Biblical Parenting Lessons

The Bible is a mixed bag when it comes to parenting advice.

Quick, name the mom or dad:

  • Why can’t you act more like your delightfully obsequious little brother?
  • I like you best: dress up like your sibling and steal some money from dad — he’ll never know the difference.
  • I’m so glad I finally have a kid — I think I’ll let those nice people who work in the temple adopt you.
  • I know, let’s go on a hike together.  Maybe we’ll build an alter and kill something. Got rope?
  • See those rods?  No spoiling for you!

But the other day, I had a thought — a hopeful thought.  You see, I’m feeling a bit . . . uneasy . . . about exposing my daughter to the, um, less-than-egalitarian aspects of church culture.  That’s another post, I suppose.

While I was worrying, my mind drifted to the story of “The Woman Taken in Adultery” (no name, no shamed male counterpart).  Jesus’ response is not only rhetorically brilliant, it shows a level of empathy and compassion that is peculiar within his cultural milieu.

It got me wondering, “Did Mary and Joseph tell him about the time when Mary was pregnant out of wedlock?  Did Joseph explain how he was briefly tempted to shame her, but just couldn’t? Did Mary recount her trepidation at how Joseph would react?  After all, 33 years later this crowd of men is threatening to STONE a woman in similar circumstance.  How much of Jesus’ empathy toward women — his boundary breaking with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, and the Woman at the Well — came from listening to his mother’s stories of her own life, her heavenly encounters, her bold choices, her prophetic visions? How much came from watching his father embrace a woman whom others might have cast away? And in choosing Mary, Joseph yoked his fate to the primacy of hers — because really, was running away to Egypt in his original plans?”

Jesus displayed radical love, and part of the credit must go to Mary and Joseph’s radical parenting and rejection of their cultural script.

It’s not an answer to my fears, but it does give me hope.



Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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14 Responses

  1. anita says:

    Um, Jacob, Rebekah, Hannah, Abraham, and Solomon?

    I like those thoughts about Mary and how she taught her son. I feel that Jesus’ approach all along was pretty radically feminist–at a time when women couldn’t legally serve as witnesses in that Jewish world, the first two people who knew of his mortality were women (Mary and Elisabeth), and the first to know of his immortality were women (at the tomb). You have to assume that the parents chosen to raise the Lord must have been remarkable in many ways.

  2. jenna marie says:

    This is really good. I love the idea of Joseph and Mary being vulnurable in their parenting. Thank you

  3. MB says:

    I like this train of thought.

    And are you really saying that you thought the stories in your quick list are a biblical collection of examples of parenting to emulate? I realized as I read through it that I’d always thought of those scenarios as stories that made me remember that human and parental errors are part of everyone’s life and caused me to think, “how would I do it differently to avoid the negative repercussions?”

    • Deborah says:

      I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek on the opening list, but I am surprised by how many scriptural families practice the first bullet — Adam/Eve, Jacob/Rachel, Lehi/Sariah . . .

  4. Emmaline says:

    I love, love, LOVE this post.

    In class with my 12- and 13-year-olds I’ve mentioned the overwhelming challenge that creating Jesus’ earthly family must have been, especially given the time period and cultural expectations. Several of the kids have step-parents or are being raised by their mothers alone. They have all started to bring up Mary and Joseph raising Jesus to make various connections with their own lives. I think that they find it comforting, and I love seeing them apply a feminist reading of the scriptures to their own lives.

    I share your reservations about raising a daughter in the Church….especially when she comes home from Primary saying things like “Maybe when I grow up I won’t go to college because I’ll get married!” But I do my best to offer an alternative for my Sunday School kids. Maybe there’s hope we can bring about change yet!

    • Deborah says:

      Awesome. There’s a lot of meat to Jesus’ life story — I wish I had given more thought to Mary and Joseph earlier in my life (spent much more time on Nephi than Mary in Sunday School/Seminary). It would have been helpful for me as a youth.

  5. Caroline says:

    This is wonderful, Deborah. I love the idea that Jesus grew up hearing about Mary’s precarious situation as an unwed teen, a situation that could have very easily led to her death. When I think of that story of Mary the teen, I also love to think about Mary’s fiat, her incredibly courageous ‘yes’ to God, knowing how dangerous her situation would be.

    I think we need to spend a lot more time talking about Mary in our talks and lessons.

  6. DefyGravity says:

    That is such an interesting idea! I love it! I never really considered that Mary and Joseph helped Christ become the empathetic, compassionate, radical person he became. (Which is kind of dumb on my part.) I just assumed he was born that way.

    It reminds me that it’s harder to be judgemental if you know someone in the judged group. Christ’s mother lived through struggles because of her gender, so maybe that’s part of Christ’s openess to women. So cool!

    Also, I recently read a book by a Jewish woman that talked about how no one wants their kids to become like anyone in the Old Testament, and that it can be read as a book about people trying to find God, with widely varying levels of success. It’s about human success and human error, not necessarily about good ways to live life. That made me feel better about the Old Testament.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    What a great post! All this time, I’ve been giving Jesus’ biological father all the credit for how great His kid turned out. Why haven’t I given more thought to Mary and Joseph?

    • Deborah says:

      I figure if he really was to experience mortality, then he went through all the developmental steps the rest of us do — and exacted on his parents the physical and emotional labor of parenting.

  8. Ziff says:

    Great connection, Deborah! I had never thought of that, but it totally makes sense. (Also, your opening list is great! Phrasing everything straightforwardly as you did really highlights how shocking it is.)

  9. nat kelly says:

    This is just brilliant, Deborah. What a great insight. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  10. Heather B says:

    We are doing everything we can to give our son the foundation and understanding he needs to succeed in his faith. I’ve been reading a great new book by Dr. Tony Evans. One of the goals of the book is to help parents grow in confidence as they discover their worth as a parent based on God’s Word. It’s called “Raising Kingdom Kids: Giving Your Child a Living Faith.” He says, “It’s far easier to SHAPE A CHILD than to REPAIR AN ADULT. Raising kids who recognize and retain their identity as children of the King launches healthy adults who have the capacity to stand strong in their faith.” Equipping and guiding our children starts with us, parents! This is the most solid, thorough, inspirational and affirming parent book I’ve ever read! I love it and HIGHLY recommend it for all parents!

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