What good is religion? Divine support may reduce parental stress

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Ancient 10 commandment parchment

The numbering of the 10 Commandments varies by religious tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, “Honor your father and your mother,” is the fifth commandment. Catholics and Lutherans count this admonition as the fourth commandment.

Honoring your mother and father may be on the Top 10 list of commandments—but most parents can tell you that there are times when raising a child can try their souls.

What has been less known is how faith relates to parental stress.

Do religious teachings set up impossibly high standards that increase parental guilt? Or does the idea that God stands with them in times of both joy and anxiety reduce stress and lead to increased parental satisfaction?

The answer is a little of both. But new research suggests that there is a positive relation between some faith practices and beliefs and being a happier mom or dad.

People who regularly attend services were in general more likely to report parental happiness and less likely to say they are overwhelmed by parenting, according to one study of more than 5,500 mothers and fathers that found, “Generally speaking, religiosity is a modestly positive influence on parenting attitudes.”

The belief that “you are doing God’s will” may equip parents with a positive outlook that can help them through the ups and downs of parenthood, says Baylor sociologist Jeremy Uecker. He presented the study, conducted with Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University and W. Matthew Henderson of Baylor, at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York.

What do you think about these findings?

Have you experienced such parental support yourself?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Divine Support May Reduce Parental Stress, Increase Satisfaction” at the ARDA website. Briggs’ longer column included additional details about the complex way these influences may work in families.

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  1. Jewish sages taught that the fifth commandment – kabed et avicha v’et imecha – honor your father and mother — was placed on the side of the commandments that addressed human relationships with God. The last five address human relationships with one another. From this they derived that parents are the bridge between God and their children, that as parents we are God’s representatives on earth, God’s stand-ins placed between God-human and human-human interaction in order to teach our children right from wrong. We have recited to our children the Priestly Benediction each Friday night of their lives (missing maybe 20 Fridays in 30 years). At that moment especially I have always felt we are representing God as we recite those ancient words. We are the bridge if we choose to assume that mantle.