Monday, August 6, 2018

Big Picture Parents

Big Picture Parents, Harriet Connor

When you read a parenting book, are you searching for answers to specific questions? Practical things like: what to do about toilet training or sleep time, how to get healthy food into my kids, how to tell them about sex, decide on education options or teach financial wisdom? Maybe you also search for faith-based help: how do I teach what I believe to my kids or how do I keep them wanting to live for Jesus as they get older?

There are lots of books out there that promise such things. Many are very helpful (see this link for a whole list including reviews), giving clear guidance, sage instructions and good options to try.

But, do you ever first stop and think, “Hold on, what’s driving this? Why should I care about this? Do I have a framework for parenting generally so I can apply the specifics in my setting?”

I think sadly, for most of us parents, we lurch from situation to situation, trying to find advice for the issue right now and we don’t sometimes stop, take a step back and analyse the situation in light of the bigger principles at stake.

Harriet Connor realised the same and she took a step back. She went to the bible, trying to find what wisdom God has for our parenting. In doing so, she has produced a book for all Christian parents that will help them think about the big picture of their parenting.

She has divided the book into four clear parts:

1. Our big purpose. Life is about more than seeking happiness and is rather about knowing and loving the Lord and serving him by loving others. So therefore, “parenting is not about helping my children to feel good, but to do the good that they were created to do”.

2. Our big problem. I really appreciated this section. While clearly explaining the reality of sin and how it affects all of life, her application for parents is that we need to accept our human limitations. We will get things wrong, we will make mistakes. She calls us to be a “good enough parent” – what a freedom and relief this term could be! Then applying this to our children, it helps us realise they are not, and never will be, perfect, and the world we live in is also marred by sin, so it will bring challenges and disappointment to our children. With a clear gospel focus she brings the reader back to the idea of God’s perfect fatherhood and how he brings us freedom from the problem of sin.

3. Our big values. What we need to do as parents is identify and be able to name our key values. Starting with love, she takes the reader through the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in a clear, insightful way that points us to the values God has for our families. Some of the values she drills down further into are: valuing grace, marriage, heavenly treasure, truth and God’s approval.

The details Connor goes into in this section will be particularly instructive for parents looking to identify and pass on their values, as she encourages us to model, teach, and train our children with wise general principles of allowing natural consequences, having clear boundaries and prioritising time with them. After all, they are “apprentices in need of training, rather than little consumers in need of entertaining”. She encourages parents to avoid things that undermine the family’s values, which will have application for financial decision, entertainment options and the like.

4. Our big family. Parents are encouraged to be united and in charge of the family, even while acknowledging certain circumstances can make this difficult. Strong marriage should be fostered as well as commitment to a larger church community. These chapters broaden the focus and are really a discussion of the extended Christian family in community, something that in our individualistic, nuclear family age some can forget to ensure is a priority.

Connor has written a clear thorough account of the principles of Christian parenting. She uses the bible extensively to provide a framework for the gospel of grace, and has then wisely applied it to family life in a way that is accessible, accurate and understandable. For many Christian parents who are familiar with their bibles, there is unlikely to be anything particularly new here, but the way is it presented opens your eyes again and challenges you to reassess your parenting priorities and the bigger things you are trying to aim for.

Her writing style will greatly appeal to those who value logic and order, with explanations of where she is going, summaries of where she has been, and chapter divisions that are logical and clear. It is readable and succinct with enough stories and illustrations to provide some extra food for thought along the way. Connor is Australian, so it reads well for our context and is unlikely to grate on readers the way that some authors from the US do. I know people who have given copies to unbelieving friends as well, as a good entry way into discussions about parenting from a Christian context.

It is openly ‘big picture’, so while there are some examples of how to apply the principles in specific situations, they are really concepts to consider. What she does is give parents the tools to craft their parenting vision to enable them to apply it in their context. As such, I think she has done a remarkable job of presenting a biblical framework for parenting that is an encouragement and a spur for parents, rather than a list of dos and don’ts. This also means it is applicable across the broad range and spectrum of parenting ages, stages and situations. Connor herself has quite young children, but the principles she espouses can be applied right up to the late teen years.

So, are you stuck in the mire of situational parenting? Come up for a breather. Make sure you can see the big forest amongst all the little trees you climb each day. Big Picture Parents will help you clarify why you are parenting, where you want to go on that journey, and will help you plan, in God’s wisdom and with his grace, how to get there.

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