Book Review: Parenting in the Pew (Robbie Castleman)

Subtitled Guiding Your Children Into the Joy of Worship, this is quite a unique book.  First of all, it should be stated that Robbie Castleman is a mother of two boys, assistant professor of biblical studies at John Brown University (wherever that is), national director for the Religious and Theological Studies Fellowship with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, as well as husband of a minister.  So she has rather a full resume.

This book is very short and easy to read, and basically details Robbie’s suggestions on how to make church-going accessible for your children.  In Robbie’s ideal church, once a child is past the age of 4, they should be able to sit through the entire service with their parents on a regular basis.

This is quite a far cry from all the churches I’ve ever been in, where children can spend the majority of their Sundays up until they’re about age 12 in Sunday School. 

I won’t go into all Robbie’s methodologies for two reasons:  1)  You won’t have any reason to read the book.  And 2) some of her suggestions are more suited for a church with a more structured liturgy.  (As far as I can work out, she is Presbyterian, but exactly what branch of Presbyterian in America I’m not sure). 

But this is an encouraging book, if only for the huge burden of authentic worship that it lays on us as adults.  Do we get enthusiastic about the content of songs?  Do we pay close attention to what we’re learning in sermons so that we can be edified?  Do we prepare our minds to come into God’s presence?  How seriously do we take communion/baptism?

In fact, I can guarantee that if you read this book (whether you have children or not), you will be convicted of your own approach to worshipping in church.  Robbie’s enthusiasm and fervour for coming before the presence of God is infectious, and it has certainly made me want to rethink my approach to church in 2008.

4 1/2 out of 5.

Book Review: Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours (Kevin Leman)

Now, this book actually is from a Christian perspective, so there is actually references to the Bible here.  But we run into another problem with Christian parenting books – there’s not actually heaps and heaps to go on in the Bible about the ins and outs of child-rearing.

There is certainly the injunction for parents to train up their children in the ways of the Lord.  There is the double command in Ephesians 6:1-4 for children to obey their parents and parents not to exasperate their children.  But what exactly does this mean?  I’ve heard children obeying their parents defined to an extent where if you’re in a church and the youth group leader comes up and asks your child whether they would like to come to youth group that they’re undercutting the parents’ authority by not asking them. 

So how do you work out to what extent the parents’ control extends?  This, I think, is the issue.  As far as children are concerned, I think the Bible is pretty clear – they’re to obey their parents in all things, as long as it’s not displeasing to God.  So, whether the parents are being completely controlling or not, the child is to obey.

So how do we avoid domineering parenting?  The onus is on the parent to make sure they discipline and lead in a fair way.  But, the Bible doesn’t seem to have an awful lot to say about exactly what that covers.  Parents are to lead their children into obedience to God, but whether that means that you make every decision for them is not something I’m completely sure about.

All of which brings us to Kevin Leman. Kevin is a Christian and a psychologist (apparently you can be both) and, like Williams Sears, has made quite a name for himself.  So, in tone and style, this book is fairly mainstream and popular.

For that reason, one of the glaring weaknesses of the book is that there’s not an awful lot about spiritual leadership of your children.  (For instance, it would be great to hear more about how to lead devotions with your children, approach to getting them interested in church and Christian things, etc.)  He also seems to be more concerned with raising children who are good people, balanced, etc. rather than disciples of Jesus.

However, given that it’s difficult (as I said above) to draw hard and fast principles for all aspects of parenting (other than that we’re to lead our children into loving and obeying Christ), this book is actually worth a read.  Kevin’s main thesis is what he calls reality discipline.  Quite simply, this means letting your children understand reality as a disciplinary measure.

So, if your child doesn’t want to eat food, rather than a, “You eat that food because I told you to”, Kevin simply suggests that you throw the child’s food away and let them go hungry.  The idea is that the child can understand the reality that it’s better to eat the food you’re given, rather than have no food at all.  After all, when they’re grown up, they’re going to have to eat what they’re given or go hungry.

If your teenager spends all their pocket money on candy and wants more, rather than give them a lecture on why they’re wasting their money, just tell them that there’s no more money until the next allowance day, and let them work out themselves the reality that if I spend all my money, I can’t buy other things.

Obviously, the worry with all of this is that, is this really teaching children to obey their parents?  Or is this just playing strange mindgames with them?  I don’t think this is what Kevin is saying, and certainly, there are issues where he believes the parents’ word goes, no arguments.

But sometimes, he suggests, it is better to let the child have a dose of reality rather than just a dose of parents’ wrath.  So they learn that their actions have consequences – not just an angry parent, but consequences in real life.

It sounds like a pretty good way of building wisdom in your children, but the only problem is it’s a bit hard to know exactly how to apply it in all areas of child-rearing.  This book isn’t as comprehensive as the Sears book and may leave you with questions.  However, it does have some sound ideas, and there’s also some very helpful information on divorce, stepfamilies and other such modern-day realities.

4 out of 5.

Book Review: The Discipline Book (William Sears)

The Discipline BookIf you haven’t heard of William Sears, we can safely assume that a) you don’t have any children and b) you don’t read any books on children.  For everyone else, his name is practically set in concrete in the child-rearing world.  Bill is a pediatrician and his wife, Martha, is a nurse, and together they’ve both parented eight (I think?) of their own children. 

This always makes them fascinating reading, because they’re able to approach issues from a medical/developmental point of view and a hands-on “we’ve-tried-it-too” point of view as parents themselves.  They’re also Christians, but the majority of their books (including this one) are written for a secular audience and by secular publishers, so they don’t refer very much to their faith in this book.

For that reason, you will find that this book doesn’t help with the spiritual side of raising children, and the type of goals that the Sears are aiming you towards are the more vague goals of raising “responsible adults” and having kids “that feel right”, etc.

Also, as per the previous post, you will respond more or less favourably to this book based on your own attitudes towards children and discipline. The Sears are strong proponents of “attachment parenting” which, to sum it up very briefly, involves making sure that you spend lots and lots of time with your children during the first two years of life.  This includes wearing them in slings, letting them sleep in your bed, cuddling them whenever they want a cuddle, breastfeeding them whenever they’re hungry, etc.

It is the Sears’ belief that if you do this, you will have developed such a strong attachment (thus the name) between parent and child that you will be on a much stronger footing when it comes to enforcing discipline.

Now some people take this to mean that the Sears are promoting letting their children run your life and making the world revolve around them.  To a degree this is true (certainly, relative to putting your child in a corner and only feeding them at set times during the day, etc., attachment parenting is quite child-centric).  So if that rings alarm bells with you, you’re probably not going to like it.

However, it seems to me that no marriage would survive if you only showed love to your spouse on a scheduled, mechanical basis.  If your spouse needs you, you respond to her/him.  So why would you treat your children any differently?  You do have to take into account their immaturity, and the Searses certainly do, but their is no good reason to treat a child any less than you would your spouse.

All that out of the way, if you can buy into the attachment parenting approach, this book is amazingly comprehensive.  Covering everything from toilet training to tantrum throwing to helping them share their toys, this book has it all.  Also, none of it is written in an abstract theoretical style.  Bill and Martha have seen most situations with their own kids, so they’re writing about things that they have seen work for them.  (Which is where the age thing comes in.  Being only young, with one toddler daughter, I haven’t seen all this for myself and have to take the Searses word for it.)

Given the proviso about the lack of a spiritual dimension, and whatever qualms you may have about attachment parenting (I don’t have that many myself), I quite like this book.  The Searses approach is calm, and everything they say about the development of a child seems quite sound to me.

I  don’t know that I’d push this book on everyone, because it is quite distinctly in a certain camp about child-rearing, but it’s certainly worth considering.

Should also mention (because let’s face it, for most of us discipline = spanking) that the Searses are anti-spanking, and I’m still not sure what I make of that myself.  I’d like to be able to say more about it, but I’m still thinking that one through.

So for now, I’ll give this book a 4 1/2 out of 5 for what it is, but recommend that you supplement this book with others from a Christian perspective.

Further Thoughts on Parenting Books

Well, I am almost finished the five books I was talking about, but before I post individual reviews, I thought it would be sensible to mention some thoughts about parenting books in general that should be kept in mind while reading these books (or any other parenting books for that matter).

It seems to me that how you respond to a particular book or methodology of parenting is going to be determined by several factors. Perhaps it would be most helpful to refer to them as presuppositions.  Whatever you call them, it is my theory that we all view parenting books or methods through a variety of lenses.

The reason I say this is because if you only have to talk with a few different people (especially in Christian circles) and the fervour with which people hold to methods of parenting is quite astonishing.  Even more astonishing is that these styles of parenting can be poles apart, too.

Here’s what seems to be the things you need to notice:

 1. Your Age.  Perhaps I shouldn’t call this age so much as just how much life experience you have with children.  If you’re like me, you’ve had about a year and a half with one child.  Other people have had 25 years of experience and five children.  Why does this make a difference?  The reason it makes a difference is that when you’re in my position, you have no practical hands-on experience of testing these ideas.  It’s even worse before you have any kids.  So you can’t say, “Yes, if I follow that, my child will turn out like that.”  You can decide whether you trust the author or not of a particular book, but you don’t know what will happen.  However, if you have age on your side, you can say, “Ah yes, that’s what worked for me.” Or “I can see now that if I’d only done that with my second son, I wouldn’t have had so much grief.” Etc.

2. Perception of Children.  Everybody has varying views on children.  On one extreme is people whose lives revolve around their children – on the other extreme are people who hate children and never want to have any.  But you will fall somewhere on this spectrum.  If you’re really enthusiastic about children, I believe you will gravitate more towards styles of parenting (such as attachment parenting) that really encourage you to have a close bond with your children.  If, however, you perceive children as somewhat of an added burden to your life, then my guess is that you will gravitate more towards strong disciplinary methods that promise to keep your children in order so that they won’t interfere too much with your life.

3. Goal of child-rearing.  This is especially important to think through as a Christian.  What is the goal of rearing your child?  It’s important to think this through, because it will impact the decisions you make.  For some people, the goal is have “happy” children.  For others, the goal is to raise “responsible members of society”.  For others, the goal is simply to have children who are seen and not heard and don’t impinge on their life too much.  For others, their is no goal, and whatever happens, happens.

4. Clones or Flowers.  It’s a bit unfair labelling this point as “clones or flowers” because nobody ever falls into exactly either extreme, but for some parents the goal is to raise children who are exactly similar to them (at least in the good points) – to create “clones”, in other words.  For other parents, they believe that their children are like flower seeds without the labels.  You nurture them and look after them, but you don’t really know what type of “flower” they’re going to become.  The goal is to raise the child to be the individual that he or she is destined to become.

This distinction is important because if you’re more of a cloning type parent, you will probably not only be wanting your child to adopt your moral and religious beliefs, you may well be pushing in other areas as well.  (“I’m good at football, so therefore I want my child to be good at football.”)  I believe that these type of parents will want a more strong-handed approach to parenting, because they will be controlling not just their children’s behaviour, but also their interests, hobbies, education, etc.

For those parents who are trying to grow flowers, while they will still have a concern with passing on morals and religion, things such as hobbies, preferences, personality style, etc. they’ll probably leave up to the child.  They’ll tend to go for more laid-back parenting styles that vary themselves according to the child’s temperament.

So, the question is, which are you?  Seeing as it’s a bit unfair of me to dish out all these descriptions without playing my own hand, here are my own thoughts:

1.  My Age.  Obviously, being 29, with only one toddler daughter, I must say that with the following three points, this is my thinking at the moment.  I’m quite aware that things I try may not be appropriate and turn out to be wrong.  But if you don’t try things, you’ll never know.  I’m praying that God will grant me the grace to try things and get them wrong without too much disaster in the family.  So perhaps it would be worth asking me about parenting in 10 years’ time.

2.  Perception of children.  The Bible says, and I agree completely, that children are a blessing to their parents.  While I’m not prepared to jump on the bandwagon of “Well, let’s just have heaps and heaps of them because they’re blessings and it’s evil not to”, I don’t really believe there’s any Biblical basis for putting career and comfort concerns ahead of having children. 

When it comes to my own daughter, I love her dearly, and I don’t wish to use a parenting style that makes her into a robot slave of mine.  She is a distinct person (albeit one that is immature and needs a lot of guidance) and she is under my authority (parenting is the managing training school for all of us), but that doesn’t mean that I treat her as second class.  No employer in today’s day and age could hold onto staff very long if he used a “my way or the highway” attitude, and I don’t believe parents should either. 

3. Goal of child-rearing.  My goal, ultimately, is to raise my children to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. While I’d also love to turn them into raving classical music fans, extremely well-read theologians, and fellow movie buffs, this is not what it’s all about.  At the end of the day, I believe my responsibility to God is to raise up servants for the Kingdom and teach them obedience to God.  As to exactly where and how they serve in that Kingdom, that I’ll have to wait and find out.  (But I’m also aware that I will provide a lot of guidance to them as my children work that out.)

4.  Flower-grower.  I’m also a flower-grower.  Granted, that is less of a Biblical thing and more because it seems that’s how the Western world is structured.  If it was 300 years ago, and I was a miller, I would have just raised my sons to be millers and my daughters to be millers’ wives.  But today, in our rapidly expanding society, there are all manner of areas that my children will be able to get involved in God’s work in society, and I would be foolish to try to herd them into just the narrow corner of my own interests.  So, who knows what they will become?

Anyway, with all that out of the way, I will post the book reviews soon.

Holiday Project: Books on Parenting

Hi all,

Seeing as I’m on holidays till New Years Day in the glorious Atherton Tablelands (seriously, you should come up here sometime!), I’ve set myself the holiday project of reading five books on parenting.

Well, actually, they’re not strictly all on parenting in general.  The pile consists of (along with accompanying reason for reading:

The Discipline Book by William & Martha Sears, which deals with the issue of discipline particularly.  Reason for Reading:  Now that I’m the parent of a toddler (who I can actually hear screaming in the background, actually . . .), I’ve noticed that she’s starting to get a mind of her own, and a stronger temperament. With a range of parenting techniques out there, all claiming to be gospel, I’m interested in understanding what people are saying.  Dr Sears is widely loved by many people in the “attachment parenting” circles (you can Google that if you don’t know what it is), and is certainly not a voice to be ignored when it comes to parenting.  He’s pretty upfront that he’s not in favour of spanking, etc., which I’m not sure that I agree with – but you can’t just complain if you haven’t read the book.  So that’s why that’s on the list.

How to Make your Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman, which is pretty much the same thing. Reason for Reading:  Same as above.  Leman’s another popular psychologist author, but he’s coming from a more distinctively Christian point of view – and he was on Rachel’s shelf, so I thought I might as well add him to the mix.

Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel, which is also on a similar subject, but probably a bit broader. Reasons for Reading:  As the spanking crowd has grown bigger (and more controversial – try googling “Michael Pearl”), recently a new movement has been arising called “grace based parenting” (or something similar) claiming to be getting parenting back to basing it around grace, not punishment or legalism.  Again, you can’t pass judgement if you haven’t read it, so that’s what I’m doing.

Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman, which is specifically dealing with how to introduce your children to church, what to do with them when they’re there, etc. Reasons for Reading:  One of the big issues that I’m wrestling with in my own mind is the idea of children and Sunday School.  When I grew up, we were one of the few families whose children didn’t get sent to Sunday School.  We were made to stay in the service.  I like to think that’s a really great idea for getting kids used to church, but I don’t want to just follow down that path because that’s what I experienced.  So I’m reading a book about it as well.

And, finally, The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, which claims to offer gentle ways to help your baby sleep through the night without having to make them cry themselves to sleep. Reason for Reading:  Shelby, on the whole is pretty good at sleeping through most of the night, but she does tend to wake up once or twice an evening.  We’re coping pretty well – but, hey, doesn’t every parent like to think that if they could fine tune their child’s sleeping down to a solid unbroken night’s sleep that it’d be perfect?  I’ve never really been sold on the idea of letting your kid cry themselves to sleep.  While I know it was the done thing in the middle part of the 20th century, it also seems to me that the connection between parents and children was so bad, that it was one of the contributing factors of the whole 60s revolution mentality that saw adults giving the flick to everything that was dear to their parents – including church, classical music (actually, all their music, really), clothing styles, etc. 

. . . Sorry, back to sleep . . . So, anyway, I already know what the people who talk about letting your baby cry itself to sleep say.  So I just want to hear a second opinion.

And on that note, I’m going to sign off and get back to reading.