Egalitarian Parenting: Our Transformation

Holding Up Baby

I’d love for you to write about the practical working out of viewing your children as equals. Perhaps even a contrast from how you parented before!

This amazing reader request, after my post about the equality of children, has inspired several posts. In this post I talk about how my family’s parenting philosophy was transformed.

Our kids are little (5 year old twins and a 3 year old, all boys). When I first considered this question, I was stumped. I felt like we’ve always parented with an idea of their equality before Christ in mind. But as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t entirely true.

Our egalitarian parenting actually predates our egalitarian marriage; and while thinking through what happened when to change our minds, I realized that our twins’ colic caused and hid this enormous, transforming blessing!

When I was pregnant with the twins, we were fully planning to spank them. My husband Brian and I were both raised in very strict, hierarchical, conservative Christian homes; we thought that the Bible required the spankings and other harsh punishments that we received as children. We had no idea there were any other options.

I read On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep during my first pregnancy. It was recommended to me with special fervor since I was having twins and would definitely need a schedule. I have included a detailed account of our experience with the concepts in that book in a separate post. For this post, suffice it to say that I was very committed to the ideas that book espoused.

I learned from Baby Wise that:

  • Babies know nothing and parents are responsible to teach the babies what they need and strictly enforce it until the babies follow the schedule that is best for them, which I will know because I am an adult and I know what’s best. God says so.
  • I also must watch my babies with suspicion – although they are mostly empty vessels, they are filled with the sin nature, so I must be on my guard about being manipulated. I must never give them what they ask for when it isn’t what I was already planning – because they might be trying to manipulate me. And…
  • I need to show them that I am in charge, not them. I must show them very early that they are under my authority. So that they will understand when they get older that they are under God’s authority.

I have several friends whom I deeply admire as excellent, warm, and loving mothers who followed this book. I don’t know if they still do, but I still admire them – their children are delightful and obviously well loved. I wanted to have a delightful family, too!

Well. My intro to motherhood was… challenging. After a terribly difficult pregnancy and significant upheaval in our personal lives that included an unexpected move to a corner of the country uninhabited by any friends or family, our babies were born early. And then it was a horrible nightmare. My babies screamed for 12 hours a day. For months. They had colic. We were alone. Because of their time in the NICU, breastfeeding was horrible for 3 months.

After strictly adhering to the tenets of Baby Wise for weeks after the babies’ due date, we found a few other books*, which I read, exhausted and desperate, searching for ideas to help my babies. From them I learned:

  • There is no one sleep plan that will work for all families or all babies. Babies are individual people with individual needs. It is my responsibility to pay attention and meet the needs they have, not the ones I think they should have.
  • Babies have just gone through an incredible transition (from the womb into the world) and they are coping with that as best they can – they are not manipulating their parents. I do not have to shut down their requests just to show them who’s boss – rather I must respond to their requests so I can show them that they are safe and valuable.
  • Babies are human beings who deserve to be respected.

I am not going to tell you that after I read those books, everything turned rosy. My babies still cried. All. The. Time. But the unnecessary crying that I was adding to their lives went away. And slowly, slowly over the next several months we all started to get more sleep.

This was the single greatest turning point of our parenting paradigm. We moved form seeing babies as empty slates that needed to be filled and controlled to seeing babies as individual people filled with their own personalities and gifts from God. We started to see ourselves, rather than as authorities to control them, as facilitators to help our babies grow as well as they personally could.

As I watched my older babies grow into toddlers, I realized that I am basically still a small child, leaning on God to help me, comfort me, teach me, hug me when I have a temper tantrum, provide for all my needs, tell me that I am His precious Child. God does not give me harsh punishments when I mess up. He teaches me (which is what discipline means) gently and with great love. He lets me suffer the consequences of my choices – but He never, ever gives me extra pain just to teach me a lesson. God is filled with grace and joy and compassion in His dealings with me.

If God is my example for how to parent – if I am trying to show my children who God is through my parenting – then I must actually emulate Him in how He actually treats me!

As they turned into preschoolers. I realized that my children are on their own journeys with God. What I want for them more than anything else in the world is for them to meet God young and stay near Him, in His Joy and Freedom and Beauty, for their whole lives. And that one thing is the one thing that I absolutely cannot give them. I cannot give them relationships with my Savior! Only God and they can do that. This used to scare me very much. I have absolutely no power or control over my dearest dream for them.

But I learned that I need to step myself back and trust the Holy Spirit to work in each of their lives. Individually. They are, even as babies, each on their own journey, with the Holy Spirit as their leader. I must respect that. I am not between them and God, leading the way. The Holy Spirits leads us each to God – not me. Brian and I are next to them, on our own journeys with our Lord.

The implications of these realizations have been huge for our family. It has affected absolutely everything – how we discipline, how we try to help our kids learn to control themselves rather than try to control them, how we do not ask them to conform to religious forms, how we talk to them, how we help them through issues.

Seeing our children as our equals, even before we realized that’s what we were doing, was entirely consistent with our move out of a hierarchical complementarian way of living. Our firm conviction that each of us is led individually by the Holy Spirit has affected our comfort in our denomination. It has enhanced our joy and communion with our Father.

Realizing that children are our equals has reminded us that we are also miracles, just as our children are. It is much harder for me now to say bad things about myself when I know I would never let anyone talk about my kids that way – if my kids are my equals, then I am theirs.

I will unpack some of these aspects of our family life in future posts. For now – rejoice with me! I am so happy and grateful that God has lead our family into a deeper knowledge of what it means to be a part of His Big Family, and not just a small, isolated family of our own. He is Good! Praise His Name!



*Happiest Baby on the Block and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Dr Sear’s Baby Book

Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

9 thoughts on “Egalitarian Parenting: Our Transformation

  1. Hello!
    I’m new to your blog. My partner, Sven Pedersen, recommended you to me. You might remember him from your time at GIAL?
    I love what you have to say here & look forward to reading more 😀
    -Maan Di


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