Several times over the years, Rob had mentioned five categories or ‘levels’ of parenting he saw among the families in his counseling office. That intrigued me. I wanted to know what level I was on! And then again maybe I didn’t. It didn’t matter because, since we were too busy actually parenting to stop and finish a conversation, he never got around to sharing them with me until the kids were probably ten and thirteen. (That’s how a counselor’s family rolls, people.) Then he came to me one day saying he needed an article on the topic, and we finally sat down to look at this list.
As many of you know, I serve as Rob’s ghost writer; I take his ‘pearls of wisdom’ and I polish and string them. After years of trial and error we’ve arrived at a system that works pretty well for us, in which he gives me bullet points, then I create an outline and interview him for additional content to flesh it out. As the descriptions of the five levels of parenting came together I found myself really intrigued.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve camped out at every of one of these levels at some time or another,” I told Rob.
“Exactly,” he affirmed, “That’s the organic nature of this theory. The levels follow a child’s developmental stages. Ideally, as our child matures, our parenting does too. I think God designed it that way on purpose.”
“Ya think?” I laughed.
The truths I wrote for this article both affirmed and convicted me. They even explained, quite pointedly at times, some of the struggles I’d encountered with our own kids. I couldn’t continue to blame them for some of my ‘poor parenting outcomes.’ Other things I had always felt like an ogre for doing, like letting them bear the consequences for not having their sports and dance gear, were actually on target. Instead of navigating by how things felt as I parented, now I had a standard to which I could compare my own purposes every day. Best of all, since these levels reflected scriptural parenting principles, I knew I could trust them.
Once I understood the five levels, I began to recognize them everywhere. They were evident in the families we encountered socially, professionally, in the homeschooling community, and at church. I realized that they had subconsciously affected how we interacted with other families, drawing us naturally toward some more than others. Now, working in a public school setting, I see how the different approaches determine what resources parents seek out for their kids, how they respond to disciplinary issues, and how they act on the sidelines at a soccer game.
Since this information intrigued me so much, I’ve decided to share a brief synopsis of each of the levels with you guys as I have the opportunity. There is a lot to say about each one that I won’t have time and space to cover here but I think it can serve you sort of like the map at the mall. Once you find the star that says “You are here” you can see how to quit going in a circle and start heading in the right direction.
Before we start, I’ll offer a few caveats:
- These were written mainly for American, Evangelical Christian parents, but the underlying truths are universal.
- You don’t necessarily go through these in order.
- If you have several kids with a wide age range, you may find yourself switching between all the levels in the course of one day.
- When you see what levels your friends use or your own parents used, be sure to give each other a lot of grace. We’re all doing our best with the resources we have.
- A lot of this information is stated in the negative because, like symptoms are clues for the doctor, the best way to ‘diagnose’ these is through what doesn’t work.
- The lower-level messages aren’t wrong, we just don’t want to stop there. That’s why the first four levels include the previous messages and build on them.
Okay, ready to dive in?
The five levels of parenting are characterized by the messages we convey to our kids. We communicate these messages more through our actions and attitudes rather than with these actual words. Most of us are not even aware of the unspoken messages we’ve been sending, but boy, do our kids receive them loud and clear. I’ll describe each of these over the next five days, but for now, here’s the list:
Level One Message: “Obey me.”
Level Two Message: “Obey and honor me.”
Level Three Message: “Obey and honor me, and I’ll train you.”
Level Four Message: “Obey and honor me; I’ll train you and try to meet your true needs.”
Level Five Message: “Now that you’re an adult, we’re functioning more as brothers and sisters in Christ; let’s obey God, and honor Him and each other.”