Sanctification of Parenting: Seeing Parenting During Childhood as Sacred

What is the Sanctification of Parenting? What do people say about the sanctity of parenting & their bond with their child?

Parenting Infants

  • "Parenting feels holy to me, something that's not part of this world. It feels really 'above normal.' "
  • "Having him around...it's spiritual for me. An inner peace, an inner happiness, and that's what I equate to spirituality, not necessarily God and religion."
  • "In everything she does...there's not a word..I'm in awe. I can't believe this has happened. It's a miracle."
  • "Just seeing that smile just transcends everything, and it's like experiencing God's touch in your life even through that little smile when you walk through the door."
  • "I know God exists. But other than my baby, I never really saw or felt God."
  • "For me, parenting's a connection with all things. It's feeling like you're part of something bigger."
  • "There is someone who had a hand it this, that's God."
  • "I really believe that God put us together as a family and that we have a purpose together and so, I need to draw upon that every day in my parenting." - unpublished parent quotes from our transition to parenthood study with heterosexual, married, first-time parents

How do we define the Sanctification of Parenting for psychological research?

  • We define sanctification as viewing an aspect of life as having divine significance and meaning. 
  • We distinguish two types of the sanctification in our research:
    • Sacred Qualities of Parent-Child Relationship & Parenting (non-theistic sanctification) is defined as viewing a parent-child relationship & parenting that child as having sacred qualities associated with divinity, including attributes of transcendence, ultimate value and purpose, and boundlessness.
    • Manifestation of God in Parent-Child Relationship & Parenting (theistic or God-centered sanctification) is defined as viewing a parent-child relationship and parenting that child as a manifestation of one's images, beliefs, or experiences of God.
  • See For Researchers for list of published studies on the perceived sanctity of many aspects of life - marriage, cohabiting relationships, sexuality in and out of marriage, pregnancy, major life strivings, one’s physical body, the environment.

How do we measure the Sanctification of a Parent-Child Relationship & Parenting during Infancy?

  • For our transition to parenthood study, we created a Sanctification of Parent-Infant Relationship & Parenting scale to give to mothers & fathers when their first child was 3 to 12 months old. Below are the 3 items that our married parents most often endorsed for each type of sanctification when their baby was 6 months old.
  • Sacred Qualities of Parent-Infant Relationship & Parenting - (non-theistic sanctification)
    • My baby seems like a miracle to me - 97% of mothers and 92% of fathers 
    • In my relationship with my baby, I experience a connection with something greater than myself - 88% of mothers and 79% of fathers
    • Being the mother/father of my baby is sacred to me - 86% of mothers and 81% of fathers 
  • Manifestation of God of Parent-Infant Relationship & Parenting - (theistic sanctification)
    • God played a role in my baby coming into my life - 89% of mothers & 80% of fathers
    • Being a mother/father is a reflection of God's will for me - 82% of mothers & 75% of fathers
    • I sense God's presence in my relationship with my baby - 82% of mothers & 75% of fathers
  • For copies of entire Sanctification of Parent-Infant Relationship & Parenting scales, click Constructs & Our Measures
  • For copies of an earlier measure of the Sanctification of Parenting that we used in a study of mothers with children ages 5-12, click Constructs & Our Measures

Does the Sanctification of a Parent-Child Relationship & Parenting during Infancy help or harm?

  • Contrary to our expectations, greater sanctification of being a father during infancy relationship did not increase father involvement in taking care of infant.
  • For both mothers and fathers, the more the parents viewed their parent-infant relationships as sacred, the more the parents said the couple divided infant care in a traditional manner where mothers did more of the daily infant care tasks, such as diapering, feeding, waking up in middle of night to feed baby, soothing baby, dressing baby, etc. This finding can be interpreted as either helpful or harmful, depending on a person's views about how equally child care tasks should be divided between co-parents.
  • Check back again later for more findings from our transition to parenthood study.

What are New Findings about the Sanctity of Parenting during Infancy from our Transition to Parenthood Study?

  • See findings above on the sanctification of parent-infant relationship & parenting.
  • To our knowledge, our project is the first study that has directly asked new parents about the sanctity of their parent-infant relationship using survey data. Please check back later for more findings. We are still analyzing our data. 

Does the Sanctification of Parenting during Childhood help or harm?

  • Greater sanctification of parenting during childhood has been correlated with the following parenting practices & attitudes in initial small-scale studies:
  • Helpful: 
    • More self-reported consistency in parenting
    • More positive parenting strategies by mothers and fathers (e.g., praise, induction) to instill in their children a sense of personal responsibility for their actions
    • More investment of effort in parenting, but not more parenting satisfaction or self-confidence
    • Less verbal hostility toward children
    • Less spanking by mothers with liberal views of the Bible
  • Possibly harmful: 
    • More spanking by mothers with literalistic views of the Bible 
    • More spiritual struggles, such as feeling punished or abandoned by God, when parenting more challenging “at risk” children
  • See readings for more details of complex patterns of findings.

Additional suggested readings

  • DeMaris, A., Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I. (2011). Doing the scut work of childcare: Does religiousness encourage greater father involvement? Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 354 – 368. DOI:10.1111
  • Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., & Hernandez, K. M. (in press). Heaven on earth: Beneficial effects of sanctification for individual and interpersonal well-being. J. Henry (Ed.), Oxford Book of Happiness. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Murray-Swank, A. & Murray-Swank, N. (2003). Religion and the sanctification of family relationships. Review of Religious Research, 40, 220-236.