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When Christian Parenting Leaves Out Jesus

I opened up my email and found a message from a young, gentle-spirited mom of my acquaintance. Knowing that my husband was in biblical studies, and that I dealt with family and parenting resources at my job, she requested some advice on navigating Proverbs as the mother of a difficult child.

“We aren't against spanking,” she explained, “but I hate it when people constantly quote spare the rod, spoil the child like it's the only tool God has given us.”

I’m sure every parent has felt this frustration in one realm or another. It must be maddening to have the same advice offered to you over and over, as if your life is a broken record stuck on something that doesn’t work for your child. On the other hand, if a parenting tool has been a fabulous asset to your family, it’s only logical to want to share the good news with every parent, right?

At For Every Mom, Shawna Wingert tackles this tricky subject in her blog, God Does Not Want Your Children to Watch Spongebob (and Other “Christian” Parenting Nonsense). She describes being a young mom struggling to parent a challenging child, surrounded by other moms claiming to know the correct, Christian way to parent.

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.

Yet another group of moms, she writes, expressed open judgment and disapproval after seeing her allow her son to drink water out of a plastic water bottle. These moms touted co-sleeping, organic food, and natural medicine as being the golden ticket to parenting success. This time “Christian parenting” looked like:

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

Wingert writes that in her ten years of parenting, she has heard a constant stream of statements such as “God does not want you to let your children watch Spongebob,” and “You are idolizing your child when you spend so much time focused on his needs” – often from total strangers, or people entirely unfamiliar with the family or home situation of the child in question. She begs us to consider,

[W]hen 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 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?

… 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?

At, Marie Osborne writes that in this messy land of parenting, There's No "One Right Way." 

Does God's Word say I should co-sleep? Or let my baby cry it out? Feed on demand or put him on a schedule? Cloth diaper or disposable? Have a completely natural birth or schedule a C-section? I really haven't found absolute answers in His Word on these topics.

So I won't venture to give you any unsolicited instruction on them either.

… We have freedom to choose... outside of God's black and white commands. 

Each one of us has the freedom to choose for ourselves. To research and discuss what we think is best. To seek God's individual guidance on gray areas and ask how He would like us to handle these issues in our family.

In How Christian Parents Are Missing the Point, Kate Motaung writes that in whatever we do, and whatever we say to our children, our primary priority should be to communicate God’s love and bring glory to him.

The goal is not to create legalistic, moralistic, perfectionist children. The goal is to develop in our children a genuine love for the Lord and His ways, and a desire to serve and honor Him in all that we do.

Have you ever faced criticism from other Christians on your parenting methods? How are you raising your kids to reject legalism and pursue love? Share your stories below!

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at

Publication date: June 17, 2015