Recently, my husband and I attended a Love and Logic parenting course.  Ever since, it’s been interesting to notice the parent/child roles that occur in society. One that came to mind almost immediately while taking the class, was the role of the LDS Church. I think it’s important to first lay out the four styles of parenting. (These were found here).

  • Authoritative: democratic style of parenting, parents are attentive, forgiving, teach their offspring proper behavior, have a set of rules, and if child fails to follow, there is punishment,  and if  followed there is reward/reinforcement.
  • Authoritarian: strict parenting style, involves high expectations from parents but have little communication between child and parents. Parents don’t provide logical reasoning for rules and limits, and are prone to harsh punishment.
  • Permissive: parents take on the role of “friends” rather than parents, do not have any expectations of child, they allow the child to make their own decisions.
  • Uninvolved: parents neglect their child by putting their own life before the child’s. They do provide for the child’s basic needs but they show little interaction with the child.

When you examine the church leadership as “parents”, do any of these sound familiar?

To make clear who I feel plays what roles, I see them as the following.
The general membership, or each individual, is considered the child. As for the parents, that would be God and Christ ultimately, but I definitely think that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve play a more involved parenting role. Local leaders can have a parenting type role, but I feel like they serve as older siblings.

One of the most compelling aspects in examining this parent-child relationship for me is when we start looking at the effects that these types of parenting have on kids.

Another interesting factor that should be considered is that in the church parent/child relationship, the “parent” is parenting adults.  Parenting adults is a far different ball game than parenting children. I think that many members have felt infantilized by the church and it’s teachings.

While many will argue that the content of the gospel is broken down into simple and easy to grasp concepts which is something that makes it so appealing, universal, and beautiful, I feel like we need to reach beyond that and really open members up to exploration.

There is beauty in the simplicity, but I think the real beauty comes in the face of challenge and the encouragement of seeking to find a personal answer instead of spelling out what the answers should be. I think that self-thinking and personal ownership of problems is a fundamental aspect of being a person and that as parents of adults, a great deal of respect should be placed in their adult childrens’ personal choices,  processes, and conclusions.

father and adult son

When I look at the church and how it “parents”, I can see how they want to parent, or how they want people(even their “children”) to perceive how they parent,  in the statements they make.

For example, vote your conscience/no party affiliation, local leadership handles problems, we welcome everyone, it’s okay to have doubts and questions, personal revelation, we are open to revelation from God, and many others. I think they recognize that these are adult members and that everyone is going to have a variety of beliefs.

But even good parents lose control of their usually calm and authoritative parenting sometimes. Sometimes parents recognize something they are doing is not helping their child and are trying to make positive changes to parent better. Some  parents do really well parenting in public and are a completely different parent at home. Some parents consist of two people with two different methods of parenting.

I think we can all agree that parenting is hard!

I think most parents have worried about our kids having the best life possible and if they are making bad choices that will bring complications to what may have been an easier path. It’s hard to take your hand off the wheel and let them figure it out.

To me, it sometimes seems like the church is still trying to figure things out. There are a lots of cooks with different ideas of what is best for their children.
One minute we’re hearing that there is a space for everyone. The next we hear that a sibling is doing it wrong and needs to be punished. Some of our parents are very eager to lay down the law and spell out their expectations. Many preach obedience in all things. Passive aggressive seems to be a popular route as we read things that the church chooses to include in it’s church publications.

I feel like the church wants to be, or to give the appearance of being, authoritative in their approach, but it often comes off, or is carried out, in an authoritarian manner. Just like authoritarian parenting is not an effective long term solution, authoritarian management within the church is not accomplishing a very effective long game.


In church, I feel like this type of parenting is very common. The expectation to do what our “parents” have told us to do (or implied what we should do) is very high. If a general authroity presents something in any type of conference, fireside, convocation, or publication, many church members see it as something to aspire to and to add to their list of things they should do or traits they should aspire to. Obedience is praised and lauded since it’s your eternal life at stake.

In general, these types of yielding to authority is not a terrible thing and I do feel like the things that general authorities say they have pondered and come from their heart and their own personal experiences. I think they have good intentions. And most members are trying to become better and feel that what is being said will help them.

said so

When we start getting into the strict, “we do not”, “a member should not”, and “unchanging”, among others, things start to get problematic.

Much of the dialogue I read on very divided topics reminds me of strict parents and the natural reaction of the children of those parents.


Over here is one parent saying that this is how things are and we need to do/not do those things or we should be fearful of our salvation and then another parent steps in and showers us with love and understanding. Of course when you tie in religion and Supreme Beings/divine plans and chase everything with love and concern (which I do feel is genuine), it gets all messy and complicated.

The authoritarian approach is somehow taken to be “the law” because of a man’s position and standing with God. Many are all too willing to go along with it with total trust in the name of being obedient and trying to be the best person they can be and please God. (Don’t mistake this as me being critical. I feel like most people are truly following their conscience both in the things they speak and the things they choose to follow.)

But what happens when a “child’s” life experiences or personal feelings causes direct conflict with what they knew and trusted (for most) their entire life?

Cognitive dissonance.

When a person experiences that cognitive dissonance and is in distress over the conflict, how effective is the strict parent at that point?  Which parent is the child is going to turn to as they struggle?

All of this leaves me with a lot of questions and wondering. It’s a huge topic and a lot for me to process.

Does authoritarian “parenting” have a role in religion? Is it a good role? What would happen if the “parents” stopped spelling things out and took a step back to the authoritarian approach they try to make others perceive them having?  What if the children stopped asking for parental guidance when they are perfectly capable adults? Would the parents allow that to happen?

I’d love for you to share your thoughts, insights, and speculations.

Here are a few interesting reads/listens I found along my way.

Brad Kramer on Faith Paradigms and Letting go of Eden (Mormon Stories Podcast)

Liberalism, Authoritarianism, and the Mormon Experience (Main Street Plaza)

Are You Raising Your Child in a Religious Authoritarian Culture?

Authoritarian Parenting and Adult Children

Authoritarian Parenting: The Impact on Children

Carrie is a memorial artist and mom to 3 young children, and is being watched over by twin boys. When she isn't working, you can usually find her spending time with her family. If there is, by some miracle, extra time when she doesn't want to fall into her bed and sleep, she likes to indulge her creative side, where she dabbles in a bit of everything. She has been married to her husband, Jon, for over 10 years and they enjoy watching shows together, vacationing (who doesn't?!), and going on adventures.

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