This is the first post in the “Fear and Parenting” series.
Have you ever heard the phrase “parenting by fear”? I have. It is used by Christians and non Christians alike, and is used almost exclusively in the negative sense. “Parenting by Fear” is also a poorly defined phrase. It is often used to refer to anyone making a choice that is more restrictive than the person using the phrase.
Thus, “parenting by fear” bears thinking about more clearly.
Let’s try it together. What is parenting by fear (biblically)? What is it not (biblically)? Can we define biblically the motives and actions of a hypothetical mother? Does “parenting by fear” comprise several different motives or actions? Is the emotion of fear ever something a Christian parent should feel?
I think a further question might be this: Is it wrong, biblically, to fear for our child’s safety, and thus take precautions to ensure their safety? For instance, I fear my children falling down our narrow basement stairs, so I installed a bolt out of reach on the door when the toddler was old enough to reach the handle. I could also have sat down and worked hard to discipline her not to touch the door handle, but I opted to just install a lock. Similarly, all poinsonous chemicals are in a locked cabinet because I fear their affects if curious hands got a hold of them and tried to take a drink.
Perhaps this is not the type of fear you are talking about, but it is the first thing that popped into my mind.
Fear motivates to action, and in some cases, like locking up the bleach, that action is positive. In other cases, like locking up the kids and never allowing them to play due to “germs,” it can be negative. Does the Bible specifically adress concerns like these? It is a good question.
Does the Bible ever clearly state that fear is sin? I can think of verses in which we are commanded to turn our fears to God, to trust in Him when we are afraid, and such like, but off of the top of my head I cannot think of verses stating that fear is wrong. Of course, I have not yet taken the time to study this out, but I think I might, as I struggle with fear of silly things at time and it would be a profitable study.
Nicole, You are asking some of the same questions I’ve been thinking about, too. I think that physical danger can be a good place to start thinking about fear and parenting. As for whether fear is sinful, I do think that the emotion of fear is a natural response to danger that is not sinful, but as the verses you mention demonstrate, continuing to fear can be. I think we can find principles that will help us think clearly about these things.
Another thing I thought of was this: Perhaps it’s the subject of fear, or the motivation behind the emotion, that could make it “right” or “wrong.” If we are parenting out of fear of people, the fear of what others will think, then I think we are in the wrong, for we are to obey God, not man. Fear of physical danger, like you said, is natural and helps us avoid injury for our children and jump into action when needed. But, like I was saying, I know parents who allow that fear of physical danger to rule all and never allow their children to live – never play at indoor playgrounds for fear of germs, never climb up the slide for fear of falling, never play with sticks because you might poke an eye out. In those instances, I think the parents are failing to trust God, which could be classified as wrong.
Michelle and Nicole-here’s a few humble thoughts: years ago when my children began to drive, I was tempted to fear-big time fear; so, the choice was (and continues to be): do I sit at home biting my nails? do I prohibit or limit the driving out of fear? do I hover? Do I remind them repeatedly of the dangers lurking around every corner(ie.nag)? I know that a wise woman prepares her children for the next step, and the next and next. . .so my husband and I must diligently prepare out children for the driving responsibility and purposefully plan for them wider and wider perimeters for independent driving-but then I must remind my heart, “do not fear, trust God!” By now my children have driven side roads and highways, and many have traveled the world; I keep reminding myself that as I trust God with my children, then I adorn the Gospel of God my Saviour. Is it always easy? No! but then, God is sovereign, and I know that nothing will happen to my children that is outside of his soverign control. I have also witnessed that I discourage my children from stepping out in faith for God when I express fear rather than trust in Him. hmmm, so that’s all kind of wordy-blessings!
Hi Darcie! Thanks for weighing in. I especially like your last statement. I’ve seen that, too, in small ways, so I found it a convicting thought. So… do you make a distinction between the physical safety of your children and the moral safety? Is there ever a time appropriate for a mother to fear?