What Does Christian Parenting Really Look Like?

I sat in the Bible study, and my heart sank.

The conversation was once again drifting towards sleep training. Every mom in the room had an opinion. And all of those opinions were the exact opposite of what every single night looked like with my baby.

There was a strong belief among these women, and in our church culture, that sleep training was part of ‘Christian Parenting’. That “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was the Biblical case for leaving your four-month-old to cry it out.

I didn’t know my son had autism at the time. No one did.

But crying it out was something he did all the time, not just at night. And the “out part” never came. He just cried and cried and cried and cried – miserable in his own skin, and overwhelmed with a sensory system that just didn’t synch with the rest of the world.

I explained with much trepidation in the Bible study how tough this was for him. The women tried to be kind and helpful, but the message was clear.

If you really loved Jesus, you would stop idolizing your child and sleep train.

What Does Christian Parenting Really Look Like?

Years later, I moved to a completely different, much more liberal city. At my new church, there were new moms to get to know. As I did, I realized there was an opposite kind of ‘Christian Parenting’ being practiced here.

These moms co-slept and practiced extended breastfeeding. They talked a lot about organic food and natural medicine.

One day, I handed my son a plastic water bottle at the park. All the women were sitting in a circle, talking about Jesus and parenting. I noticed several women’s faces change to disapproval, and one actually said, “If you really want to love your child, why would you give him plastic to drink from?

Because he is thirsty and it’s hot out,” I thought.

Plastic is toxic. It’s bad for the planet and for our children. Being a good steward means taking better care of both,” she said, sure she was educating me and helping me.

I felt the exact same way I did in the Bible study. Ashamed and feeling like I would never get this Christian thing right. Only this time, the ‘Christian Parenting’ model was the exact opposite.

If I really loved Jesus, I would follow more natural parenting practices.

What Does Christian Parenting Really Look Like?

What Does Christian Parenting Really Look Like?

As a new Christian, I was so eager to learn all the things I needed to do, to be part of this new life. As a new Christian, I was on fire for Jesus, but was surprised to learn that we rarely really talked about him.

We talked a lot about the Bible to be sure. But didn’t actually read it.

We just took pieces of it, and used those pieces to defend the parenting choices, the lifestyle choices, and the marriage choices we were making.

More than that, we used those pieces of the Bible to exclude the ones who didn’t fit and define the ones who did.

Over the course of ten years, I heard every single one of the following statements, either spoken to me or to someone else in the church.

God does not want you to let your children watch Spongebob.” – I can’t even.

Attachment parenting is not biblical.” – I guess that’s kinda true because God never even makes it a point to discuss different parenting styles directly in the Bible.

You are idolizing your child when you spend so much time focused on his needs. He needs more discipline. Then he won’t act that way.” – Please, please, please be careful when you try to insinuate that a mother’s God-given love for her child is in opposition to her love for Jesus. P.S. You have no idea what is going on with that child at home.

Spare the rod, spoil the child. It says it in the Bible. You need to spank him.” – This is used as some sort of mantra over and over again. I have heard it hundreds of times in Christian circles – likely referenced more than verses in the entire Bible. How sad is that?

Your child is a sinner. The Bible says you need to train the sin right out of him.” – We are all sinners. That’s why we need Jesus. I am not sure how we train the sin out of ourselves, much less our children.

I am exhausted just typing all of this.

Please hear my heart – I do not think anyone I am referencing said any of these things to be cruel. I honestly think they are just trying to figure this parenthood thing out like the rest of us.

But when we associate being Christ-like with all of our rules and requirements, we lose sight of all the good news that Jesus actually brings.


What Does Christian Parenting Really Look Like?

What if a new mom is checking out your church, or your mommy group, or your Bible study and she fed her kid McDonald’s on the way there? Do you really want to communicate to her that Jesus is all about condemning that food choice?

Or what if the new mom is checking out your church, or your mommy group, or your Bible study and has quite comfortably been co-sleeping with her toddler. Do you really want to focus more on sleep training than on welcoming her and showing her Christ’s love?

Moreover, do we want to give our kids this message? That God is about the rules of the all the things you can and cannot do.

What if being a parent has more to do with us and our relationship with God, than somehow applying a Christian formula to our children and having them turn out evangelical?

The more I get to know the Bible and Jesus, the more I feel like God is just bigger than all of this. My mind is so small compared to His omnipotence.

There is no way I can possibly figure out the formula for parenting – I don’t think anyone can and more importantly, I don’t think they should.

This is not a math equation, this is a relationship.

Our children are not projects. They are people, created in the image and likeness of God.

Every single child has been born to the parents God ordained. My children have special needs, yours may not. Do we really think there is a Biblical expectation that we parent them all the same?

Jesus meets every single person in His lifetime on earth, exactly where they are. He loves them, exactly as they are. He helps them, exactly as they are. He inspires them, teaches them, and serves them, exactly as they are.

I want more of that model in my parenting –

Loving my boys when they feel like they have failed.

Teaching them through powerful stories.

Redirecting them as needed, and reminding them of their continual need for Jesus.

Forgiving them over and over and over again.

Sharing all the wonderful things that Jesus did on earth and that He is doing in our lives.

Washing my boys’ feet when they feel the most unworthy.


This is the ‘Christian parenting’ I want to practice.

This is the ‘Christian parenting” I want to talk about.

This is the ‘Christian parenting’ I think we all need.

This post originally appeared on Not The Former Things in 2015.

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  1. Bravo! Cheers! Standing Ovation! Encore! ๐Ÿ™‚ Shawna, your blog has been an encouragement many times. But your focus on grace in this post, and your post about giving ourselves grace, is a new kind and of powerful. I sense you are really growing into your voice, a voice we all need to hear. I want my kids, myself, and others to know we all have unique voices, and the world needs our voices. Thank you for sharing yours. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. What a lovely thing to say, Naomi. Your kind and encouraging words mean so much.
      Thank you!

    2. AMEN, AMEN and AMEN! GOD bless you!

      Thank you,
      Sharon. Downs

      1. Thank YOU, Sharon! I appreciate your encouragement.

    1. I do love it! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Amen, Cait!
      Thank you for commenting.

  2. Yes, So Glad that you shared your heart….Jesus wants a relationship with us. If He went around spanking me every time I did something against His Word, I don’t think I would want a relationship with Him!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Lynn. Boy are your words true. I would be in a world of hurt (literally!) if that were the case.

  3. I totally agree with everything you said, so thank you for saying it!

  4. LOVED IT!! Everything you said has been what I’ve heard for 13 years 5 kids later and my youngest Buggaboo(Autistical lol too) Sorry my term instead of typical . Unfortunately, this happens no matter what faith..if any. UG!!

    Just as the saying “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” I say As for me and my Husband we will parent with God’s Guidence and hand…turning to him when times are tough and praise always!!

    Women should support and encorage being a parent is a wonderful blessing but challenging. We should love each other through it! Thanks for saying what so many of us are thinking… We are not alone yay!!!

    1. I love your words. Thank you so much for sharing them with us!

  5. Beautiful! And, for the record, “spare the rod, spoil the child” is not in the Bible.

    1. I know – right??? That is what makes it even crazier I think.
      (For anyone who may not know what we are talking about, the actual Bible verse in Proverbs 13 is “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”)
      Thank you for your kind comment!

  6. Nancy Krizan says:

    Thanks for this Shawna. I only wish I had seen it 21 years ago when my own Asperger’s child was born. Thankfully she was finally diagnosed at 19 and is taking medication that allows her to function well. She was actually a pretty easy child, except for the strong will and the sensory overload, which we handled by homeschooling. I had several friends at church with special needs kids, who were able to recognize things with her that I didn’t have any idea how to handle. I made SO MANY mistakes, starting with spanking during discipline-NOT the punishment for an ASPY. I am so grateful for a church that is not mired in legalism, but is founded on strong Biblical doctrine and a large amount of grace and love. Julie grew up loved and cared for by our congregation (we’re part of a small denomination called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church OPC). It sounds as though you’ve been in churches that are very heavy on legalism, hence the right and wrong way to raise children. I have not seen or heard those kinds of comments in my church, only loving, caring suggestions on what I might think about trying, or a book I might want to read. I don’t know where I’d be without their encouragement, and it’s been my opportunity to educate them on what happens inside the heads of these children. Blessings to you and your family.

    1. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing! There is so much wisdom and grace in your words.

  7. Shawna, oh my goodness it is just SO wonderful to meet you through reading this post! Your experience with so many Christians and their messages is heartbreaking and incredibly discouraging- I am so sorry you had to be exposed to such lies and misdirected messages and costly shame. I know people are truly thinking they are doing/sharing the will of God and believing in their hearts that what they feel and say is truth…

    But it is utterly awful and discriminating and pure judgement.

    Reading stories like this about how Christians truly twist God’s word and then drench others with their message, honestly makes me want to cry. It saddens me so deeply… because as you said, “Jesus meets every single person in His lifetime on earth, exactly where they are. He loves them, exactly as they are. He helps them, exactly as they are. He inspires them, teaches them, and serves them, exactly as they are.”

    I think what I am most passionate about in such things, is that this type of behavior forms shadows on God’s true light. It is the ultimate barrier I see in the world. SO many non-believers observe this and think “I don’t want to know THAT God…” Etc. And many believers leave the church because of this type of mentality. Breaks. My. Heart.

    Thank you for sharing such a powerful message, and oh, how I pray many read it and truly understand it!!

    1. Thank you so much, Chris. It is so nice to “meet you” too.
      I am grateful for your sharing your heart with us.

  8. Spare the rod spoil the child is quoted so much in Christian parenting and it’s not even in the Bible! It’s from a 15th century erotic poem. Most popular parenting Bible verse isn’t a Bible verse.

  9. Not to mention the If you really loved Jesus, you would home school your children rage. Oh, how often I felt like a less-than-Christian-mom because I didn’t make that schooling choice.
    What a wonderful post you have written. So glad someone shared it on Facebook so I could read it. Thanks for putting your heart out here.

  10. Sigmond Jazwiecki says:

    Amen, well stated! !!

  11. Amen!
    I got the making your child an idol comment from someone at church. She had no idea how cruel and ironic it was that she thought my child was my idol when I would have given almost anything for a break.

  12. Hi Shawna,
    Have you ever seen the clip about the different parent groups on the playground having a standoff about which parenting style is superior when a stroller with a child in it goes rolling down the hill towards the pond and ALL THE PARENTS go running after it to save the child? It just goes to show what truly matters…. Children do not come with instructions, so we are left to figure out what works best for us as parents and for our children. God’s Holy Word is our guide and with it we do the very best we can for each of our individual kids, remembering that he only loans them to us for a short while. Do not let others judge you for doing what you feel is the best parenting for your child. I also choose to model the type of parent God Himself is. Do I get it right all the time?!?! Heck no!!! But no one does, we all make mistakes and fall short of His Glory, even as parents.

    Our own 3 girls are grown, they are now 27, 24, and 18. Two are married (one with kids & step kids, the other with her first on the way) and the other graduates from high school in 2 days. We have been parenting 2 of our grandchildren for the past 5 years, one who has Spina Bifida. And do you think I have it all together at this point as a parent? Not at all, by a long shot!!! But by His Grace, I am the best one I can be for each one of them.

    I could have done a much better job of teaching my kids about God, though….but we must have done something right because our oldest is being baptized in a few weeks, reaffirming her relationship with Him, and the other 2 are learning more about their individual walks with Him everyday. And each of OUR grandchildren (steps included) are growing up learning about God. I can’t ask for anything more!!!

    So just trust in Him, (we did) and EVERYTHING will work out. We are in His Hands!!! Sue

  13. Melissa Strong says:


    This is the right way to be a Christian, whether in parenting, or any other aspect of life.

    THANK YOU for sharing

  14. I have raised 7 children, 6 boys and 1 girl. I homeschooled for many years. My type of parenting was freer and went much against the stern rigid thinking of some parents. We had squirt gun fights in the hall, I wrestled my boys down to the ground. We had fun, training, and much love. We were a wild and rambunctious group, but I had the time of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Thank you for your thoughts. We need to see everyone as God sees us. Different and special, going about God’s work in God’s way for our life.


    1. I allow scooters, bikes and pogo sticks in the house. If I didn’t have laminate floors, I would probably allow water fights, too. My daughter is almost five, but I am pretty sure that like you, I won’t regret allowing those things. I also think she will have very fond memories of those things as well. She was amazed to find out that none of her friends or family ride bikes or scooters in the house.

      1. I love this! Thank you so much for sharing, Rita!

  15. My heart breaks for you… you have tried and are trying so damn hard… and I applaud you for that!
    And I get the struggle. The depression.
    I did the same thing. It’s exhausting, tiring and sucks the life right out of you.
    Been there, done that.

    Not anymore… now life is good. ๐Ÿ™‚
    It’s not perfect. Issues remain. Relationship conflicts still exist.
    But nothing like before. I breathe easier now. I smile more. I enjoy life. I sleep better too.

    What’s the difference? You ask.

    My answer to that is in the form of a question… am I wrong in saying that the one common denominator between your varied experiences with parenting is christianity and/or religious ideas about what parenting should look like?


  16. I love this. I lean to the natural parenting side of things, but the fact of the matter is that I do not have the market on Godly parenting cornered. I do however have an autistic daughter that I refused to sleep train because it made no sense to me. As I did the research on cio, I could not do it. I got a lot of condemnation for that. I also made a choice not to use punishments because I don’t believe that God punishes me. I decided it was worth not going to church anymore over that one for a long time. What I didn’t know at that time is that my daughter doesn’t feel pain like I do. I know this because she burned herself on the stove and had no idea. The only reason I knew is because there was a bubble on her hand. There is also that she will not wear a coat even when there is snow on the ground and the wind is blowing. If I listened to those parents that pressured me to spank, I would have abused her before she noticed anything.
    The long and short of it is everyone of us are doing what we can with what we know. What none of us need is someone lecturing us on why our choices are wrong. So many parents are looking for relationships with other parents and to be condemned shatters their confidence. Especially new parents.

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I only recently came across this post in your blog. This exactly states what I feel every time I am around women from my church! We don’t do Wednesday nights, we don’t do Sunday school, and our church attendance is spotty during the summer months. We have gone to church maybe twice during this summer due to a family situation, and you want to know how many people have called?? NONE! I attend a church of 100 people, and you would think someone would care.

    I pray more people find this blog and realize how much cliques do NOT belong in churches. Satan wins when we tear each other down.

  18. “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Thank you for reminding us that a good way to help our children is to be an example of Christ’s love for them. And, from Mother Teresa: “if you judge others, you have no time to love them.” Let us remember that Christ’s love and grace extends even to those whom we feel have judged us. I still fall short every day of the kind of parent that I want to be. But I’m grateful God and my family give me another chance, and I would hope anyone witnessing my less-than-stellar moments would too. I want to keep researching what is the best discipline for my preschooler, and with that study, I will keep praying, because God knows my son better than I do. ๐Ÿ™‚ I believe in personal revelation, and that we can receive “real time” answers from heaven for our earthy situations, including parenting. I agree with you that reading the scriptures will help us know our Savior better, and that He wants to help us. Thank you for the reminders!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Anita!

  19. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t even in the Bible. It is the way someone self-interpreted it (a no-no) with a phrase from a poem that really has nothing to do with children at all. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/spare_the_rod_and_spoil_the_child

    The fact that people misquote the Bible to support being harsh parents makes it even sadder.

  20. Jonathan B says:

    I was spanked frequently as a child, and very much support spanking as a viable discipline option. However, I think all too often people miss that “spare the rod, spoil the child” is not saying that every child must be spanked, but rather that every child must be DISCIPLINED. How you discipline needs to depend on the child. Spanking is neither an objective in itself, nor a cure for all that ails you. An understanding of right and wrong and the importance of doing right is the objective, the will to do right. The goal of any punishment should be to create an understanding in the child that doing what you want to do when it’s not what’s right to do can lead to consequences more painful than whatever benefit you think the wrong action will get you. It’s meant to create a sense of respect for authority and consequence that will lead them to consider their actions morally and in terms of consequences as adults rather than just doing whatever they feel like. And different consequences can achieve that with different kids.

    My dad was stubborn like me when he was a kid, so he got lots of spankings too. But his sister would break out in tears and repent her wrong if her dad so much as frowned disapprovingly, so she barely ever needed a spanking. Discipline should always be measured to the child and what they understand and respond to.

    It should also always come with love, and with a child-appropriate explanation of what the child has done wrong, why it was wrong, and how they should behave in the future. If you don’t pair your discipline with being sure they understand WHY and how to avoid it in future, you’re just punishing, not training. It should always be remembered that it is done for the child’s benefit, not for yours.

    1. Does it make adults behave better when you beat them?


    1. I LOVE your post, Katie. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

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