What the world needs now is another book on parenting.
Another book with a list of what to do and what not to do. Some new system of time-out or positive reinforcement. Some social media strategies for teenagers and sleeping schedules for babies. And, for good measure, a chapter on all the ways you’re failing and why your children will grow up to be monsters.
Hmm, maybe not.
But what we could use (what people hardly ever think about, let alone write books about) is an accessible explanation of what the whole parenting caper is for.
Yes, I realise it’s for the procreation of the species, but have you wondered why God arranged things the way he did? We could have been like some mammals: just getting our youngsters on their feet and eating something appropriate, then leaving them to it. Why this long apprenticeship? What is the purpose of parenthood? Indeed, what is the purpose of life?
In this engaging and winsome book, Harriet Connor sets about discovering the meaning of parenthood from the ground up, looking first at who we are created to be under God.
It may be familiar territory for Christian readers - though they might not have thought through the implications specifically in terms of parenthood - but the beauty of this slim volume is that it invites reading by non-believers.
It is absolutely the sort of thing you could give to the other mums at your playgroup, or to the family on your street that you’ve invited to church. It makes no apologies for its Christian perspective, but it also makes no assumptions about how much of that a reader understands. Then it clearly and gently explains it.
But it is also a valuable tool for mature Christians who know their Bible. No matter what stage of parenting you’re at, it’s always necessary to step away for a moment, take a deep breath, and try to remember what really matters. If you’re anything like me, the urgent trumps the important almost every time, and I need as many reminders as possible to let God guide my relationship with my children. Otherwise, we simply get hijacked by the short-sighted values of the world.
I also need constant reminding that yes, I’m probably doing it wrong, but there is grace and forgiveness in Jesus.
Big Picture Parents is arranged around four main sections: Our Big Purpose (to rule creation, to honour our Maker, to love other people), Our Big Problem (sin and redemption), Our Big Values (back to our purpose again) and Our Big Family (a biblical view of family, and being part of God’s family).
Connor winds the big picture story of the Bible through each section. She draws wisdom from both the Old and New Testaments, and puts it to work in a modern family context.
While I believe Connor herself has little children, as a mother of (mostly) teenagers, I definitely didn’t feel left out. While there were a few moments when I thought, “Dang, too late!”, this is genuinely a book for all of us - even those without kids - because it is less a ‘how-to’ guide and more a reflection on biblical parenting.
Which is not to say it doesn’t spur the reader on from a practical point of view. I was especially challenged by the teaching on practising what we preach (part of the Our Big Values section), which draws out biblical ideas on modelling, training, handing over responsibility and allowing natural consequences. To give you something of the flavour of the book, here is an extract about the latter:
“We need to teach our children that if they hurt other children or snatch toys, no one will want to play with them. If they steal or tell lies, people won’t trust them. If they don’t honour God or other people, they will not experience the joy of living a life of purpose.
“As our children get older, the stakes get higher. Some older friends have recently made the heartbreaking decision to tell their eighteen-year-old son to find somewhere else to stay. They had warned him repeatedly that if he did not respect them and the rules of their house, he could not live with them anymore. They had sought help and support for him, but when he refused to take it, they had to let him experience the consequences of his choices. Now they are waiting in hope for the day when he chooses to repent and come home to their love and forgiveness.
“It can be hard to follow through with negative consequences because we have such a strong desire to protect our children from hurt and disappointment. However, it is vital to keep our sights on the bigger picture - we want to raise children who will take responsibility for themselves and their decisions when we are no longer around.” (p91)
Parenting can be something you plan for, long for, or just fall into. Whatever your situation, and as with every other activity under heaven, we need God’s word to shine on our thinking and our practice. Big Picture Parents will help you do that.
Harriet Connor, Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life
(Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2017).