We all wish our kids came with an instruction manual.
I would have loved to have an Coles Notes version of dealing with teenagers.
As you and I both know, parenting manuals don’t exist, so we learn from trial and error, our own experiences, and reading about and watching other parenting techniques.
I consider myself a spiritual parent because my spiritual beliefs permeated my parenting. Spiritual parenting has little to do with “behaving spiritually” or teaching your kids to “be spiritual”.
Our spirituality took two forms: 1) teaching our children about our beliefs and, 2) applying those beliefs to decision-making and actions.
As followers of Christ, our beliefs center around the wisdom found in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible. As our sons matured I read the Bible, looking specifically for how God dealt with His children. I prayed for wisdom to apply what I read to our circumstances and, time after time, God showed me how creative He was in teaching and mentoring his children.
I wanted my boys to be in the world, but not of the world. I tried to teach them to relate to others without becoming dependent on them for their self-esteem (easier said than done, btw).
Looking back, I believe God was, and still is, teaching me the same thing. He has showed me to depend on him by using His Word as an excellent source to gain parenting skills and knowledge, but that it is okay and even important to supplement our Bible study with other sources of knowledge to help raise our kids.
Spiritual Parenting and Science
Years ago, my wife and I went through a significant challenge, which led us to want to better understand human behavior. Over time, we learned about the impact personality types, value systems, and basic human needs have on our behavior.
There are many personality type theories; Enneagram, Insights, Predictive Index, and DISC are all examples. I’ve taken tests in all of these tools and have learned a lot about myself and human behavior in general. I learned that we are wired to think, behave, even feel certain ways in different circumstances.
Our wiring doesn’t mean we are stuck thinking those ways forever – we can choose different actions that are healthier in cases where our thoughts and emotions are detrimental to our health, but knowing we’re wired a certain way helps us to recognize when those behaviors may not be serving us well and helps us to change.
Another significant impact on choices we make and actions we take are our own basic needs.
Decades ago, Abraham Maslow developed a theory of basic human needs, which is called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His work shows us how basic human needs can be organized in levels, and as we fulfill the needs at one level, we strive to meet the needs in the next level.
The hierarchy does not work like a growth chart, where we, over time, ascend the different levels to achieve the top at a certain age or maturity level. We are at different levels in the hierarchy depending on our mental, physical, or emotional circumstances. In fact, some people use Maslow’s work to manipulate others to get what they want, but that information is for another article.
One of the first things I learned in my life coach certification course was how what we value determines how we behave. For instance, I value hard work highly. That led me to focus a lot of attention on teaching my boys to work hard and what it actually means to work hard (ie. not manual labor, but whatever you do, do it well and observe around you).
What I didn’t realize at the time was the impact my values had on my relationships. I have a relative, male, who for as long as I’ve known him hasn’t been able to hold down a job. His wife supplied most of the financial needs for the family. For years, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be around him, but when I learned that I valued hard work, I realized that was one of the main reasons why (there are others that I don’t want to get into here).
Learning about personality types, values, and basic needs theory has made me a better father, husband, coach, friend, leader, and manager.
As our boys matured, my focus shifted to my work and how I related to others. I spent more time researching human behaviors outside of the home because our sons needed us less. I wanted to be a better leader and co-worker, but my research led me right back to parenting.
A Spiritual Parenting Competency Model
I am a Certified Professional Life Coach. I am also a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP). Both of these certifications come with a set of competencies, or desired qualities, related to the role.
Project managers typically need to lead by influence rather than direct authority. The qualities in an effective project manager are: Execution, Decision Making, Communications, Strategy Development, Team Management, Business Acumen, Technical Competence, and Critical Thinking.
Life coaches need different qualities because they interact with their clients differently. Life coach competencies are: establishing trust and intimacy, coaching presence, active listening, powerful questioning, direct communication, creating awareness, designing actions, planning and goal setting, managing progress and accountability.
Up until a few years ago, I had only seen role-based competencies for organizations, but I had never seen a set of parenting guidelines that helped put the total picture of parenting together like this study did. While researching for my coaching practice, I found a study, the purpose of which was to compile a set of parenting competencies based on 30 years of parenting research dating back to the 1960s.
The parenting competencies challenged me to improve my own parenting skills, but they also validated some decisions and actions I had taken in the past while raising my sons.
However, my experience as a parent, watching other parents, and being a youth hockey coach parenting competencies should be structured in a way to guide parents and even reassure parents not put too much pressure on themselves to be “Super Mom” or “Super Dad”.
None of us are perfect.
All of us can do better.
The key is balance those two concepts to remain sane.
The Parenting Competency Hierarchy below was built using a Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy as a backdrop to organize the list of parenting competencies.
I realized that every parent is in a different physical setting with different stresses and pressures at any given time over the course of our parenting “career”. We simply cannot fulfill all competencies at any given moment, so we should not feel pressure to do so.
Men tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform and execute correctly. Women tend to need to be everything for everyone. As you read and learn the competencies, understand that if you’re in a situation where you are unable to fulfill some learning needs your child may have, focus on the lower level ones for a time until you can provide the higher level ones.
Note the progression has purpose: the higher you go on the hierarchy the more challenging it is for the parent to deliver or maintain, but also the greater benefit for the child and parent.
It is important to also understand that the above framework isn’t a scale of good to bad or bad to good. If you’re at a place in your life where you need to focus on providing the basic physical and emotional needs for your kids, that doesn’t make you a “Level 1” or “Level 2” parent.
The framework exists only to provide you with, well, the spiritual parenting guidelines you’re searching for.
Basic Physical Needs
As the chart indicates, the basic physical needs are food, clothing, shelter, safety, and personal hygiene.
If you’re providing your kids with a safe place to live, food on the table, and the ability to keep themselves clean (well…as clean as kids can get) then you’re doing a good job as a parent.
We don’t all have the same money earning capacity, so environments vary. Do the best you can do with what you’ve been given. If you have an opportunity to be more, earn more, or provide more, take it. Money isn’t everything, but it is a tool we need to survive in our society.
If you’re struggling to provide basic health care because you don’t know how to, why not consider taking a First Aid course?
Learn those basic skills to improve your own confidence level and provide that much more care for your children.
The next step in the parenting guidelines framework is related to providing more for the social and emotional needs of your children.
Allowing friends to stay over night at your house or allowing your kids to stay overnight at friends’ houses creates great memories later in years.
Teaching your kids social norms like how to express their emotions without fear of embarrassment or punishment enables them to learn to trust people and allows them to form healthy relationships.
Of course, when they get out of line with your preferences, it is up to you to bring them back into line with an appropriate level of discipline.
Should you spank? I’m not going to tell you how to discipline your child. I was spanked, and I spanked my boys, but I can count on one hand how many times that happened. Spanking is one tool in the tool box…there are others.
Regardless, it is your role as parent to provide for the healthy expression and regulation of emotion, and to give your kids an opportunity to socialize.
One of the best ways you can teach them, is to let them watch you do it.
Children have a built-in curiosity that is never satisfied.
We are born to learn.
Typically, our own background forms the basis for what we provide our children in terms of opportunities to learn. There is no right or wrong knowledge – it is all useful in the right hands.
If you’re a farmer, you’ll likely teach your kids to farm. If they don’t want to farm when it’s time to leave the nest, that’s their choice.
If you are a corporate leader, odds are you’ll pass on organization leadership knowledge.
I’ve done both and I’ve passed on what I could from both areas. As the boys grew and expressed interest in various areas, I made sure they had opportunity to be exposed to them because I had access and connections to make it happen.
The key here is to learn who your kids are.
Read between the lines of what they say.
Observe their behavior.
In order to follow the parenting guidelines to accomplish this competency, you may need to be the bad guy to force the learning opportunities. Likely, you’ll need to kick them off the phone or video game console and encourage them into other areas of interest.
Totally worth it in the end, I guarantee it!
Leadership and Coaching
The ability to coach and lead your kids is enabled through the application of many skills.
At this stage, you’ve taken the time yourself to figure out how life works.
You’ve talked with others and shared experiences.
You read books and watch programs that expand your understanding of the world around you…and then you begin passing that information along to your kids.
You teach them how to think strategically, taking more into consideration than their immediate needs in order to choose a path that is right for them (and you…initially).
This competency might even include teaching your own kids parenting guidelines to raise their own kids!
You share your values and beliefs with your kids and encourage them to seek the truth.
You show them the value of business ethics and provide moral guidance so when they go out on their own, they will be better prepared for life.
From my own experience, this competency has the greatest risks and the biggest rewards attached to it.
Self Care for the Parent
The final competency in the parenting guidelines I’m sharing with you is all about you. Self-care involves taking time for you to be with friends or recharge your batteries so you have the stamina and energy to deal with your family.
Everybody needs something different to refresh their spirit, so-to-speak.
Typically, my wife and I each need alone time to do what we want, when we want. My youngest son recharges by being around friends (and his brother) to have a little fun and unwind.
I made it the top level because it does typically come last, after all the other work and effort I’ve written about above. Rest is important and we need to get enough of it, but our kids need us and their needs should come first.
Notice I said needs…NOT wants. Our job is to provide for their needs. It’s our privilege to provide for their wants.
My recommendation is to balance their wants with your needs.
The long vertical Spirituality block running top to bottom in the Spiritual Parenting Competency Hierarchy indicates that your spiritual beliefs should serve as a foundation for all levels in the hierarchy.
In the Christian faith, it means we lean on God to help at each level in our actions and thoughts. We don’t let our emotions drive our behavior, we turn that relationship around – our behavior should drive our emotions.
In other belief systems, ask yourself how do your beliefs currently integrate into the competency hierarchy? How SHOULD they?
I encourage you to think through your own beliefs and how they may be impacting your family. Being a spiritual parent means ensuring your beliefs make sense for you and your family and integrating them in practical ways across the myriad of knowledge areas required to raise a productive individual ready to make their impact on the world…no matter what the size of that impact is.
There may be no parenting manual out there, but there is plenty of help – spiritual and otherwise.