Sin is a reality of our lives. Without God’s love and forgiveness, the spiritually healthy family would be impossible.
Without God’s help, dysfunction is our only option.
Some dysfunction is the reality of living in an imperfect world with imperfect people, but it will be especially present when we omit God from our lives. Painful dysfunction comes when we choose to sit in the Director’s chair in an attempt to live the abundant life in the way we see fit.
While there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of types of dysfunction in today’s families, let’s unpack six dysfunctional parenting styles that without God’s redemption will leave a negative impact on our families.
1. The double-minded parent. You see adulthood as a time to fulfill all your dreams in this life, and your children are just one small part of those dreams. You think about how wonderful it is to have all that God offers, as well as what the world offers too! These are the mantras that you live by:
- “I have worked hard my whole life—now it’s time for me!”
- “God wants me to be happy, so I know that He is okay with my making choices that fulfill my needs even over my children’s, because their day will come when they are older.”
- “Who says you can’t have it all?”
- “Of course I love God, but this world is pretty cool, too, don’t you think?”
You must have the latest and the greatest, and no one is going to stop you. Children are sometimes an asset because they make adorable models in Christmas cards and allow you to brag in the social scene, but they can also equally cramp your style when you desire to stay out late or get away somewhere exotic for the weekend.
You have to have the biggest house, the most expensive toy, or the latest technology. Sure, you travel a lot, but you have earned it. You deserve some peace and quiet, and want time away to enjoy the best golf courses and the finest dining.
Children raised by the double-minded parent will often grow up having co-dependency tendencies, seeking acceptance from others, being unrealistic in their view of “self,” and feeling insecure. They are confused about what it means to follow Christ, and might avoid their parents in adulthood.
2. The “I can’t say no” parent. These parents love to say yes because when they do, everyone seems happy. They think that becoming a mom or dad is a perfect way to expand their social life as well. They truly enjoy the company of their children and don’t see a need for hierarchy in the family sector.
These parents might try to justify their actions by saying:
- “I want to give my child all that I didn’t have when I was growing up.”
- “Discipline is exhausting for me and my child—so I don’t do it! I create no boundaries, and therefore there is no need. Besides, I really, really, really want my kids to like me.”
- “Unpopular no more, I now have a junior companion in life!”
- “Sure, I rely on my child for emotional and social support—that’s what friends do!”
- “In order to create intimacy and trust, I don’t have any boundaries on the topics that I discuss with my child.”
- “I had a kid because I want to spoil someone. I like to spend money and be generous—what’s so bad about that?”
- “My child is very mature for her age.”
Critics say you don’t have a backbone and your children are taking advantage of you.
When your kids get older and choose their peers over you, you find yourself desperate to keep their affection. You resort to buying their time and attention or guilting them into it. Either way you must ensure that you will not be without their companionship because you are afraid of being alone or unloved.
Children raised by the I-Can’t-Say-No parent often grow up too quickly, suffer from chronic boredom, think that rules don’t apply to them, become poor money managers, are unable to cultivate healthy emotional boundaries with others, and have an unhealthy attachment to you in adulthood.
3. The driver parent. If you are a driver parent, you view being driven as the secret to your success, and you want this same success (if not more) for your child. You wonder why people are always telling you to “lighten up” in the way you interact with your child, while you conjure up these justifications:
- “I am driven and have been successful, so why would I let my child waste one second of his day?”
- “Childhood is overrated—we need to start thinking of college now!”
- “I love to vicariously live through my child’s life. It makes me so much more of an involved parent when I feel that we are “both” succeeding!”
- “Everyone else is my daughter’s competition—and they had better get out of the way. There’s room for only one at the top.”
Driver parents often come from two extremes: as children they themselves were high achievers, and are determined to keep the legacy alive; or they were not afforded the opportunities to succeed and now want to ensure that their children have those things. In either scenario, children of driver parents often feel undue pressure to not disappoint their parents’ expectations.
Driver parents most commonly reveal themselves in sports and academics. In sports, success is often subjective, so the driver parent is present at all the games or events to make sure that the coach and the children have the parent’s perspective in the matter. In academics, success is objective; therefore great attention is given to study time, test scores, and advanced-placement courses (which will look good on college applications).
Children raised by the driver parent will often grow up feeling anxious or depressed (or both), and dissatisfied with their accomplishments. They often struggle with addiction and are unable to “play” or relax.
4. The micro-managing parent. These are statements you might use to reassure yourself you are on the right track:
- “I know what is right. It’s my job to make sure my child doesn’t make a mistake!”
- “Everything is done the way I want it, or I do it myself. Since my standards are so high, it’s just easier that way for everyone.”
- “My kids don’t understand that I make all their decisions for their own good.”
- “The world is a dangerous place—period! Someday my kids will thank me for protecting them.”
As the micro-manager, you need to be in control of everything. Your parenting style reflects your fear of letting go and what could happen if you do. The exaggerated need to be in charge of everyone and every decision is a dysfunction that stems from insecurity. Perhaps you were wounded as a child, and now, by your control, you ensure that you will never be victimized again. You now have a voice and will control circumstances by force, manipulation, and guilt in order to arrange life’s events in such a way that you come out on top a “victor.”
Children raised by the micro-managing parent will often grow up doubting themselves, feeling driven to perfection, struggling with headaches and stomachaches, and developing eating disorders.
5. The criticizing parent. This parent can’t help but point out what is wrong. To him or her, it’s obvious what needs to be fixed, and consequently this parent calls attention to the problem so it can be corrected.
As a criticizing parent, you argue that this is a gift to your child, while others say you are being cruel with your words. You question how else your child will get the “thick skin” needed to survive in a harsh world and believe that you’re doing her a favor by “toughening” her up.
To feel reassured, a criticizing parent might make these justifications:
- “Life is tough. I didn’t get a free pass; why should he?”
- “Of course I constantly criticize my child (even in public). It keeps her ego under control.”
- “I never praise my child because then he will strive for better. It’s the only way to get ahead in this life.”
- “I don’t encourage my child’s interests—she will probably change her mind soon anyhow. What a waste of time and money.”
- “If I don’t point out his faults, someone else will. Wouldn’t he rather it come from me than from a stranger?”
Criticism is just a way for you to keep the “family business” going. You were most likely criticized as a child, as were your parent(s) and your grandparent(s). This heritage has built in you a certain hardness that doesn’t have time to feel emotions, whine about the past, or spend time crying over what is not. Rather than expose the hurt and deal with it, you find it easier and more effective to keep it locked away safely where no one can mess it up any further.
Children raised by the criticizing parent will often grow up bullying others, feeling insecure, blaming others for their mistakes, and being pessimistic about the future.
6. The absentee parent. In your mind the big moments in life are not losing teeth, hitting a home run in little league, or a dance recital. The big moments are the ones that you are providing and planning for, such as college, weddings, and retirement. You can justify your absence because of the following reasons:
- “I recognize that my child would rather have all today’s stuff than me, so I work long hours to provide for his current and future needs.”
- “My absence is a good way for my children to learn independence.”
- “My nanny (or babysitter) is younger and more fun than I am.”
- “I deny my child emotional bonding when I am home so that our time away is easier on her.”
Absenteeism is birthed from an insatiable need to achieve and succeed. A parent with this dysfunction has no boundaries on time and energy, and feels that sleep and rest are for weak people. While they boast of an 80-hour workweek, feeling proud of their accomplishments, they simply can’t understand those who find satisfaction in a job well done and also find time for recreation, rest, and service to others. They justify their dysfunction by criticizing others’ lack of ambition, work ethic, or inability to progress.
Children raised by an absentee parent often grow up too fast, become sexually promiscuous, have low self-worth, and demand inordinate attention from others.
In contrast to the six dysfunctional parenting styles stands the offer of hope from God that we may live in relationship with Him, pursuing His kingdom while living on His script. While far from perfect, the spiritually healthy parent walks each day, step by step, with God as his or her guide.
Becoming a spiritually healthy family means you will allow God to call the shots for you and your family members and that you look to Him to give you wisdom instead of relying on your own strength and “great ideas.” Because you realize you are a work in progress yourself, you offer your children grace when needed, while helping them see the correct path that God desires all His children to follow.
You recite the following things each day, because, deep down you know them to be true:
- “I recognize that my child has been entrusted to me by God and that I need His guidance to raise her.”
- “I know I live in a sinful world, but I will seek to put God’s character on display in my home in everyday situations.”
- “I know there is a higher calling as a parent than controlling my child’s behavior—and that is forming his faith.”
- “I seek to grow spiritually myself, knowing that the overflow of this will have a positive impact on my child.”
Children raised by the spiritually healthy parent often grow up knowing God, loving others, living a life of meaning, and recognizing that this world is not their ultimate home.
Copyright © 2015 Michelle Anthony. Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.