Orthodoxy Today
Smart Parenting XVI. Styles of Parenting

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:14).

In the Orthodox wedding ceremony, just before crowning the man and wife and uniting them in a blessed marriage, the priest prays that the servant and handmaiden will joined by God as one flesh and will be an instrument leading their children to the kingdom of Heaven: “Unite them in one mind and one flesh, and grant them fair children for education in thy faith and fear [viewing God as awesome and transcendent] .” Parenting children is a wondrous, sublime and at the same time dreadful responsibility. Without coming to know, love and serve God (Morelli, 2005a) both parents and children cannot respond to God’s grace and “… become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pt 1:4) The Church supports the new couple in their efforts to know, love and serve God so that He indwells in them and thereby the entire family attains salvation (Morelli, 2008b).

For the Christian family, the foundation for modeling parenthood is Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ Himself. The married man and wife are called to “put on Christ.” The hymn from St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, which is sung during the services of the paschal season, refers to all who are baptized: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27) While putting on Christ is required for all those who are baptized, it occupies a unique vocation for those called to the exalted vocation of marriage and parenting.

In this essay I review the scientific behavioral research on four parenting styles and present evidence that identifies one of them—the Authoritative Style—as the most effective in shaping pro-social outcomes in children. That is to say behavior that is caring and empathic about the welfare and rights of others, as well as acting in a way that others benefit. I also critique the significant defects of three other parenting styles: the Authoritarian Style, the Permissive Style and the Neglectful Style. It is my hope that Christian parents will choose the parenting style that research evidence supports as the most effective.

Spiritually there is only one parenting style that can be employed: Christ’s Style. Literally thousands of books and articles have been written interpreting the life of Christ. I have selectively drawn from key sources based on the life of Christ and His teachings, the Scriptures and the understanding of Christ among the Church Fathers that teach us the fundamentals of the Christ Parenting Style. As the starting point and anchor, I have selected a single theme taken from a contemporary spiritual father of the Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. That theme is Kindness.

An atheist approached the young Arsenios (the future Elder Paisios) before he entered the monastic life, and said to him: “You don’t mean to say you believe in God? He does not exist. These religious stories are made up by some priests. We have evolved from the monkey. Christ was simply a man like all of us.” The elder describes his reaction as filled with “heavy black clouds” and “twisted thoughts.” He was “confused, desperate and extremely sad.” Then he had a thought. “Wasn’t Christ the kindest man ever on earth. No one has ever found anything evil in Him. So whether He is God or not, I don’t care. Based on the fact that He is the kindest man on earth and I haven’t known anyone better, I will try to become like Him and absolutely obey everything the Gospel says. I will even give my life for Him, if needed, since He is so kind.” (Ageloglou, 1998)

Christ-like parenting

The Christ Parenting Style: Consider the words of Jesus Himself as recorded by St. Luke (6:35–37): “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” [emphasis mine] Add these other words of Jesus: “… learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart …” (Mt 11:29). As all Christians, parents are counseled to act as Christ taught in His Sermon on the Mount. As heard in the opening verses of that teaching (cf. Mt 5:3–11), we model the Redeemer by being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful and pure in heart, making peace, being persecuted for righteousness sake, and being reviled and persecuted and having uttered all kinds of evil against us falsely on Christ’s account. But Jesus also taught us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Regard Our Lord’s words: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (Jn 14:6) Christ taught that the way to the Father is through His teachings, and he communicated the Way definitively: “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:19) St. Paul taught that the way Jesus carried out the commandments is with kindness: “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Tim 2:24–25) The Christian Parenting Style encompasses all of the above and in the spirit of St. Paul: “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:16)

Psycho-Behavioral Parenting Styles

Based on the seminal work of Diane Baumrind (1971), four parenting styles can be delineated: the Authoritarian Style, the Authoritative Style, the Permissive Style and the Neglectful Stylei. One of these styles not only is the best fit for the Christ Parenting Style, but also determined by behavioral research (Baumrind, 1991) to be the most efficacious in bringing about emotionally and behaviorally healthy children.

The Authoritarian Style: This style has high expectations and demands rigid compliance and conformity to parental commands and household rules. Interaction with the child is frequently harsh in tone. The deleterious effects of talking to children in a harsh tone are discussed by Morelli (2006a, 2006b). Open dialogue between parent and child on household rules or parental demands is not allowed. Basically, Authoritarian Style parents are not responsive to the emotional or psychosocial wants of their children. Compliance without question to parental demands and commands is normative, as seen in this extreme family counseling situation: One father, a successful Wall Street analyst, set a house rule that his wife and children had to be at the dining room table exactly at 6:00 p.m. for dinner, standing at attention behind their chairs, appropriately dressed and ready for inspection. Frequently the parental rules, demands and commands are expressed authoritatively in an abrasive inflection. The reaction of children is evidenced by a lack of self esteem and an inability to express emotional warmth. Some children respond to this style by being compliant, others by being oppositional. Patterson (1975) notes the oppositional, non-compliant response results when authoritarian parents do not have the skill to enforce their rules. Such children are also likely to be unpopular and display aggression in social and school settings (Patterson, Capaldi, and Bank, 1991). Behavioral attributes can include leaving the household at an early age, using drugs and experimenting with sex. The Authoritative Style of parenting is far afield from the Christ who said: “… learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart …” (Mt 11:29).

The Permissive Style: This parenting style is distinguished by few behavioral expectations for the child. Often the parent wants to be the child's friend and is quite nurturing. In contrast to the Authoritarian Style, permissive parents are perceived as un-demanding, and do not set consequences for their children’s behavior. As discussed by Morelli (2005b), pinpointing appropriate behavior and behavioral boundaries, and maintaining consequences for both compliance and lack of compliance, is critical for a child to learn appropriate pro-social behavior. Children raised by permissive parents do not learn age-appropriate behaviors and the consequences for performance or non-performance. Permissive parents often consult with their children in determining “family policy” (Baumrind, 1971). Such children quickly learn to blame others and manipulate their parents. Generally, achievement and maturity levels of children raised in a permissive style are lower than those of their peers. Such children also display low impulse control and avoid accepting responsibility and exhibiting independent behavior. In adolescence, such children show a higher degree of delinquent behavior as well as of drug use and sexual experimentation. It should come as no surprise that the Permissive Style of parenting is incompatible with the Christ Parenting Style.

The Neglectful Style: This parenting style has almost no behavioral expectations. Parents are self-centered and display little emotional reaction. Neglectful parents pay little or no attention to the child's behavior, making the Neglectful Style the least effective and associating it with the highest levels of delinquency (Patterson, 1993; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). Neglectful Style parents are often self-absorbed, only concentrating their attention on matters that are important to their own interests, needs and values. Such parents also do not set boundaries or limits but are disengaged from the child’s life. They are not knowledgeable about their child’s interests, feelings, and school and social activities. Children raised in the Neglectful Style appear emotionally and socially withdrawn. Such children have difficulty in peer bonding and are often isolated, withdrawn, impulsive and lack a high need to achieve (Pulkkinen, 1982). Just the opposite of Jesus’ words: "Let the children come to me …” (Mt 19:14), a father or mother who practices the Neglectful Parenting Style seems ready to apply to his or her own children Our Lord’s words to the evildoers: “I never knew you; depart from me …” (Mt 7:23).

The Authoritative Style: This parenting style communicates and explains household rules to the child in a respectful and warm, but firm, tone. Often communicating the consequences of non-compliance is enough to influence behavior (Morelli, 2006a). Research shows this to be the most effective parenting style (Baumrind, 1991). Parents who use the Authoritative Style set boundaries and even high standards for their children. However, these parents are less concerned with having obedient children as an entitlement of their parenthood, as they are with shaping the behavior of their children for the child’s good and welfare. They are attentive to their child’s point of view, but will then explain the reason for the family rules which have been set. Within the boundaries of the family rules which have been explained to the child, they encourage the child to make their own decisions, be autonomous, individualistic and independent. They are less likely to employ physical punishment, but are adept and skillful in applying rewards and punishments in a scientific (and spiritually sound) manner.ii Children raised by Authoritative parents tend to have high self-esteem, be compliant with parental requests but at the same time display independent and altruistic behavior. They score highly in academic achievement and in adolescence tend to score more highly in levels of moral reasoning than their peers (Boyes & Allen, 1993). Educators tend to rate authoritatively raised children as taking initiative, being articulate and performing assertively in school and social settings. Is there any doubt that the Authoritative Parenting Style is the parenting method that best fits on the foundation of the Christ Parenting Style?

A Christian parenting proscription and counseliii

Christ taught definitely and with authority. He spoke with the authority of His Father. “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.” (Jn 12: 49) Parents who use the Permissive or Neglectful Style do not speak decisively or with authority about anything. They fall far short of being able to fulfill their marital, parenting calling to raise their children in “education in thy faith and fear [acknowledging the awesome, transcendent God].” Parents using the Authoritarian Style or Authoritative Style surely both speak with authority, but what separates these two styles is love, patience and kindness. Only Authoritative Style fits these criteria, accentuating St. Paul’s well known description of love, as told to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind …” (1 Cor 13:4). Only the Authoritative Style demonstrates the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:22–23) Only the Authoritarian Style embodies the description of behavior and emotions to be avoided, as St. Paul told the Ephesians (4:31): “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice …”

W can use all the gifts that God gives us in parenting and guiding our children. As St. John Chrysostom (2003) teaches: “Concern for spiritual things will unite the family. Do you want your child to be obedient? Then from the beginning bring him up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” But parents can apply discipline and instruction by using the gift of their God-given intelligence, that is with the Holy Mysteries of the Church, by conforming to the Mind of Christ and the Churchiv (Vlachos, 1998), and using the advances of behavioral science as well. Following the wisdom of St. Isaac of Syria: “Love is the offspring of knowledge, and knowledge is the offspring of the health of the soul ...” (Alfeyev, 2000).

[B]ut as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great … kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love … (2 Cor 6:4–5).


Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos (1998). Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.

Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion (2000). The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Baumrind, D. (1971). “Current Patterns of Parental Authority,” Developmental Psychology Monograph, 4 (1, Part 2), 1–103.

Baumrind, D. (1991). “Parenting Styles and Adolescent Development,” in J. Brooks-Gunn, R. Lerner & A. C. Petersen (eds.), The Encyclopedia on Adolescence, 746–758. New York: Garland.

Boyes, M.C. & Allen, S. G. (1993). “Styles of Parent-Child Interactions and Moral Reasoning in Adolescence,” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 39, 551–570.

Cole, M. & Cole, S. A. (1996). The Development of Children. NY: Scientific American Books.

Maccoby, E. E. & Martin, J. A. (1983). “Socialization in the Context of the Family: Parent-Child Interaction,” in E. M. Hetherington (ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology, Socialization, Personality and Social Development (Volume 4). NY: Wiley.

Morelli, G. (2005a, September 17). Smart Parenting Part I: Raising Well-Behaved Children. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliParenting.

Morelli, G. (2006a, February 4). Smart Parenting Part II: Behavioral Management Techniques. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliParenting2.php.

Morelli, G. (2006c, March 25). Smart Parenting III: Developing Emotional Control. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliParenting3.php.

Morelli, G. (2008a, February 12). Smart Parenting X. Combating Secularism's Most Serious Sin: Indifference. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart-PartentingX.php.

Morelli, G. (2008b, July 6). Smart Marriage XIII: The Theology of Marriage and Sexuality. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart%20Marriage-XIII-The-Theology-of-Marriage-and-Sexuality.php.

Patterson, G. R. (1975). Families: Applications of Social Learning to Family Life. Champaign, Il. Research Press.

Patterson, G. R. (1993). “Orderly Change in a Stable World: The Antisocial Trait as a Chimera,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 61, 911–919.

Patterson, G. R., Capaldi, D. & Bank, L. (1991). “An Early Starter Model for Predicting Delinquency,” in D. J. Pepler & K. H. Rubin (eds.), The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression, 139–168. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Patterson, G. R., Reid, J. B. & Dishion, T. J. (1992). A Social Learning Approach: IV. Antisocial Boys. Eugene, OR: Castalia Publishing Co.

Pulkkinen, L (1982). “Self-Control and Continuity from Childhood to Late Adolescence,” in P. Baltes & O. G. Brim, Jr. (eds.), Life-Span Development and Behavior. Volume 4. NY: Academic Press.

St. John Chrysostom (2003). On Marriage and Family Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos, (1998). Mind of the Orthodox Church. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.


[i] The Neglectful Style is not one of the original parenting styles investigated by Baumrind and her colleagues. Developmental psychologists list the style as a fourth mode of Parent-Child interaction (Cole & Cole, 1996; Maccoby, & Martin, 1983; Patterson, 1993; Patterson, Reid & Dishion, 1992).

[ii] A short Primer on Scientific Use of Behavioral Management Techniques

Behavior is shaped (made stronger or weaker) by its consequences. Consequences that make behavior stronger or more likely to occur again:

  • Positive reinforcement: After behavior occurs it is followed by a pleasant event.
  • Negative reinforcement: After behavior occurs an unpleasant event is taken away.

Consequences that make behavior weaker or less likely to occur again:

  • Positive punishment: After behavior occurs it is followed by an unpleasant event.
  • Negative punishment: After behavior occurs a pleasant event is taken away.

The above conforms to the counsel of St. Paul to St. Timothy: “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:24–25).

Natural activities that a child likes or dislikes make the best consequences to strengthen or weaken behavior. Physical consequences such as corporal punishment, besides modeling inappropriate behavior (for example, hitting or slapping), have been shown to be ineffective. In extreme cases, such as in hospital settings following an ethics committee review, physical consequences can be employed, but surely not in the home setting.

For a more detailed explanation see: www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart-Parenting-XII-The-Time-Out-Tool.php and www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles8/Morelli-Smart-Parenting-XIII-Tools-for-Smart-Punishing.php.

[iii] A note to professionals: Baumrind’s research studies are basically correlational. Causal factors cannot be extracted from simple correlational studies. It is known for example that there are sex differences, temperament differences and ethnicity factors that influence the application of parenting styles within and between families (Cole and Cole, 1996). However, the purpose in this article is not to discuss the etiology of parenting styles, but to provide information as to the best psycho-behavioral parenting style that conforms to the Christ Parenting Style, namely, the Authoritative Parenting Style.

[iv] Bp. Hierotheos (1998) in a footnote to in his Introduction to the book, The Mind of the Orthodox Church states: "The word mind denotes the way of thinking and consequently the way of acting as a member of the Orthodox Church." In a later chapter Bp Hierotheos describes secularism is a "rejection of the ecclesiastical ethos and the perversion of our life by the so-called worldly mind." Widespread relativistic, politically correct secularism is one of the major obstacles facing parents in developing a Christ Parenting Style in today’s world (Morelli, 2008a). Following St. Paul’s counsel: "To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15). The teaching of Jesus passed in tradition to His Church: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2). St Paul told the Ephesians "you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…" (2:19,30). St Luke told his readers: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, [bishops and priests] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28).

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: May 22, 2009

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