I'm not a parent so I cannot write a review of a parenting book from experience. Nonetheless, I do have some observations about this book. This is a critical review so is a long one.
Ellen starts out by declaring that she thinks many of the parenting experts have gotten it wrong when it comes to discipline. They fail to communicate about discipleship and fail to help parents know how to teach their kids to desire right and know the love God has for them. That's what this book is about.
She identifies four pillars the authors look at with each topic. Discipleship not discipline: disciple kids' hearts to want to behave, let the Bible be your guide. Desire, not obedience: teach kid's to desire what is right, do not demand thoughtless obedience. Connection, not control: show them you care. Growth, not assistance: let kids solve their own problems. The authors explore a number of topics using those four pillars.
There is a great deal I liked in this book. I like how the authors remind parents that every little behavior is about a whole lot more, revealing inner character. I like how they remind parents the necessity of prayer and being led by God. Parents are to look at each situation as an opportunity to speak to their child's heart. I like that they emphasize parenting by example.
But there were also a few things that bothered me. One was mixed messages. On the chapter Drifting Apart, Ellen writes: “We have to make our relationship with our preteens and teens less about what they do – their clothes, their performance at the soccer game, their decisions to wear all black – and more about who they are.” I would think that what kids do and wear on the outside is an indication of who they are on the inside and that parents should pay attention to their children's actions. This is one of the mixed messages from the authors because in the chapter Free to Be Modest, Ellen writes: “...you have to intentionally work to get to know the reasons behind her clothing choices. Make it your aim to find out … the reasons behind her clothing choices.” So which is it, we don't have concern about what our kids wear or we do?
Another mixed message is about the inner character of a child. The authors fail to recognize the effects of the Fall in many places. In a letter to a concerned parent, we read, “I honestly believe that kids like James and Will aren't inherently mean or destructive or even disobedient at heart.” I disagree, especially if the child is not saved. We know from Scripture that the heart is deceitful. But then, in the chapter about conflicts, “We have to overcome our natural bent to handle things in an unhealthy way.” Here it seems the authors do recognize the natural bent in the unsaved to sin. So which is it? Are children not inherently bent to sin or are they?
Much of the authors' philosophy of parenting relies on the child's ability to make wise choices. They suggest lots of talking with the child, perhaps so they can choose future behavior or rethink bad behavior. This would only work for older children, ones who have the ability to reason way beyond immediate feelings and desires. I have no idea how the authors' techniques could work with young children. Also, I think we need to remember that the Bible tells us the heart is deceitful. I can just see a young teen figuring out that he can avoid punishment by being willing to talk about his behavior, promising better behavior in the future.
Unfortunately, the theology in the book is fuzzy. In the chapter about faith, they write about knowing who Jesus is and what he's done. We are told that knowledge is followed by passions and a desire to be intimate with God. There was never a clear message about salvation and the transformation that occurs in a child's spirit. There is never a reminder to talk with your child about saving faith or leading them to accept Jesus as their Savior.
There are some techniques that bother me as well. They use aversion tactics. When writing about outbursts of anger, we are told, “give your kid something else to do – something helpful – at that moment when the spark flares...” Is that truly helping the child deal with the anger and its cause? Here is another suggestion I find unsatisfactory. “So the key for when your kids are ungrateful is this: simply ignore it. Shrug.” Walk away and take treats and special stuff with you. Is that using the occasion as a teaching opportunity? And in the chapter about bullying, Erin says she was taught by her mother to say with a dull voice, “I don't care about that anyway.” She was told that no matter how much she cared, she was not to show any emotion to the bully. I think that is setting up a child for hiding emotions and hurt.
I do recommend this book but with reservations. It is a good one for parents who want to be intentional in their parenting. The authors provide many examples of parenting moments and how their techniques work. They even provide some examples of bad parenting moments and the lessons one can learn from them. I would suggest readers seriously think through the suggestions given. There are many good ideas in this book but some I do think need further evaluating before using.
My rating: 3/5 stars.
Erin MacPherson is the author of The Christian Mama's Guide series, the Hot Mama series, and Free to Parent. She cohosts the popular So Here's the Thing podcast with Kathi Lipp, speaks at MOPS, appears on various radio shows and podcasts, and writes for magazines and publications. She and her husband are the parents of three young kids. You can find out more at www.ChristianMamasGuide.com and www.erinmacpherson.com.
Ellen Schuknecht is the author of Free to Parent and the forthcoming A Spiritual Heritage. She and her husband live in Austin, Texas, near their three adult children and their spouses, and their eleven grandchildren. After spending more than forty years in education as a teacher, counselor, and school administrator, she currently serves as the Family Ministries Director at Veritas Academy. You can find out more at www.familywings.org.
Faith Words, 240 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.