Our Children’s Need for Nurture

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.

17 Responses to Our Children’s Need for Nurture

  1. merry August 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    I hadn't thought about that exact same connection as the commenter that prompted this post, but as an adoptive mother who also has become pretty well educated on attachment and development and restoration of trust, I love how you explained this. I'm realizing how much training takes place within the concept of relationship. Something we have found to be most helpful is the principle of connecting first, correcting second. I think focusing on connecting with our children and training them within that relationship would help avoid a lot of the narcissism that we see today, as well as promoting attachment, which I'm noticing is a lot less secure for most people than might be apparent at first, even for people who grew up in with in tact, stable families.

  2. Wendy August 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Connecting first, correcting second. That is really, really helpful. Thanks for sharing, Merry!

  3. BLP Productions August 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    This is wonderful, thank you so much for this post. So often I see young parents ignoring their children when they're crying in the store. I often wish they would just pick them up and hug them – sometimes that's all that's needed. Like you so sweetly put it – let them know you're there – that's all they want sometimes is to know you're there and you care about how they feel. Then they can relax and calm down.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Ursula Rosien August 14, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    I fell into the babywise trap too… Thankfully I realized that they needed my nurturing first and then the training/discipline part second. Thank you for this reminder!

  5. merry August 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I was listening to audio of 1 Thessalonians this morning, and when in 4:9, Paul said, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another”, this post came to my mind, so I thought I'd come back and share my thoughts on it. (This is in no way critical of anything you or your commenters have said, just my own musings that happen to be related to this topic.)

    I was recently looking online at an “If-Then” chart for behavior, with Scriptures listed, and consequences, and I was very bothered by the chart. Some commenters said that they thought it was legalistic, then some commenters said that they thought the criticism was unfounded. I think the reason I was uncomfortable with the chart is related to this post and this issue in general.

    God created us to be in fellowship with Him and in fellowship with one another. The overriding principle for all of our behavior is love, and love only happens in the context of relationship. When behavior and discipline is boiled down to a chart or a formula, it is easy to overlook the love part. It becomes mechanical, and the relationship part is overlooked. In discussing my parenting philosophy (which is heavily influenced by attachment theory and a lot of therapeutic parenting since I am parenting a child who experienced significant trauma early on) with Christians, people often respond with Scriptures backing up a heavy-handed authoritarian approach. Those Scriptures need to be considered in context of the overarching principles of Scripture. Why do we rush to love our neighbors, but not to love our children?

  6. MSAC English Joshua August 14, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    “I think focusing on connecting with our children and training them within that relationship would help avoid a lot of the narcissism that we see today”- how exactly? The parent who is the authoritarian is often parenting in the hope that the focus on discipline would not lead to narcissistic men and women; when I used Babywise, I did partly because I wanted my children to understand that they weren't the center of the household and couldn't command the spotlight at whim. I wanted them to be more self-reliant. I admit I'm certainly out of my depth when it comes to psychological disorders and diagnoses, but the connection seems more apparent to me between attachment and narcissism, not authoritarianism and narcissism. Are you inferring a “toxic” self-reliance (from lack of attachment) that mutates into narcissism? And what is the line between garden-variety narcissism and a personality disorder?

  7. Wendy August 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    There were some links on the Narcissism post that might help distinguish between garden-variety narcissism and a full blown personality disorder. I found the wikipedia page on attachment theory informational as well.

    The problem with the babywise approach is the serious danger in teaching any child a concept they are not developmentally ready for. Sure, all children need to learn they are not the center of the universe, but a 3 month old crying because they are scared, hungry, lonely, or wet is not in any way, shape, or form ready to learn they are not the center of the universe. They are however at the prime developmental stage to learn that mom and dad are good and love them and watchful for their needs.

  8. merry August 14, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    In attachment-focused parenting (which is not necessarily the same as popular attachment parenting) that follows the connecting first, correcting second principle, the parent is modeling empathy and placing behavior in the context of relationships, thus minimizing the focus on the person alone, which can lead to narcissistic tendencies. Lack of attachment does often result in a toxic self-reliance, partly due to an inability to trust.

  9. Klmf August 15, 2013 at 4:48 am #

    I used baby wise with all six of my children (ages 16 down to 3 now). I admit to not following every piece of advice but I did follow the eat, wake time and naptime routine. Of course not every child was the same, but for the most part they all learned to fall asleep on their own. There were times I held them, walked them or rocked them to sleep but it wasn't the norm. They were very much loved and nurtured. I feel like your example of orphans lying in cribs crying (or not) and never being picked up and loved and touched and responded to – to the baby wise model of letting your sleepy baby cry himself to sleep in his crib is not a very good one. For the most part, it was naptime, the child was tired and yes, he may cry, but consistent use of the ezzo sleep method resulted in a baby that learned to soothe himself and fall asleep. If my child cried for several minutes I always checked on him. I don't profess to know what a 2-3 month old baby thinks, but I don't think he is thinking that I have abandoned him and do not love him when for every other waking moment of the baby's life I am feeding, loving and caring for him.
    I do admit that if you wait til your child is older-6 months or so, and try to initiate the ezzo method then the infant DOES understand cognitively that mommy walked out…I am crying and I know she is there. Where is she? It would be much more difficult on mommy and baby.
    I have no problems with moms who use different methods of training and raising their children-I just felt that you were unfair in being critical of the baby wise method because you felt guilty about letting your little one cry and finding out he was wet.
    Above all, I think we can all agree that God is the giver of life and the one who blesses us with the responsibility of raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Ultimately our goal is to teach them to glorify God, to honor their father and mother.and most importantly share with them over and over again everyday the gospel so that Lord willing they see their need for a savior and place their trust in Him.

  10. Klmf August 15, 2013 at 5:40 am #

    I also wanted to add that I did not find babywise harsh. ALL my children STILL run to me to tell me their problems. They have yet to tell me they feel shut down, not listened to or feel a lack of security because as babes I let them cry to sleep. I feel there is MUCH more to parenting – loving, training,teaching, disciplining, etc (or lack of) . that affects a child at 2,3,4,5 etc. years of age than one certain sleep training technique does at 1 and 2 months old.

  11. Klmf August 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    Wendy, so are you saying that if one chooses to use the babywise method, that person is not nurturing their child?? But one who chooses attachment parenting is? Just a question, and not looking to argue, but like i said, there is way more involved than any single method. Thanks for listening!! 🙂

  12. Katie August 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Generally I love the idea of nurturing my child. I believe that it is critical to be responsive and affectionate with my almost 18 month old. But part of my brain starts to shut down when people equate a form of sleep training that involves minimal comforting with not being responsive or not nurturing. I did not use Babywise and am well-versed with http://www.ezzo.info. (As a side note: there are almost as many personal integrity problems with the author of The Baby Whisperer as with the author of Babywise). However we are a Ferber family. At 4.5 months old when she was waking up north of 10 times a night due to sleep association problems only my daughter needed sleep more than she needed me to hold her to sleep. She also needed a mother who was not vomitting from sleep deprivation and was capable of attending to her during the day. I tried the “gentler” sleep training techniques and they only made my daughter confused and upset. So, with our pediatrician's encouragement and blessing, we embarked on a modified version of the Ferber method. During check-in points I provided intensive comfort, but she had to do the falling asleep on her own. I will not lie and say that it was a quick process or an easy process, but it was a necessary one. And I hate when other mothers contemplating how they are going to teach their child to sleep are told that it is selfish to teach kids to sleep, that they need to be responsive “nighttime parents” (as Dr. Sears likes to say) instead of being responsive to their kid's need to sleep along with the other needs of their child.

    Perhaps you were merely providing a criticism of the “lay baby down, shut the door, return at 7 a.m.” type of sleep training method, but even then you have not been there and understood why parents might eventually resort to that method. Sure, some do it for wrong motives I'm positive. Some people do Attachment Parenting or any other form of parenting for wrong motives. But I know of some parents who, after trying every other way to get their child sleep, do cry-it-out extinction because it's the only thing that works. It's never something we did, as I always wanted to do that check to see if my daughter was sick, stuck in her crib slats, or needed changing, but I have sympathy for the parents who end up there.

    I have been encouraged by your writing very much here, but I think in some of your anecdotes in this post you strayed from discussing what the Bible proscribes to at least being on the line of proscribing from your own life experience.

  13. Wendy August 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    For those of you who used Ezzo's methods and felt you also nurtured, then you used Ezzo's methods and felt you also nurtured. It's not for me to make a judgement on that. A lot of people have used pieces of Ezzo's teaching and modified it in ways that worked for their family because, as you say, children and their caregivers need sleep and some of his instructions were helpful. But a lot of people have also followed Ezzo's methods with rigidity, believing as a commenter earlier posted, that they were righteously teaching their children in the early months they aren't the center of the universe. That second way of implementing Ezzo has a lot of pitfalls.

    But the point of this post is that if you have strong convictions about the need to nurture, a lot of the other stuff falls into place as you think through how to train your children in the things they need to learn, like sleep.

    I have not made any comment on either Ezzo's integrity or the Baby Whisperer's. Her methods were similar to Ezzo's but the instructions in the book had the nurture piece built in to the instructions. Ezzo's didn't. Fine for people who think on their own and know the need for nurture. Not so good for those who don't.

  14. Ann-Marie August 15, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. It was really encouraging. In the first 6ish months of my daughters life I felt pulled in so many directions when it came to parenting techniques. Everyone had an opinion and none of them were balanced. It seemed like everyone was saying I was a bad parent if I didn't do it like they did it. Some people stressed discipline and some stressed attachment. The older my daughter has got the better I have become at figuring out what is best for her and her personality. It was really good to read about the root word in that passage…it makes a lot more sense.

  15. Klmf August 16, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    In the original comment…”misguided approach to parenting popular in fundamentalism”…what made you go to the Ezzo method since the reader making the comment didn't even specify what “popular” method she was referring to? Maybe I am not familiar with all the methods out there now that my youngest is 3, but I would think there are lots more than just the babywise method.
    You said you are not making judgements on whether those who used ezzo also felt they nurtured but the way you phrased your first sentence in your latest reply show you actually do doubt that those who used it actually nurtured because we “felt we did”. I guess I just think that the post would have been more encouraging if it had been just the definition of nurture and how important it is and how the Bible instructs us to do just that. But we may need to define exasperate-and you are saying that those babies who cry themselves to sleep are being exasperated by their parents! And what method are you speaking of that teaches children to avoid their parents because they will be “shut down”?? That verse is NOT telling us to stay away from METHODS but actual exasperation…who determines which certain methods actually exasperate and which nurture.? What is “the biblical method of attachment parenting” that you speak of? If the bible had one sure method, there would not be any of this discussion. And child rearing would be “easy”!
    As we have seen by the responses to this post, there are many differing opinions on child rearing methods, but we must be careful to not add more to scripture than what is there. Eph 6:4 tells us not to exasperate and to bring up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Using certain parenting methods cannot be compared to provoking children to wrath/anger because then one assumes to know what is going on in the minds of infants.
    As a mom of six, there are many things that I do wrong! I do not always speak words with love, I lack patience, I don't listen wholeheartedly every time, I get “too busy”, I get frustrated, (I could go on and on) :). Thank The Lord for his awesome grace and forgiveness! I need the reminder of the gospel everyday , as do my children. So as I live my life trying to raise my kids, that bible verse tells me not to exasperate them! I think as moms we know the things we do that calm our children and let them know we are listening and things that we do (or don't do) that exasperate. That is what we are commanded to avoid…

  16. Pia August 16, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    A random somewhat offshoot thought here…..this reminded me of some advice I was given during my single days. Oreo cookie your dating (or courting – no dating/courting wars here!). With all the risk of rejection involved in dating, spend some time the day before the date with a nurturing friend, go on the date, spend the day after the date with a nurturing friend. It helped.

  17. Liz August 27, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    I have limited opinions on Babywise, Babywhispering, Attachment parenting, and whatever other parenting philosophy terms exist (I'm only on my first, and he's still a young one!). I do wonder if we fall into a trap any time we take something so personal and fluid as relationships (in this case, the relationship of parent/child) and try to fit it into the mold of a particular theory. One way I nurture my son is by knowing when he benefits from independence, and when he needs the comfort and support of a nearby mama.

    Not a commentary on your excellent post, Wendy, just a thought that arose as I read the resulting conversation.