing – that have an impact on families, with more parents working in multiple jobs, more women back in the workforce, many workers working longer hours, more people working from home etc.
  • Fathers and mothers have changed roles and levels of engagement as parents – While there is a trend towards some fathers spending more time caring for children, for others longer working hours have affected family life. As well, the increase in women doing paid work outside the home has led to more children in the critical first five years of life being placed in childcare.
  • Research has highlighted the critical role that fathers have – For example, fathers have a significant impact on their children’s learning and behaviour. The influence on children’s education alone (the quality of which is also correlated with many other behavioural factors) is significant, as a UK centre on fatherhood has outlined.


In a synthesis of five key UK studies Goldman (2005) concluded that higher involvement of fathers in their children’s learning alone is associated with:

  • better class and exam results;
  • higher educational expectations & qualifications;
  • better attitude to school, attendance & behaviour;
  • less delinquent & criminal behaviour;
  • higher quality family relationships; and
  • better mental health.

Other research has suggested that the influence of fathers and family structures flows well beyond children’s learning. Qu and Soriano (2004) conclude that family formation has important implications for individuals and society in relation to health and wellbeing, financial security, life outcomes for children and population growth.

Research also suggests that fathers who show affection, give support and yet offer an authoritative parenting style, have a more significant impact on their children, when compared with fathers who adopt a more authoritarian and detached style. Other evidence indicates that who the father is, and what he does in life makes a difference. For example, Goldman reports research that suggest that high levels of antisocial behaviour (eg, not paying bills, aggressiveness and so on) in fathers were associated with sons displaying more difficult behaviour at home and school.

In summary, what many research studies show is that fathers have a significant influence on the cognitive, emotional and social development of their children and that this is even more significant for boys.

What the Bible says about fathers and families?

The importance of families and the critical role of fathers are seen throughout the Bible. The concept of family is central to God’s plan for his creation and its restoration. The Bible teaches that relationships, like creation itself, were affected, disrupted and dislocated by sin in the Garden (the book of Genesis describes what happened). But God sustained his people in families and sought to restore them to their rightful place and adopt them into his own family (Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 1:4-5 talks about this). He continues to do so in spite of the curse that has been placed on family relationships as a result of sin, and the struggle that ensues between men and women (Gen 3:16). God’s plan to rescue his people ultimately involves family – his family!

Throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments, family is important. The nation of Israel was one family, descended from Abraham. Within the nation that would rise up as a result of God’s promise to Abraham, there would be tribes defined around family lines and ultimately families within the family, all linked through fathers. Fathers are central to families in the Bible. Marriage in turn is seen as necessary to create a nuclear family – a man and woman, committed to each other in a covenant relationship, who seek to have and raise godly children (Mal 2:14-15).

Some practical implications

I can’t cover lots of implications in one post (but I might over a series of posts). There are many places I could turn to in the Bible for guidance, but there can be no better place than the advice that God gave to Moses to pass on to the Israelites in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Having exhorted them to fear God and obey his commandments and to take care how they live (Deut 6:1-3), God gives instructions on how this is to be done within their families.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates.”
(Deut 6:4-9)
God expected the men of Israel to obey his commandments and to love him with all of their being – heart, soul and strength. He also expected them to teach God’s commands and expectations to their children in the ‘everydayness’ of life. To talk about God when they sat together at home, when they walked from place to place, when they were preparing for bed and rest, and when they rose in the morning. They were to speak of God’s ways, to wear the words of God’s law on their foreheads (no I’m not about to suggest we re-introduce this practice that is still followed by some Jewish people), and write them on the doorposts and entrances to their houses, so that they would not forget them and so that they could teach them even more effectively to their children.

Here is a picture of a father with a right view of God, who trusts, obeys and serves his God and who seeks to teach his children to understand the wisdom of God and to follow him. This is also a picture of an involved father. If we were to translate this biblical picture into contemporary terms, we would see a father who seeks to obey and honour God, who sets a good example for his family, who models what it is to be a child of God. Such a father spends time with his children (indeed will ‘waste’ time with them), listens to them and shares godly wisdom at meal times, while resting, while together at home, while travelling.

(HT: The Importance of Fathers)

The 2006 New College Lectures – Children in the Spotlight: Issues in Early Childhood and Parenting – are now available.

In her book Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West Sally Denton provides us with a glimpse into raising children in upper-crust London in the mid 1800’s. Jean Rio Baker is married to Henry Baker, and they have eight young children, less the one who has died as a toddler. Jean Rio later forsakes this life in the pursuit of Mormonism in America:

“Child rearing was left to governesses, and the children were taught what one of them called ‘the pure Queen’s English’ by private tutors, [while] Jean Rio pursued her musical career throughout Europe. A cook and butler handled domestic matters, and Jean Rio and Henry took their meals separate from the children. The family regularly attended public celebrations for Queen Victoria, and, to judge from their proximity to the royal family at these times, the Bakers were apparently among the elite of mid-nineteenth-century London society.

“Henry, a prominent engineer, built a miniature steam locomotive for his children. The couple routinely read Shakespeare aloud to their children from a leather-bound volume of the complete works a book Jean Rio would eventually carry with her to Utah, along with many others. ‘They were taught personal cleanliness, morals, manners, and religion in no uncertain terms,’ wrote a descendant. As each child turned fourteen, he or she was invited to the family dinner table, having received training in etiquette. At that age, the sons were presented with a silver watch and chain. By that age as well, the children were expected to have mastered the common requirements in history and literature, as well as bookkeeping and higher mathematics that included algebra. Upon turning sixteen, the boys received a gold watch and, as son William George remembered the symbolic rite, were told by Jean Rio and Henry that they would now be expected to conduct themselves as proper gentlemen at all times. All the children learned horsemanship and regularly rode the bridle path in Hyde Park; it was a proficiency that would serve them well in their future lives on the American frontier.”

Sally Denton, Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 134. (HT: Delancey Place)

Oh how times have changed!

Hamelife has a beautiful wee post here on giving our kids enough time to nut things out, process information and respond.

Here’s a preview:

… sometimes parents just need to give their child enough time to let the cogs turn, to allow a moment to process the information. Those few more seconds might take some patience on our behalf, but they could be absolutely priceless when it comes to our child’s personal development. Their little minds going over the words, processing what they mean, deciding what to do. I wonder if when parents hurry their children up, push them out the door, they deny them the opportunity to do that … Parents seem to be under increasing pressure these days, run off their feet. In the choice between the quick hit or the slow release it might feel like we have no time to go for the lengthier option. But in the long run, when they look back, parents might be glad that they extended just a little bit more time to their children, time to allow the cogs to turn.

There’s also a good podcast here on Family Values in The Simpsons and one here on Steiner Schools and a discussion on whether public schools are as good as private schools.

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