Parents play a vital role in the lives of their children. As a child’s first teachers and role models, parents shape their children’s understanding of right and wrong, model Godly character, and demonstrate unconditional love. While many parents strive to raise their children in a God-honoring way, sadly, some fall short. The Bible has strong warnings about parents who neglect or mistreat their children. At the same time, Scripture offers hope and healing for those impacted by bad parenting. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore what the Bible says about bad parents and how to respond in a Christlike way.
- God holds parents accountable for how they raise children
- Parental negligence and abuse have long-lasting effects on children
- Children are called to honor parents, even if parents behaved poorly
- Forgiveness is key to healing from the wounds of bad parenting
- God can redeem painful family situations and broken relationships
- Churches should support and protect children impacted by bad parents
- Ultimately, God is the perfect Father who heals and restores
What God Expects of Parents
The Bible makes it clear that parents have a solemn responsibility to raise children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Parents are called to model Godly character, instruct children in Biblical values, discipline with love, and nurture a close parent-child bond. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites commands and guidelines to govern family life and childrearing. Parents who flagrantly disobeyed faced serious consequences.
For example, the Mosaic Law commanded parents to discipline rebellious children. Refusing to restrain a wayward child was punishable by death: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother…then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders…and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). This severe penalty reveals how seriously God takes parental responsibility.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul calls fathers to raise children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Parents who misuse authority and provoke children to anger are warned: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Jesus himself showed anger at parents who neglected proper care of children: “But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:14).
Overall, Scripture makes it clear that parents must not exasperate, discourage, provoke, or neglect children. When parents misuse authority or fail to provide proper care and discipline, they fall short of God’s standards.
Effects of Bad Parenting
The Bible contains many examples of parental failures and the devastation they cause. From favoritism to abuse to utter neglect, bad parenting leaves deep wounds and distorted views of God.
For instance, Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph caused enormous family dysfunction and jealousy (Genesis 37:3-4). Eli’s refusal to restrain his wicked sons resulted in their rebellion and deaths (1 Samuel 3:13). David’s failure to discipline his son Absalom led to murder, incest, rebellion, and other tragedies (2 Samuel 13-19).
One of the most egregious examples of bad parenting is Manasseh, an evil king of Judah who sacrificed his own son (2 Kings 21:1-6). He led the nation into idolatrous, devilish practices by shedding “very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (2 Kings 21:16).
Manasseh’s reign illustrates how parental sin and negligence perpetuate for generations. Because of Manasseh’s appalling leadership as king and father, God punished not only him but also his innocent son and the nation (2 Kings 23:26-27, 24:3-4).
Many other Old Testament passages depict the sorrow that results from parental wrongdoing. The book of Psalms contains numerous laments from children wounded by harsh or absent fathers and mothers (Psalm 27:10). Proverbs cautions that a father’s foolishness brings grief (Proverbs 17:21, 17:25). Ecclesiastes observes that an untaught child is a parent’s “calamity” and “heaviness” (Ecclesiastes 10:1, 12:1).
Without good parenting, children never learn to honor God and “the curse of the law” continues from generation to generation (Galatians 3:10, 13). That is why God puts primacy on parents teaching children to love and obey Him (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). When parents fail at this most basic task, children suffer, often for generations.
The devastating personal and generational impacts of bad parenting appear throughout Scripture. God holds parents responsible not just for their own lives but also for their children’s moral and spiritual formation.
Honoring Parents Despite Poor Parenting
Even when parents behave badly, the Bible still calls children to honor and care for parents. The Ten Commandments themselves contain this directive: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). This commandment is the only one with an explicit promise—that obedience will prolong life.
In the New Testament, Paul repeats this directive: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).
So according to these passages, even if parents are far from perfect, God still expects children to honor and obey them in appropriate ways. Adults must continue caring for aging parents despite past grievances (1 Timothy 5:4).
However, the call to honor parents does not mean enabling ongoing sin or abuse. While children must respect parental authority, submission to parents’ wishes is only required “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1). Obedience to God always takes precedence when parental demands conflict with Scriptural principles.
Also, honoring abusive or negligent parents does not necessitate trusting them or seeking intimate relationship. Healthy boundaries and physical/emotional distance may be needed. Forgiveness is possible even when reconciliation is unwise.
Overall, the Bible makes it clear that honoring parents is crucial, no matter how imperfect those parents may be. However, victims of abuse are free before God to separate from dangerous situations and withhold trust from unrepentant parents. Forgiveness and letting go of bitterness are critical steps toward healing, even when family relationships remain strained.
The Power of Forgiveness
One of the most vital principles in overcoming bad parenting is forgiveness. Letting go of bitterness and anger provides the only path to emotional and spiritual health. When painful memories resurface, praying for the salvation and restoration of negligent or abusive parents opens doors to healing that retaliation could never provide.
Joseph sets a powerful example of forgiving poor parenting. After his brothers’ horrific betrayal, Joseph had every reason to harbor resentment. Yet he becomes a channel of redemption, using his position of influence to save the very brothers who jealously harmed him (Genesis 50:19-21). Joseph embraces the hurtful past, acknowledges God’s sovereignty, and chooses to forgive.
The gospels also demonstrate the absolute necessity of forgiveness. In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus includes these words: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:9-13). He adds this solemn warning: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Christ calls every believer to release others from moral debt—no matter how grievously they have sinned.
Paul echoes this mandate: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, NIV). Since God willingly extends mercy to repentant souls, His children must mirror that grace to those who have wronged them—including negligent or abusive parents. As Joseph demonstrated long ago, breaking free from bitterness opens the door for God to bring redemption.
God Redeems Broken Families
One recurring thread throughout Scripture is God’s ability to redeem fractured parent-child relationships. Over and over, God patiently works in hearts and turns wounds into wisdom. While painful consequences often result from parental sin, God’s healing love provides a way forward.
For instance, David committed grievous sexual sin that devastated his family (2 Samuel 11-12). Yet from his brokenness sprang Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. In Solomon’s Proverbs, the painful lessons gleaned from his father’s moral failures transform into nuggets of hard-won wisdom.
The Old Testament abounds with stories of God visiting “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7). Yet the same stories proclaim God “showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6). Though generations suffer from ancestral sin, God’s mercy ultimately triumphs.
Theredemptive work of Christ liberates families from entrenched patterns of dysfunction. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross frees believers from “the curse of the law” that perpetuates generational brokenness (Galatians 3:13). Christians impacted by bad parenting now have hope. By acting as agents of reconciliation, they participate in God’s restoration of fractured families.
As author Andy Stanley notes, “hurt people hurt people.” Only God’s love can break that painful cycle. Scripture offers assurance that God patiently ministers to damaged souls, bringing beauty from ashes and redeeming what sin destroyed.
Churches Must Support Children
Because bad parenting has such devastating impacts, churches have a responsibility to support and protect affected children. We see echoes of this mandate in Old Testament laws commanding Israelites to defend vulnerable members of society—orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor (Zechariah 7:9-10).
James 1:27 describes pure religion as caring for widows and orphans in their distress. The psalmists call God Himself “a father of the fatherless” who provides shelter, family ties, and inheritance to those unjustly deprived (Psalm 68:5-6; Psalm 10:14). Fatherless children hold a special place in God’s heart.
Churches can reflect God’s heart for the vulnerable by coming alongside wounded families. Providing counseling, parenting classes, support groups, and childcare assists struggling parents. Training adults to mentor fatherless youth helps fill emotional voids. Reporting abuse or seeking temporary foster care may become necessary if children are endangered.
Above all, churches must model Godly parenting. Pastors and children’s teachers should reflect the nurture, discipline, and unconditional love that many children lack at home. Creating environments where young souls encounter God’s deep love for them brings healing. Establishing intergenerational mentorships helps compensate for absent or abusive parents. Although the church can never fully substitute for godly parents, it can point precious children toward their Heavenly Father.
The Perfect Heavenly Father
Ultimately, God alone can heal the wounds inflicted by negligent or abusive parents. Psalm 27:10 declares, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” When earthly parents fail, the perfect Heavenly Father embraces and restores broken souls.
Scripture contains many names and metaphors for God that convey His parental nature:
- Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6)
- Father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5-6)
- Mother who comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13)
- Father who welcomes the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32)
- Adoptive parent to all believers (Romans 8:15)
- Patient gardener who tends the branches (John 15:1-8)
- Shepherd who protects, provides, and guides (Psalm 23:1-4)
- Mother hen who longs to gather her chicks (Matthew 23:37)
These beautiful images reveal God’s heart toward His children. Even if earthly parents abandon, abuse, or neglect, God promises to be everything children need. Drawing close to Him brings comfort, shelter, identity, discipline, nurturing care, and unconditional love. Only the eternal God can heal generational brokenness and fill the void left by those who were supposed to reflect His parenting nature.
For those impacted by bad parents, Scripture offers hope and healing. God patiently works in families, redeeming generational patterns of dysfunction. He commands His church to support vulnerable children and model His compassion. Most beautifully, God reveals Himself in Scripture as the perfect parent who restores wounded souls. Though the wounds may cut deep, His gentle, powerful hands bind up broken hearts. Ultimately, the Almighty Father turns victims into victors. With Him, the wayward child finds home.