10 Gentle Parenting Lessons from the Bible

A lot of people don't think Christians can be gentle parents. I've seen this argument from Christians and non Christians who believe the two lifestyles are polar opposites. They point to verses in the Bible they see as instruction to punish a child, even physically. But I'm teaming up with Rachel from Sweet Simple Living to share with you ten examples in the Bible that actually promote gentle parenting. I have five of those examples, and then at the end of this post, I'll link to Rachel's five examples. You guuuuys, please check out her blog! Her blog's aesthetic is to die for and she blogs about gentle parenting, natural living, minimalism, and homebirths.

Let's jump in, momma.

1. That time when boy Jesus didn't obey his parents...
"Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.'

49 'Why were you searching for me?' he asked. 'Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?'[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." -Luke 2:41-52
I've noticed that children and youth church curriculum looooove to use this story to point out that Jesus obeyed his parents so you should too. But, um, awkward...because yeah, sure, Jesus eventually obeyed his parents, but did you also notice that before he obeyed them, he...um...didn't? Yeeaahhh. Now I'm going to say a couple things that might make your head spin, but please stay with me.

Kids have their own passions, interests, agendas, and callings separate from their parents--at any age. And here's what I hope doesn't make you run, but sometimes parents are wrong. Gulp. But it's true! Think back to when you were a kid, and your parents made a decision on your behalf that went against your heart or your spirit. If a child has a calling, like Jesus was called to learn from the teachers in that temple, what happens if their parents override that with an iron fist, my-way-our-the-highway-as-long-as-you're-in-my-house attitude. Imagine if they kept such a tight reign on Jesus that he was never allowed to follow what was right for him? He needed to know the word of God. His knowledge of God's word was what later helped him resist the devil's temptations. And his faith took him through the darkest days of his life as he faced the cross.

Now I'm not saying Mary and Joseph shouldn't have been upset. I mean, he stayed behind without even telling them and worried them sick. It ways DAYS before they found him. I can only imagine the horrors going through their heads. "My child! I lost my child?? I lost the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD!?" So yeah, they had a right to be upset. He could have handled it differently and been up front about his plans.

But do you see how they reacted? They asked him, "How could you do this? You worried us!" They didn't spank him. They didn't take away his favorite...sandals? They didn't put him in time out or ground him from his friends. Instead, they shared their feelings and opened up dialogue that invited Jesus to explain himself. They didn't understand his explanation, probably because they were still feeling upset and didn't share his priorities or perspective of the situation. But they heard him out. Then Jesus obeyed and went with them.

And that's what gentle parenting is all about. It's a two-way relationship that focuses on respecting each other, opening communication, hearing each other out, and being willing to meet each other in those tough spots where our ideas and agendas don't match up. Instead of punishment for a wrong, there's guidance, empathy, and openness. It's easy to tell that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus valued trust and freedom in their family dynamic since Jesus was allowed to roam so freely that it took them that long to even notice he was gone. That trust carries over even when our children make mistakes or do things differently than we want them to do. We trust our kids to make their mistakes and make their own choices, and we're there with open arms (even if we're upset) when it happens.

(Whew, that was a long example. But I'm glad you've made it this far. If you need to come back to read the rest later, you could save this on Pinterest. Or if you want to keep reading, the rest are much shorter, I promise.)

2. When Jesus didn't see children as an interruption. 

"13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'” -Matthew 19:14

Before these verses, Jesus was talking with the adults about very adult things like marriage, divorce, and living life intentionally single. I think we've all been to playdates with our friends where us moms are talking about these exact things or other adults topics, and then the kids enter stage and demand our attention. Sometimes, especially for stay-at-home-moms, adult conversations are rare and precious, so it's easy to feel like our kids are an interruption. We all get it. And the Pharisees felt the same way because they started to tell the kids to buzz off. But Jesus stopped them and said, "No way, the kids are more than welcome! They're my people." (Paraphrased, of course. ) In Christian parenting and mainstream parenting, I see a trend of talking about kids like they're annoying or something to escape, and it's cultural accepted and even "funny" to roll our eyes when kids want to be included. But in gentle parenting, we strive to be like Jesus here, to see kids as equals. To invite them into our world just as much as we ask to be a part of theirs. Of course, not every adult conversation is suitable for kids' ears, and I'm not saying we should let them into every sensitive conversation. But when they come to us, even when it's inconvenient for us, we can follow Jesus' example, and treat them with respect and love. 

3. The part of the Bible where we're told not to provoke our kids to anger. 

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord." -Ephesians 6:4
I could make an entire blog post just on this verse, but I'll keep to a few short points for now because you're already a champ for reading this far! First of all, I want to list a few things that would provoke a child to anger: talking down to them, yelling at them, taking away privileges and possessions, threatening or carrying out a physical punishment, not listening to their side of things...just a few. Do you know how I know these things would provoke anger? Imagine your spouse doing any one of these things to you in an attempt to modify your behavior. Or remember what it was like when you were a kid. These acts are controlling and belittling. And the simple fact is, they're not respectful. When people feel disrespected, belittled, and controlled, they feel angry. So boom: doing these things equals provoking your children to anger. So what on earth are we supposed to do instead?? That's another long blog post for another day! But the short and sweet version is, just like Mary and Joseph did with boy Jesus, discipline and instruction. To discipline simply means to teach. And it doesn't take threats and controlling behavior to teach, does it? In the same way you teach your child to make pancakes, you can teach them that when they do XYZ, it makes you feel ABC because you just want to keep them safe from 123. And if you don't have a good reason for stopping them from doing XYZ, could you consider letting go of your control and giving your child the opportunity to learn through the experience? Children (and anyone of any age!) respond better to instruction when they feel heard, supported, and respected.

4. The verse that gives us deeper insight if you look a second time.

"Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
At first glance, this verse is basically a repeat of my point number three. Train, teach, instruct...whatever translation you use, not one of them says "punish." Just teach. Guide. Support and be with them as they learn. And then when they're old, they won't depart from it. Ahhhh, obedience! WRONG. Obedience is not the goal. And childhood obedience is not the promise here. The promise here is that when they're old, they won't depart. So many reasons...good, valid reasons. Everyone will stray a little bit. Didn't you? I'm not saying straying is right or holy or whatever, I'm just saying it's normal, and it's not the end of the world. It's a part of life because sometimes it takes making mistakes to see for ourselves that what we were told was true. Gentle parenting is about having realistic and fair expectations. There's the whole impulse control thing that is just plain science! Impulse control doesn't start to develop until around three years old and won't fully develop until the twenties. So, dude, that's a LOT of years in between there when the brain is going, "Sure, that's the right thing to do, but this other way looks shiny and interesting and I think I'll try that instead." Blame the brain. But if you're going to blame the brain, maybe take it up with the one who created the brain. Just saying. So your kids won't follow your instructions perfectly now. But there will come a time when they'll see that you were right or at least had good intentions (because remember...parents can be wrong sometimes). And when that time comes, I hope you nurtured your relationship above correction so they feel comfortable coming to you, like the prodigal son.

5. When the Bible reminds us we were all kids at some point.
"1 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I [a]became a man, I did away with childish things." -1 Corinthians 13:11
A lot of mainstream parenting treats normal, healthy childhood behaviors like a crime. Stop crying! Don't whine! Quit asking me over and over! Be good! But childhood emotions and (unpleasant for us) behaviors are not crimes. The big emotions and tough behaviors can be triggering for us because a lot of us grew up being told the behaviors were bad, so it's wired in us to react that way now as parents. But you can retrain yourself. Look up child psychology and read about what's normal, appropriate, and healthy. You'd be surprised. And then remember back to when you were a child...heartbroken over something that felt so big and important to you. Remember when your mom or dad said, "You're crying over nothing, stop it!" Remember how small that made you feel? Ouch. Whew. Now breathe, heal from it, let yourself grow, and give your kids more grace through that stuff. It's all a part of being a child, and one day, they'll grow out of it. But in the meantime, they need to know that you care and you love them no matter what.

I hope you've enjoyed these five examples of gentle parenting from the Bible. Now please please please head over to Sweet Simple Living to see Rachel's five examples of gentle parenting from the Bible! You and your kids will be seriously blessed by her post. And please, I want to hear your thoughts! Do you have questions? Want to hear more about something, see some examples, talk things out, or tell my why you agree or disagree? It's all welcome. We're each walking this parenting gig together and learning as we go.

Related posts from Sweet Simple Living, and Her Arms Are Strong:

Sweet Simple Living:
6 Reasons to Reconsider Spanking

Review of "Jesus the Gentle Parent" by L.R. Knost

Her Arms Are Strong:
This is What Gentle Parenting Shows My Child

A Mom's Version of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

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