Why Parents Should Be Wary of "Gentle Parenting"

Laura Bailey

iBelieve Contributor
Published: Nov 08, 2022
Why Parents Should Be Wary of "Gentle Parenting"

Lastly, the Lord gives us rules for our own protection. Our role as parents is to teach our children how to respect and submit to earthly authority and obey laws and commands so that one day they will submit to eternal authority.

A few months ago, my social media feed was buzzing with two familiar words presented in an unfamiliar way: “Gentle Parenting.” The seemingly innocent term had caused quite a conversation among evangelicals. While there seems to be much division over the topic, most Bible teachers, preachers, authors, and Christian voices I follow are traditionally reformed, biblically conservative, and tend to be in the religious minority, even among their peers.

After scrolling for nearly an hour, I was still unclear on what exactly the term gentle parenting meant, so I hopped over to google and discovered, “gentle parenting is a parenting style that relies on empathy, understanding, and respect.” And while I do agree and hope all parents incorporate those traits into their parenting methods as they are good for our children, it didn't take long to understand why the theory caused such a stir.

By definition, gentle parenting sounds great, but the practice can have negative consequences that some Christians are concerned about. Let's unpack the parenting philosophy and consider how this practice contradicts the scriptures and how we might respond in light of these discrepancies.

What is Gentle Parenting?

I start by acknowledging that parenting styles, philosophy, and methods are nearly impossible to cover in an abbreviated article. My goal is not to convince or sway you to adapt or abandon one style. However, like many other things, while Scripture guides us, it doesn’t tell us explicitly which parenting styles to implement.

Instead, as parents, we should apply practical methods to child rearing that are biblically based. I encourage you to lean heavily into your personal convictions as directed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 14) as you seek to parent with grace and biblical Truth. 

The basic principle of gentle parents is “ recognizing your child as an individual and responding to their need.” Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Parenting Book, believes the more connected you are with your child, the more they will want to please you, therefore cutting down on behavior tensions and power struggles in the home.

Gentle parenting is based on four principles: understanding, empathy, respect, and setting boundaries, as opposed to traditional parenting, which focuses on reward/consequence-based discipline founded on the parent’s expectations. Gentle parenting is based on your child’s willingness and gives them a choice in obeying. 

Proponents of gentle parenting criticize previous generations' authoritative parenting, where the decision-making and discipline lie solely with the parents. Advocates of gentle parenting argue that this parenting style suppresses freedom of choice and infringes on a child’s ability to make decisions based on how they feel. 

Gentle parenting focuses more on a relationship where both parents and children are equal. This style of parenting focuses on the three “C’s,” connection, communication, and consistency.

Exploring the 4 Basic Principles of Gentle Parenting

Empathy

Many would recognize the importance of empathy in parenting; working to understand and better communicate with your child’s specific needs is great! But gentle parenting takes it one step further; parents need to empathize with their children and acknowledge their feelings, giving validation and support no matter the circumstance.

Respect

Not many people would disagree that, as parents, we should respect our children. They are human beings created in God’s image, and we are entrusted to care for and raise them in a God-honoring way. Parents can incorporate respect in speaking to their children, refraining from harsh tones and critical speech. However, gentle parenting says, “Respect means treating your child how you’d want to be treated.” This idea treats children as adults, which is impossible for their still-forming brains. 

Understanding

Because children are constantly developing, parents should ensure their behavioral expectations are age-appropriate. Using communication tools and “gentle consistency,” if a child continues to exhibit disobedient behavior even as they age, parents can work to understand their child at each age better, leaning on patience as the child works through their feelings and decides on their own when it is time to obey.

Boundaries

Boundaries are not rules (which are a no-no in gentle parenting) because "rules often expect a child to follow them perfectly without much support, but a boundary actually enables the child to do the right thing.” In researching various gentle-parenting gurus, I discovered that many advocate setting few boundaries, so parents will have an easier time encouraging their children to keep them. 

A Biblical Response to Gentle Parenting

In most of my research, the “traditional parenting style” was almost always associated with “spare the rod spoil the child” beliefs (Proverbs 13:24). While Christians don’t have the market cornered on using negative consequences for disobedience, typically, spanking has been prevalent in evangelical circles–citing Proverbs 13:24 as justification.

There are numerous debates over spanking children as a means to evoke obedience and whether or not you believe in using a type of appropriate physical punishment (not an excuse to use brute force or abuse); the Bible speaks clearly that there are consequences for our disobedience.

Contrary to the gentle parenting belief that disciplining our children fractures our relationship and creates harmful negative consequences, the Bible tells us that the Lord disciplines those He loves. This is grace because it exposes our sin (Hebrews 12:6). The exposure of our sin and the importance of understanding the consequences of sin and the punishment it deserves is vital in displaying the gospel's good news to our children.

When we discipline our children, we help them understand that punishment is required for our sins and that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). That then creates an opportunity to share the good news: all have sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard, yet Jesus provided the perfect sacrifice in our place. We have access to heaven not because of our good deeds but because of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection. 

Yes, there have been parents who punish out of harm, or are overly strict, abusing their parental authority. But, those who ask the Holy Spirit to guide them and discipline their child in a God-honoring way do so out of a heart motivated by love and a responsibility to protect them from immediate and eternal harm.  

While it is wonderful to empathize with our children, we must be careful not to encourage a belief that how they feel determines how they should act. Children who grow up believing they can respond to situations based solely on their feelings will struggle as adults. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the heart is deceitful and can’t be trusted; we mustn’t allow our feelings to dictate our behavior. Instead, we lean on the Truth of the Scripture, humbling ourselves and submitting to God’s Word even when we don't necessarily feel like it because it is for our ultimate good.

The greatest commandment is to love God and others, which extends to our children. However, showing love to our children doesn’t mean we allow them to treat us (or others) however they want. Regarding respect and understanding our children, there is certainly a time and place for these principles, but we must honor God’s design for families; children are called to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1).

Lastly, the Lord gives us rules for our own protection. Our role as parents is to teach our children how to respect and submit to earthly authority and obey laws and commands so that one day they will submit to eternal authority.

How Should Christians Respond?

There are many professing believers who incorporate or follow gentle parenting practices, and it’s not my intent to shame or criticize their choice. However, I think it is vital to ask, “Does my parenting, especially discipline, align with Scripture?” There are those “traditional parents” who could probably incorporate more mercy and grace. But, I would argue that gentle parenting ignores that we are born sinful beings and will never choose the right thing, the good thing. Without Christ, we cannot choose to do the right thing. ( Romans 3:10)

Hebrews 12:11 reminds us that no discipline is good at the time, but it is for our future benefit. As parents who love the Lord and desire to see our children turn to Him, don’t withhold discipline. Instead, teach children to respect authority and take responsibility for their actions. But most importantly, use discipline as an opportunity to share the gospel with your child over and over again.

Parenting God’s way will look different from the world’s. Now is not the time to be your child’s friend or allow them the freedom to “parents themselves.” When they fall short, correct and rebuke them, always reminding them of the great gift of forgiveness and salvation through Christ. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/photoguns

Laura Bailey headshotLaura Bailey is a Bible teacher who challenges and encourages women to dive deep in the Scriptures, shift from an earthly to an eternal mindset, and filter life through the lens of God’s Word. She is a wife and momma to three young girls. She blogs at www.LauraRBailey.com, connect with her on Facebook and Instagram @LauraBaileyWrites 

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