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Parenting Experts Say No to Religion, Spirituality

New research by psychologist Robert Epstein analyzes the makings of a good parent.

In an article in November’s Scientific American Mind  Dr. Epstein identifies 10 core competencies that make for a good parent—and good parenting.

The skills that good parents possess include: Ability to Give Love and Affection, Successful Stress Management, Having Good Relationship Skills (especially with the spouse/other parent), Fostering Autonomy and Independence, Stressing Education and Learning, Life Skills (which means providing for your child), Healthy Behavior Management, Practicing a Healthy Lifestyle, Support and Practice Spiritual/Religious Development, and Safety—Protecting Your Child.

After examining the evidence and the stereotypes held by both the experts (and even himself!), Dr. Epstein reaches the conclusion that “… if you really want to know about an individual’s competence as a parent, you should measure that competence directly rather than default to commonly held stereotypes.” (Pretty good advice in general, don’t you think?)

One of the more interesting things about this study for us, naturally, was the revelation that parenting experts not only ranked spirituality and religion dead last on the list of important parenting areas, but according to Dr. Epstein, “several even volunteered negative comments about this competency area, even though studies suggest that religious or spiritual training is good for children.”

Sadly, we weren’t surprised. Despite the fact that the majority of the world’s inhabitants believe that religion/spirituality is at the very least vital to personal growth and development, if not central to leading a meaningful life, some Westerners, including some in the helping professions, don’t see many if any benefits of religious-belief systems and practices.

Traditional Western religions whose foundations rest on the Hebrew Bible, such as Judaism, or are derived from it, such as Christianity and Islam, are especially viewed as “rigid” systems that encumber life, rather than benefit it.

We believe that structure is important. The laws of monotheistic religions can be likened to the structure of the sonnet or sonata, or even the rules of grammar. As rules for creating music or writing do, religious rules provide the scaffolding upon which individuals can build personal expression, passion, and life-fulfillment, especially in the area of relationships.

Like traffic signals and zoning laws, religious laws guide us to avoid infringing on others or hurting ourselves as we move forward with our own goals.

We also believe they help us prepare for life’s variances and make choices that help us strengthen relationships with others and self. But we’re often the minority opinion, at least among mental health professionals in New York.

Yet, time and time again we are heartened to hear news of parenting problems finding success when core religious values are incorporated into family life. We also believe that parents—not governments— have the right to pass along to their children their religious and spiritual values and traditions.

Introducing those politically incorrect twins, good and evil, are helpful when protecting young children. Also, the concept of focusing on helping others (rather than simply striving for material or even some personal-achievement goals), can help even young children develop a strong sense of self-esteem. Religious-based values such as developing personal modesty and strong boundaries, and the ability to identify what we call “healthy shame” vs. “unhealthy shame” can all be a part of good parenting. (We are ducking for cover for that line).

On a rather personal note, it seems to us that to deny that one has a soul, to deny that there is a Creator has given us the gift of life, and to deny that as the beneficiaries of such a love we have obligations of embracing foundational morals and ethics, leads to the loss of a big swathe of “beingness” and wholeness.

We respect the rights of the atheists and others who read our column to disagree—we always enjoy your thoughtful comments. Still, we do believe all humans are spiritual beings, not just physical ones, and that every human life including yours, is utterly unique and astonishingly important in the scheme of things.

Simply put: There is not one other person on the planet with your unique combination of talents and personality, abilities and idiosyncrasies, and potential to change to the world. It is simply astonishing how intricate and interesting you are! And every child needs to learn and believe in this if he is to feel his life is of value.

Many children instinctively, with little or no instruction, believe in God and believe they have a soul-even if they can’t quite define it or don’t know the term for it. C.R. grew up in a home where secularism was pretty much the house religion. Still, even as a young child she would go for walks alone in the woods and talk to God, asking to be shown the reason why she was born. She believed with all her heart and mind that there had to be a reason for her—and humankind’s—existence.

She wasn’t alone. Many children are by nature God-curious or spiritually-curious, with deep questions about why such and such is moral, and such and such isn’t. Many are quite taken with the mystery of life and want to know why they—and others—are here. Some children even feel they have a life mission—and are waiting for permission to discover it. These are feelings to never grow out of!

Parenting Experts Say No to Religion, Spirituality

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Parenting Experts Say No to Religion, Spirituality. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Nov 2010
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