The “Good Parent” Controversy – Influence vs. Determinism


30 Seconds for Hope: Here’s a puzzle…sometimes bad parents end up with good children (what?)—and, on the other hand, some good parents end up with bad children (plus lots of blame from society). Yet often books on parenting and conversations on child-raising, and even mommy blogs, imply that good parenting skills will produce good children. What gives? Frequently commentary on parenting springs from the half-truth of determinism—namely that good parenting inevitably yields good children and vice versa. But in reality, you are an influencer of your children rather a determiner of their outcome. Determinism leads to a false hope built on a shaky foundation. But by understanding influence, you can build a more realistic hope.

And now the full story:

I’d been a mom for six years, and I’d spent the entire six years trying to train my children to be good. I’d lectured, I’d disciplined, and I’d loved. And still…

At 9 a.m. Charlie tripped John. I reacted and instructed, “No tripping!”

At 9:10 a.m. John bossed Charlie. I responded and corrected, “No bossing!”

At noon Joy cut her baby sister’s beautiful hair and sneaked the cuttings to the kitchen trash. I admonished Joy, “No cutting!”

No matter what I said, nor how long I trained, nor how much I disciplined, chaos could still surface at any second. My words and discipline did not automatically produce perfection. Isn’t your home like that, too?

One evening we invited a friend over for supper, and John and Charlie jumped on our guest when he arrived. They seemed oblivious to the good manners we’d taught. As he left, our friend told us we needed to be better parents. Ouch. Since our children were obviously “not good enough” by society’s standards, I persevered in trying to be a better parent.

But then randomly, praise would arrive.

Grandpa praised John. “Smart boy. Good work.”

The soccer coach praised Charlie. “He cooperates.”

Joy got praise from her Sunday School teacher. “What a good and respectful child.”

I saw that my children had the ability to be respectful to others, but at home chaos still erupted at any second. It seemed that my children’s goodness in public situations was due to them making respectful choices—but only because it was public. I was glad, but what was with all the home chaos? The same children who could be respectful in public were disrespectful at home. Had my parenting been successful or not? It was confusing.

I had to rethink my parenting paradigm, and I realized I needed to include the reality that children have choices, too. Through some help from mentors, here’s what I learned that I hope will help you, too.

Our culture tends to believe that parents are the determining factor of a child’s outcome. Good parenting in, good child out. I had bought into that thinking, so I’d consistently worked hard at being that “good parent.” Don’t you, too? After all, it seems so right.

But it’s only a half-truth, which can make it a dangerous deception. Parents are influencers, not determiners. No matter how good your parenting is, children still have a say in the choices they make. Should I say that again? Whether young or grown, children can still make bad choices, no matter how excellent you are.

I learned not to get caught in the trap of determinism. It only leads to discouragement when your children have messed up or to disdain for other parents when their kids have messed up.

“But,” you will say, “Parents do make a difference! You can’t just say that good parenting doesn’t matter.”

Yes, that’s true, but that’s where the concept of influence fits in. Parents are usually the greatest influencers of children. Your words and rewards can inspire and motivate. Your worldview can affect them. Your love can fortify them. (And your baggage influences, too, unfortunately.)

Even though a parent’s guidance is crucial, it doesn’t automatically determine a child’s outcome. We all know people who had terrible parents and turned out great. And many of us know great parents whose kids ended up making devastating life choices. And we all know individuals who were influenced by people other than their parents (whether for good or for bad).

So let’s focus on influence and not get trapped by deterministic thinking. It will be freeing both for you and for any parents you’ve been judging.

How can you influence your children? Here are some starters:

  • Enjoy them (that’s a great influencer!)
  • Teach good morals
  • Give consequences for bad behavior (reality check)
  • Explain forgiveness—yours and God’s
  • Share your faith
  • Model kindness
  • Model patience
  • Find humor in life and laugh together
  • Warn of dangers
  • Show mercy
  • Listen to their point of view
  • Delight in them and love them
  • Imprint God’s lavish, sacrificial love on their hearts, which will become the greatest influencer of all

Fill your hours and days with these things—and repeat. Influence can, and often does, make a difference. Children listen, watch, and learn. And while you are teaching and modeling and delighting, keep remembering that your influence isn’t the final determiner. The same children who can be respectful in public can be disrespectful at home because they have their own pathway to walk, their own choices to make.

Ultimately each child decides what to believe and what to do. In my years of experience, I’ve learned there’s no way a mom can control a child’s outcome. It’s not all on you.

* * * * * * * * * *

Photo credit: Prawny via pixabay.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s