No matter how you respond, the way you were parented has a profound impact on your emotional and spiritual health today. It impacts the way you regard yourself, your own family, and your relationship to God.
I’ve had an outpouring of notes and comments from you about your relationships with your moms. I’ve heard from women who still carry traces of long ago wounds. And, I’ve heard from moms who are heartbroken about estranged relationships with adult children. For many, thinking about the impact of parenting cuts to a tender core. It brings up pain, and it also sends you straight to, “How do I do better with MY children?” or “How do I repair what’s already been done?”
Why is honest reflection on your familial relationships so important to your emotional and spiritual health?
I believe it’s for 2 reasons:
1.) We’re hardwired to love the members of our family.
Most of us feel love and loyalty toward our family members, even when they’ve hurt us. We long to heal from our family wounds, both internally and with our loved ones when possible.
2.) Your family members, in many ways, are the first glimpse you get of God.
You first pick up ideas about what it means to give and receive love through the flesh and blood of your immediate family members. When you’re parented well, those glimpses of God’s love are more easily accessible. You experience what it means to be witnessed, nurtured, and guided with wisdom. Or, you experience what it means to be abused, manipulated, or neglected. And though you love God, your sense of who he is can get mixed up.
As you consider the way YOU were parented, I want to share with you 3 parenting styles psychologists have studied extensively that impact your emotional and spiritual health today:
- Permissive parents don’t set boundaries. They’re indulgent in a way that isn’t good for children. These parents lack structure and don’t provide enough guidance, often fearful of rocking the boat.
- Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, set boundaries, but those boundaries are rigid. These parents think they always know best. They don’t show any sign of weakness and strive for conformity and obedience instead of nuanced understanding.
- Authoritative parents also set boundaries, but they do so in a caring way, seeking to understand their children. These parents strive to create structure and healthy family norms, but they are also willing to recognize their mistakes.
It may come as no surprise, but extensive research has shown that this last category—authoritative parenting—is what’s best for kids.
We need boundaries AND we need understanding. We need our parents to be wise shepherds AND we need them to recognize they are imperfect humans.
Good parents teach children how to stay away from what will harm them (a hot stove, a busy street, or a dangerous stranger). They also teach them how to take in what will nourish them (healthy food, appropriate physical touch, words of love and affirmation.)
That first experience you had of hearing a clear “yes” or a firm “no” is how your young brain learned to process the idea of boundaries. It’s how you learned to understand what was good to let in and what was better to shut OUT. The problem is, that for many people, those yes’s and no’s weren’t aligned with God’s perspective. Your parents said yes too often because it was easier for THEM. Or they said no because they didn’t understand what YOU needed.
As a result, you may find it hard to say a clear yes or a firm no today. Your own sense of boundaries might be conflicted, making it challenging to relate in healthy ways to friends, your spouse, or your children.
If your parents were permissive and set no boundaries with you, it might be hard for you to:
—understand and accept your own limitations with compassion
—accept the healthy boundaries of friends, colleagues, and even God
—have appropriate expectations of a spouse.
If your parents were too authoritarian, it might be hard for you to:
—understand what you think and feel about yourself and other people
—advocate for yourself in healthy ways with friends and loved ones
—receive grace and care from others.
In contrast, authoritative parents help their children to:
—understand their unique make-up, preferences, and talents
—accept their own shortcomings as they give and receive love
—set healthy boundaries in their relationships with others
How you were parented also impacts the way you relate to God. For example, if your parents were permissive or erred toward neglect, you may struggle to experience a sense of God’s steady guidance and loving influence on every aspect of your life.
If your parents were authoritative and erred toward harsh judgments, you might find it hard to hear the voice of God’s unending mercy:
“I love you just as you are. It’s OK. I’ve already taken you off the hook.”
Becoming more aware of how you were parented isn’t about laying blame. It’s about growing in self-awareness so that you can heal and grow in your current relationships. The good news is that: