Part 2 of an Interview with Kristen Hatton, Author of Parenting Ahead
Part 2 of an Interview with Kristen Hatton, Author of Parenting Ahead
A counselor to teens and parents, Kristen Hatton helps moms and dads make that connection between their current parenting and future outcomes. By evaluating their parenting, they will see where their own fears, desires, and insecurities lie and how to pivot to practices of faith and trust in God. The redemptive approach to parenting will help parents and children be better prepared for engaging in the realities of peer pressure, decision-making, and recognizing the connection between behavior and the heart.
In Parenting Ahead, Hatton shares practical examples, helpful scripts, and role plays to teach parents how to proactively parent during one season to prepare for the next.
Q: In what ways do both overparenting and under-parenting bring about unintended results? You write that there’s no perfect formula to parenting, but can you share some helpful guidelines for finding balance between the two ends of the spectrum?
Let me first explain what I mean by both overparenting and under-parenting. Overparenting could be synonymous with helicopter parenting. Parents in this category tend to be warm, supportive, and responsive, which is great, but when these qualities are coupled with a high level of control, parents exhibit too much responsiveness and overinvolvement for what is appropriate for their child’s age.
My use of the term under-parenting does not mean neglectful or uninvolved parents, but rather overly permissive parents. These parents are also warm and responsive. Their desire is for their kids to be happy, and they want to have a good relationship with them. But with these goals, permissiveness is exhibited through failure to exert parental authority, set and enforce limits, and an overall abdication of shepherding their kids.
It is interesting that though these parenting styles are very different, research shows that the young adult children from both these types of parents struggle in the same ways—anxiety, depression, low self-efficacy, dissatisfaction, and entitlement, to name a few.
I discovered the commonality when I was in a counseling research class and got curious about a mitigating link between helicopter parents and permissive parents that was leading to the developmental challenges of young adults. My hypothesis was that fear was the common link. Of course, fear will look very different between the two types of parents. Helicopter parents fear anything that might cause adversity in their children’s lives, whereas permissive parents may fear their children not liking them, among other things. In addition to fear, or maybe beneath the fear, I see both parents fall into maladaptive thinking patterns or wrong thinking. Just as our kids create false narratives in their heads about what is true, so do we as parents—and when those narratives become more real to us than God’s Word or what is really happening, our idol of fear can escalate.
Rather than looking for some perfect balance between hovering and permissiveness, at the core of what I address is seeing our need for Jesus when we struggle with fear, the temptation to control, or the desire to be the cool parent. Parenting starts with our hearts, and what we do will flow from it.
Q: Tell us about the self-evaluation tools in Parenting Ahead that help parents gauge whether they are over- or under-parenting?
In lieu of the typical end-of-a-chapter questions, I included a self-assessment at the end of Part One of the book. This may frustrate some readers, but I did not include any kind of scoring system with it. Rather the assessment is intended to help the reader take inventory of their tendencies. The purpose is to grow in awareness of self and better evaluate why you do or don’t do certain things. In a very real sense, this assessment prepares us to further evaluate at a heart level what’s beneath our overparenting or under-parenting and shines a flashlight to see how, or if, our values are aligned with the gospel.
For example, one line item on the assessment is “I stick with the boundaries I set for my child.” If in answering that question I realize I don’t frequently stick with boundaries, I might further probe my heart to see why that is the case.
Q: How can we recognize the idols that often arise in the course of parenting? In what ways do we try to justify them? What should we do to overcome them and remember God is in control and his provision is best?
Paul Tripp gives a great analogy to help identify idols. It’s the open hand/clenched fist analogy. In evaluating whether something has risen to idol status, we may imagine it being in the palm of our hand. If we are able to keep it in an open hand, then it’s not ruling us in an idolatrous way. But if we are holding on tight, clenching our fist around it because it is something we have to have, there is an idol there. Another helpful way for recognizing idols is evaluating our emotions, our thoughts, our time, our habits, where our money is spent, what we talk about, and what we spend time on. With emotions, for example, you can ask yourself why you responded the way you did to a certain situation. Why were you so angry? Teasing out the answers can help us determine if there is a ruling idol beneath.
Now certainly we don’t like to see our sin—our idols—so we might work hard to justify them. This can play out in many different ways. For example, I might justify my perfectionism or need to control as just how God made me or I’m just trying to be a good mom. Or the ruling idol of comfort that led to an anger outburst could be justified by blame-shifting to the person who disrupted my plans. Just like Adam and Eve did in the garden, we attempt to cover our shame.
Because we are still in the process of sanctification and still struggle with sin, this side of heaven we will never be completely free from idols. But the more we see our sin (our idolatry) for what is and remember what Jesus has done for us and that God delights in his children running to him, the more quickly we will come to confess and repent. When we as parents do this, our children will learn they can be honest about their sin too.
Q: In a world where truth is relative and anti-biblical views are even accepted and embraced by Christians, how can we be good examples of standing firm against the culture? How can we prepare our children to wear “gospel glasses?”
First and foremost, God’s Word is the eternal, unfailing, never changing, absolute truth. In our society, we don’t believe that anymore. Even among Christians, we have big discrepancies about how we see and interpret Scripture. So, teaching the authority of God’s Word is foundational.
We have to know his Word is true and what that Word is if we are going to be able to discern what’s false. Much of what we are hit with today are half-truths. Things that sound right are being embraced by others—Christians even—but, if we held them up to the light of God’s Word, we would see they really do not align. Therefore, not only is the authority of God’s Word foundational, but so is getting his story straight. God’s Word is his unfolding story of redemption. He is the main character, and in reading his story, we learn who he is and we learn who we are. Our children need to know the story because it points us to our condition and need of a Savior, as well as teaching them the glories of the One who came.
Regarding standing firm, we need God’s help. Swimming upstream in our culture is not easy. It is lonely and requires an endurance mindset to keep from throwing in the towel. I would say our motivation stems from knowing the steadfast love of the Lord and his goodness to us, so we want to live in a way that is honoring him. If that serves as encouragement to other Christians to also stand firm, that is a wonderful side benefit. But as we shepherd our children, if we make their behavior about being a good example to others, we don’t necessarily reach their hearts to help them develop their own convictions for living in light of God’s truth.
Q: Why is it important to be honest with our children about our shortcomings and sins?
If our children do not see that Mom and Dad need a Savior too, they will never feel like they can be honest about their sins. They will either think we have it all together and feel judged because they can’t measure up, or they will see us justifying our sin or sweeping it under the rug, viewing us as hypocrites. But when our children see the pattern of redemptive living modeled for them (including confession, repentance, forgiveness, and grace), they will learn they can be honest about their sin too.
Furthermore, not only how we handle our sin but also our children’s sin paints a picture for them of who God is. Is he an angry policeman in the sky looking to bust us or a friend to sinners who calls us to come?
Q: What is one single piece of advice that you give new parents who are just starting out on their parenting journey?
The road is long and hard. You will not get it all right, and that’s okay. In fact, if I could free you from thinking you have to be the perfect parent or that you even can be, I would. Rather, know that God loves your children even more than you. And he uses all things, even our sin and struggles and our children’s sin and struggles, to bring us to greater dependence on him. And as for the parenting road ahead, my hope is that by his strength you would be able to patiently endure and intentionally shepherd your children.
Parenting Ahead: Preparing Now for the Teen Years by Kristen Hatton Print ISBN: 978-1-64507-278-2 April 17, 2023 / Retail Price: $18.99 RELIGION / Christian Living / Parenting
Kristen Hatton, MA, is a counselor and author passionate about helping families. She is the author of Get Your Story Straight, Face Time, The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, and Parenting Ahead.
It was from Hatton’s experience parenting teens, speaking to parents, and counseling that she became passionate about encouraging and equipping parents, leading her to start the Redemptive Parenting Instagram account and podcast.
Hatton lives with her pastor-husband, Pete, in Dallas, Texas. Together they have three young adult children and a son-in-law. In her off time, she loves travel, fitness, the outdoors, reading, party planning, and gathering with friends.