In the last post on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a commenter posed this thought.
“As an adoptive mother, I’ve read quite a bit about attachment and bonding, and it seems that Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be a big risk factor when a child is unable to form an emotional bond with a parent or caregiver. I am not fluent in the science behind all that, but assuming the two are indeed linked, I wonder if (Narcissistic Personality Disorder in conservative Christianity) could be tragically reflective of misguided approaches to parenting popular in fundamentalism?”
I have to give a caution before starting this discussion that we can not draw a harsh one-to-one correlation between Ezzo/Pearl parenting methods and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The heart of man is way too complicated for that. Many readers of this blog came from backgrounds with horrid believing or unbelieving parents and have still grown up to become well-adjusted members of society and the Church. Rather than dissecting what is wrong with harsh Christian parenting methods, I’d rather think on what the Bible proactively calls us to do as parents. Often, I think the problem with Pearl/Ezzo methods become obvious quickly when we examine what the Bible does say. So I’d like to consider the Biblical version of attachment parenting if I may (and I really do NOT want to debate attachment parenting), which I think is centered around the Biblical word nurture.
The old King James translated Ephesians 6:4 this way.
Ephesians 6:4 (KJV) 4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
More modern versions, such as the ESV, translate it like this.
Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
I loved the word nurture in older translations and wondered what happened to it in the newer ones. I thought modern translators were replacing nurture with discipline, and though I know discipline is not the same as punishment, it still didn’t sound much like my perception of nurture. However, as I dug a little deeper, I learned that the word nurture stemmed from the Greek word for bring up. The same word is used in Ephesians 5:29.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
I like the word nourish, and I think its loss in newer translations of Ephesians 6:4 causes us to miss some of God’s heart for Christian parents. If you look up the definition in the Greek, parents are to bring up or nurture their children to maturity, discipling them in the Lord. Consider the difference in academically discipling our children with great distance (emotionally, physically) between teacher and student and walking with them under our arm, a one-on-one tutor if you will. The particular contrast this verse offers is between such nurture and methods that provoke our children to anger, that exasperate them, and set them up for failure.
To nurture or nourish means to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen and build up (dictionary.reference.com). In terms of parenting, we nourish our children when we provide for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The classic example of the effects of the absence of nurture were orphans in communist countries who sat in their cribs silent, because they had long ago learned that no one came when they cried. Their long term social problems prompted some of the first serious observations and discussions of attachment.
God’s Word instructs parents to nurture/nourish their children, and it gives us a model in Jesus as He nurtures/nourishes His Bride, the Church. The call is to cherish our children. Provide for our children. Help them grow. Strengthen them. Sustain them. It starts with them at our breast (or cuddled in our arms with a bottle – no mommy wars here!) and extends out with each new thing they learn. They can crawl to the other side of the room, walk across the playground, or move to college in another state, but they always have a safe place to which they can return. I remember developing type 1 diabetes during a year of teaching in Seoul, South Korea. I came home sick and broke and lived with my mom and dad for a year. I was 25 years old, an age when most people were secure in their independence, providing for themselves and living on their own. I praise God that I had parents who provided a safe place for me to fall back on when I needed them, who still do for that matter.
Early in training my own boys to sleep through the night, I started using Babywise methods, but I realized quickly that I did not want to use a method that may signal to my children that I wouldn’t come if they needed me. Sure, they would eventually stop crying and sleep through the night, but I was concerned that some of what they would be learning was that I didn’t come when they cried, so why try. And I did NOT want to teach my children it was futile to try to engage my help when they had a need. I remember well one late night letting my son cry, in a good faith effort to help him sleep through the night. I finally gave in and went in to check on him, and he was soaking wet. That was the end of that for me, horrified at how long I had let him cry trying to let me know all was not well while I just sat in another room and listened to him. I modified my sleep training methods, letting him cry for a moment if necessary but coming pretty quickly to check on him, soothing him, letting him know I was there, and making sure everything was OK in his bed. It, of course, took longer to train him to sleep, but I never regretted that I chose to make sure he knew I was there if he needed me. On a practical note, if any of that resonates with you in sleep training, I really appreciated the book the Baby Whisperer.
With older children, I have been tempted to shut down my children when they “tattle.” But, again, I don’t want to teach my boys that I shut them down when they come to me, so why try. I’d rather hear tattling that I then need to instruct them is tattling and prompt them on better ways to deal with the problem than start training them to hide problems from me, which I know is going to come naturally soon enough any way. I prefer the term reporting to tattling, and I encourage them to work it out if it’s a small problem and always involve me if it’s a big problem.
Part of nurturing is also allowing them to venture out from me–to take risks and learn how the real world works. But I believe, in the paradigm Scripture sets up, they are more confident as they venture out and more willing to take healthy risks when they have a secure base to which they can return and process afterwards.
I don’t have any of this figured out, but I am burdened that my call as a parent to disciple my children is by way of nurturing and nourishing them as Jesus nurtures His Church, and it is distinctly different than harsh parenting methods that teach a child to avoid their parents because they’ll only get shut down if they approach them. Ephesians 6:4 is God’s explicit warning away from methods that exasperate our children, and I think it’s worthwhile to regularly think through the difference in methods that nurture our children and those that exasperate them.