Huldra Forsvant (Theodor Kittelsen)

Huldra Forsvant (Theodor Kittelsen)
Huldra Forsvant (Theodor Kittelsen)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Rant On Parenting Books

I was talking to E last night about parenting books. For some reason, I just really struggle with them, and they feel like a real chore to read. E read a few of them in the past, and I tried to read a few of them after her, but truth is, I find it very hard to get into them.

This makes me feel kind of guilty, because there's this niggling thought in my head that says 'if you really cared about your kids and about being a good parent, you'd be lapping this stuff up'. Sigh.

But I was trying to work out what it was that irked me so much, and I think very often it's because of the examples and illustrations used. It seems that so often with Christian parenting books, the examples of where things went badly are always about someone else, whereas the author then comes in with the answer of how to do things properly. Lists of all the ways people do things wrongly, and then the antidote and answer of how to do it properly. This kind of thing frustrates the heck out of me:

'I met Tim and Judy some years ago. Married for several years, with two young children, Tim and Judy loved their kids and were keen Christians. For the most part their house was a happy one, except when the kids didn't get their own way. When I was over at their house one day for lunch, I noticed the younger child hit the older child. On another occasion, I heard the elder boy swearing at his sister. I could see Tim and Judy didn't like this behaviour, but they seemed powerless to do anything about it. One day I pulled Tim aside, man to man, and reminded him of Ephesians 3, where it says...'

Now, that's a made up thing, but that could easily have come out of one of those books, and it just makes me not want to listen. Such and such had it wrong, I have the answers, and here's the story of how I showed them their error and helped them grow. I accept that the author is probably a specialist parenting dude or whatever, but to me it doesn't seem loving or helpful, but kind of surreptitiously boastful and proud.

I don't know, maybe I have a problem here, maybe I'm two sensitive and quick to jump down these authors' throats. Maybe the illustrations are even made up, as E suggested, so no ones' going to get hurt. But still, why do the examples have to be about someone else at all?

I think what struck me in reading Surprised By Joy was the way C.S. Lewis was so candid and honest, and self-deprecating, quick to admit his shortcomings and mistakes, and very reluctant to blow his own trumpet. Sure, it's an autobiography, so of course it's going to be about him, but still, the same rules apply, in my mind.

Parenting is such a tricky business, and there always going to be mistakes made, and differing opinions and lessons learned. There are no seven step plans that will work with every kid. So if you are going to write a book, why can't it be about your own mistakes and lessons learned, your own stories, your own realisations, told in a humble way, rather than presenting itself as the definitive answer? That would be a book I'd actually like to read, and one that would be encouraging rather than discouraging.

Anyway, that's the end of my rant. I feel better now.

17 comments:

Laetitia :-) said...

Do you want all the examples to be where the author has stuffed it up but then found a better way or would a mix of 'this happened to me' and 'this happened to a client / friend / family member' be ok? The author may have seen something in someone else's family that helped them to nip the same problem in the bud before it bloomed in their's - it may be that they want to share that insight so you don't have to go through the same struggle as their friends.

Ben McLaughlin said...

I just want more of a balance, so the swearing kids aren't always someone elses, and the praying kids aren't always the authors'.

Laetitia :-) said...

Ah, I see - fair enough.

Wendy said...

I'm with you Ben. My husband always says there seems to be a lack of grace in many Christian parenting books. You know, "Do this and this will result" and if you don't "do this" then you are a bad parent. Lots of guilt being handed around. I'm so with you on the honest sharing business. But even then, they usually only tell examples when what they did fixed the problem. What about when you do everything you can think of, and it doesn't fix the problem! Does that mean you're a bad parent. See, now you've got me raving!!!

Belle said...

I totally agree, and find the same thing with Christian books on marriage.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller is a non-parenting book that I found one of the most helpful reads on parenting! The book is full of lessons Miller has learned from his own life (family, work, etc.), humbly shared. I highly recommend it!

onlinesoph said...

Amen, Ben. I loathe parenting books. I've read one in my entire parenting life - Baby Love - and I think of of that as more of a reference book than a parenting book.

Laetitia, the problem I have with the scenario you mentioned is that every child is an individual. What works in one situation may not work in another. Now I have nothing against gaining advice from other parents - I often talk to friends with older kids about parenting - but the difference is there is a relationship, a context, a conversation. Books don't offer that. It's just a one size fits all approach, and if it doesn't work you end up feeling guilty and like the world's worst parent.

onlinesoph said...

Also, don't get me started on christian parenting books and articles! I once read a piece by someone about how children should be taught to stay quiet in church and experience the service, rather than be catered to at sunday school as it teaches them spiritual discipline, etc. What guilt-inducing rot. Whether my child can sit still at church (and I can assure you, he can't) has no bearing whatsoever on his spiritual growth. I really dislike how in a lot of christian parenting books, extroverted, willful and 'spirited' children are seen as 'badly behaved', whereas kids with a 'quieter' nature are deemed 'better behaved'. The best Christian parenting advice I've ever received is that we parent by grace - God's grace which he lavishes on us when we make mistakes, and His Spirit enabling us to be the kind of parents that reflect our heavenly Father.

Okay rant over!

Belle said...

Amen to your comment, too, onlinesoph! I have a spirited boy as well, and am still learning to embrace his energy rather than wish he could play happily on his seat during church like the "good" kids. Stupid books. *deep breath in...and out*

Sorry Ben, not completely related to your post but couldn't help myself...

Laetitia :-) said...

Sounds like most 'Christian' parenting books are on a par with most of the 'Christian woman' books that espouse that a Christian woman will do all the things in Prov. 31 without actually leaving the house (never mind working outside it or being in business) or having 'outside' assistance (both of which are diametrically opposite to the surface picture of that woman).

Wendy said...

For those of you struggling with spirited kids, I recommend this book (yes, the irony of making a parenting book recommendation here isn't lost on me!): Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It is not a Christian book, but she comes from the perspective that all kids have value, and that spirited kids are no less valuable, and in fact they will contribute to this world in a way that "good" kids will never be able to. The only thing missing in that perspective is that she doesn't say, "God made each one on purpose." She has fantastic practical suggestions on dealing with a range of challenging behaviours (that she relabels in positive ways).

From a formerly spirited kid, now a spirited adult!

Julie said...

Ah Ben, if only I had your insight and ability to see through it all 4 years ago (when I started reading parenting books!).

Instead, I have been through the trying new things, the guilt over them not working, the embarrassment of them not working in public, the worries that I am not doing "Christian parenting" right, the worries that there must be something wrong with my child... Now God is bringing me full circle to finally realise that sometimes my kids will look like the ones in the "bad" examples, and that doesn't mean we are doing it wrong. And, sometimes they look like the ones in the good examples, and that doesn't necessarily mean we are doing everything right either!

(Still, I must say, with my new ability to remove myself from treating the parenting book as though it were Scripture, I do enjoy reading parenting books and picking and choosing)

Ruth said...

Totally agreeing with you soph about kids in church!

I ocassionally read parenting books, inevitably get irritated by most of the content, as I'm not self controlled enough to take the 'appropriate' action in every parenting scenario.

I'm far from perfect in my parenting, and so very thankful to God for prayer!

Karen said...

Agree with your rant 100%...

Ben McLaughlin said...

I'm kind of happily surprised that so many of you agree with my crabby rant. I didn't really expect that.

simone r said...

I don't read them any more.

Life is much more complex.

Ben McLaughlin said...

I think the best approach, the one we are attempting to take, is that if you are going to read them, take out the helpful bits and take the rest with a grain of salt, rather than beating yourself up with guilt that your kids don't work according to a particular books' formula.

Stuart Heath said...

Funny. Reading the comments here has made me think that I should commission the writing of a good parenting book. I thought the space was saturated, but not with good stuff, it seems.