Archives For Parenting

 

Simple Lessons from Small Talk

 

Why young mothers should read Amy Julia Becker’s newest book

by Jen Pollock Michel

 

Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most
Amy Julia Becker
Paperback: Zondervan, 2014

 
 
She kept a list. She wrote reminders. Something to ask. A story to tell. An opinion to solicit. My friend’s list was our only real hope for sustaining thought in the sitcom quality of life during the years when our children were young. We suffered the constancy of commercial breaks: to change a diaper, to zip up a jacket, to retrieve Buzz Lightyear who’d been mercilessly thrown into the toilet. To think that our friendship survived the bleary-eyed years of that episodic sanity, when we were cycling and recycling through the states of pregnancy and nursing and potty-training is a testament to the great mercy of God.

 

I’ve almost forgotten how harried those days actually were. My friend’s list of conversational prompts remind me, however, that it was once an Olympic feat to finish a sentence, much less see to the cohesion and conclusion of a conversation. I can take for granted the long stretches of quiet I now have to myself to write and study in the middle of the day when the children (all five of them!) are off to school. I even make uninterrupted phone calls.

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Working Alongside Christ All the Way

A Feature Review of

Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting

Rachel Gerber

Paperback: Herald Press, 2014
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Ellen Painter Dollar.

 

I belonged to a church of overcommitted world-changers when I first realized that God was calling me to have a baby, or as it turned out, several babies. God, it seems, was calling my fellow church members to start medical clinics and supportive housing for Washington, D.C.’s homeless population, or to give up comfortable suburban lives and move their families to violence-ridden urban neighborhoods. And here I was, called to wipe noses and bottoms, launder tiny outfits stained by blow-outs and spit-up, and figure out how to get adequate plant-based foods into growing bodies. This did not seem right, and I struggled for many years to understand how God might be present, and how I might connect with God, while caring for small children instead of doing Big Things for Jesus.

 

Rachel Gerber’s Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting is a gentle invitation to mothers like me—firm in our faith but unsure how to nurture that faith while navigating the tedious, exhausting terrain of life with little ones—to notice and celebrate “the sacred mundane.” Her most natural audience is parents in progressive Christian traditions (Gerber is an ordained Mennonite pastor) that, like my D.C.-based church, more readily celebrate outward justice-oriented and pastoral work than domestic duties. Her message may also appeal to mothers in more conservative traditions, where a perception of motherhood as a woman’s highest calling can make it hard for women to confess that their days are more marked by fatigue, boredom, and even rage than joy and spiritual fulfillment.

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Consistent Presence and Attentiveness
 
 A Review of

The Whole Brain Child:
12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. / Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

Paperback: Bantam Books, 2012
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Jared Boyd.

 

Reading a book on parenting can be a bit overwhelming. Everyone seems to have the best idea and theory for raising happy and healthy children. One can come to parenthood perhaps feeling confident that one has the tools and abilities to nurture young lives, only to find that within a few years, and after a few children, one can quickly be reduced to tears and a wash of hopelessness. If this sounds a bit dour, and maybe all-too-familiar, The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson fills the large, empty spot on the parenting bookshelf—the empty spot that has been waiting for a truly helpful parenting book.  This book is concise and concrete. It answers a lot of questions about child development without losing the reader in unnecessary details.
 
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A Review of

Children’s Nature:
The Rise of the American Summer Camp.

Leslie Paris.
Hardback: NYU Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Enstad.

I, more or less, grew up at a church camp. Starting in third grade you could find me up on the North Shore of Lake Superior at the church camp my congregation had the foresight to organize and build in the 1950’s. By the time I began attending “our” camp it was already well-established with cabins, a lodge, a chapel, and traditions going back decades. Every camper knew that the “biffies” stunk; but some stunk more than others. We knew that the “cool” kids figured out how to sneak out at night to meet a camper of the opposite sex at “the Rock” presumably to sit together scared of being discovered but, of course, the stories became embellished by morning. There were ghost stories and disappearing camper stories. Underneath it all we developed a deeper relationship with each other and, through twice-a-day chapel and daily Bible study, with God. I was the second generation of my family to attend that camp and it is amazing to know that there are third, fourth, and fifth generation campers up there as I write this.

It’s hard for me to imagine that as early as the late nineteenth century there was no such thing as children with leisure time. With the rise of urban life on the East coast came a desire to hold on to the pioneering, outdoor spirit of the recent American past. In Children’s Nature: the Rise of the American Summer Camp, Leslie Paris, Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, has written a part-historical, part-anthropological study of this phenomenon. In doing so, Dr. Paris gives great insight into how summer camping became such an important part of so many people’s lives and, indeed, American culture itself.

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6481X: Parenting Beyond Your Capacity A Review of

Parenting Beyond Your Capacity: Connecting Your Family to A Wider Community

By Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof.
Paperback: David C. Cook, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Here at Englewood Christian Church, we believe that in a very real sense our church community is a family that God has brought together.  My wife and I have experienced this sense of family perhaps more intensely than some others here, as both of our extended families live hours away.  Thus, you can easily imagine that I was intrigued when I heard of the new book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity: Connect Your Family to a Wider Community by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof.   And indeed, the book did not disappoint, pointing us very clearly in the direction of the church community as a caring family, or to state the book’s main idea in the authors’ own words: “A parent’s influence is best realized in partnership with the church.”  After framing the shape of their argument in the book’s first chapter, the authors begin with a critique of the “Stock Family Syndrome,” the notion from which so many Christians work (and that is propagated throughout the evangelical sub-culture by certain family-oriented organizations) that there exists a sort of platonic ideal of a family.  No, the authors argue, no such ideal exists, and although we’ve all too often excelled at putting on a façade of success, all families are broken.  Furthermore, they make the keen observation that seemingly “God is more interested in using broken people than … in creating a better picture.”  This observation is refreshingly indicative of the narrative approach to theology from which the authors are working throughout the book: viz., God is at work redeeming creation and has called a people to join in that work.

Overall, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity offers simple, straightforward and practical advice on how we can begin to bear witness in our relationships with those in our local church community to the Kingdom reality of the family of God, which God is at work bringing to fruition.  Chapters focus on such topics as “widening the circle (of family relationships,” “imaging the end / [focusing on what matters most],” communicating in caring and edifying ways, “creating a rhythm [for family life that reflects] these new values,” and learning to embody genuinely the values that we wish to pass on to our children.  However, although the simplicity of this book is one of its greatest assets, it is also one of its primary shortcomings.  The authors never seem to develop a full and compelling theological account of how family and church community fit into the “big story” of God’s work of reconciling creation (In this regard, I highly recommend Rodney Clapp’s excellent book Families at the Crossroads).  Thus, at times they seemingly fall back into “old patterns” of arguing from what is best for an individual or a family (versus what is best for the common good of creation).

However, for its intended, evangelical audience, this book provides much fuel for the mind and the imagination, calling us to rethink the nature of the relationships that we have in the home and in the church, in light of the story of God’s reconciling work in the world.  This call to go beyond ourselves, and the authors’ insistence that this call should be explored primarily within the local church community, is one of which we all need to be reminded.  One can hope that this message begins to be heard in churches all over North America and that in being heard, it begins to bear fruit in transforming us more fully into the Body of Christ, that is the family of God.

 

320364: Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet A Brief Review of

Green Mama:
The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet

By Tracey Bianchi
Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith.

It’s hardly a secret that evangelical Christians have arrived late to eco-awareness and environmental protection.   Thankfully, more and more of us have embraced care of creation as part of our God-given responsibility; a way to work, quite literally, for the Kingdom of God.  In her book Green Mama, Tracey Bianchi offers multiple ways to incorporate better care of the environment into our everyday lives.  She supports her information with solid research and softens the fear with compassion and understanding for those who might not be ready to make big steps, yet.

Bianchi, herself a mother of 3 young children, understands some of these facts and some of the research she writes about can become overwhelming.  She encourages the reader to avoid compassion fatigue, both in oneself and in thrusting it upon our children.

Bianchi addresses a wide range of topics, from teaching one’s children to simply love the earth by learning about local animals and habitats to ways in which less chemical-laden products can be used to clean our homes.  She isn’t naïve, she knows all these things may be super overwhelming for the newly convicted, and she repeated advises the reader to pick just one or two things to change at a time, in order to avoid giving up. At the end of each chapter, Bianchi suggests some ways to evaluate your current choices and then make minor changes (e.g., shorter showers, reusable water bottles, reading labels thoroughly, buying more organic produce).

Bianchi offers many way to further your own research, through other books as well as online resources.  Each chapter includes multiple additional resources (websites and books).  Her “Green Mama Guide” at the back of the book is an additional easy way to find out more information.

Overall, Green Mama is an invaluable resource for people beginning to explore how to take seriously God’s command to care for creation.  It would also work well as a check point for people who may have gotten bogged down on the journey.

 

“A Sabbath-infused Way of Life
for Families”

A Review of
The Idle Parent:
Why Laid-Back Parents Raise
Happier and Healthier Kids
.
By Tom Hodgkinson.

Reviewed by
Chris Smith.

The Idle Parent:
Why Laid-Back Parents Raise
Happier and Healthier Kids
.
Tom Hodgkinson.

Paperback: Tarcher, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE IDLE PARENT - Tom HodgkinsonI’ll admit that I was a little skeptical when I first heard about Tom Hodgkinson’s newest book, The Idle Parent.  I have appreciated Hodgkinson’s work in previous books (e.g., How to be Idle and The Freedom Manifesto) and will occasionally read The Idler, the magazine for which he is the editor, but the idea of idle parenting didn’t sit well with me at first, as I have seen far too many self-absorbed, idle parents here in this urban neighborhood who don’t care at all where their kids are or what they are doing.  However, by the time I had wandered leisurely through the pages of this new book Hodgkinson had won me over.

The roots of this philosophy of idle parenting lie not with any of the familiar parenting gurus of the hour, but with noted enlightenment philosophers Locke and Rousseau (though Hodgkinson is quick to note his points of disagreement).  Freedom lies at the heart of Hodgkinson’s approach – freedom from the oppressive forces of television, toys, school and other cultural expectations – and indeed one gets the sense, though Hodgkinson himself wouldn’t likely use this sort of language, of what a sabbath-infused way of life might look like for families.  In a world where the struggle against the oppressive powers of greed, isolation and consumption too often grinds us down, Hodgkinson suggests a life of joy that is marked by virtues that resonate with Christian tradition: simplicity, rest and community.  Many readers might prejudge this book, as I admittedly did, as driven more by the vice of sloth than by any virtue, but what Hodgkinson is advocating here is not complete apathy, but rather freedom from over-parenting.  Consider, for instance, his take on family routines:

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A Brief Review of

Equally Shared Parenting:
Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents
.
Marc and Amy Vachon.

Hardback: Perigee, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger Smith.

In Equally Shared Parenting, Marc and Amy Vachon, layout plans, ideas, and encouragement for parents desiring to make their lives (not just parenting duties) as balanced as possible. The book title is a bit of a misnomer because it contains little actual parenting advice, but is solely concerned with the “Equally Sharing” part.

The philosophy (which the authors unfortunately abbreviate ESP) isn’t about turning traditional gender roles on their head — it’s about balancing equally all the elements of partnership and raising children.  The authors define these as: child-raising, bread-winning, housework and time for self.  Additionally “equally shared parenting aims to create an equal partnership between parents and an individually balanced life for each.”

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The ORION magazine review of
A NATURAL SENSE OF WONDER:
CONNECTING KIDS WITH NATURE THROUGH THE SEASONS
by Rick Van Noy

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/review/4269/

RULE NUMBER SEVEN in our shaggy tiny house crammed with three lanky children: one hour of screen time per day, you choose the screens. Rule Number Eleven: yes, you can vanish all weekend on your bike whipping through the woods with your buddies, and yes, you can putter around in the creeklet all you want, and yes, you can wander along the riverbank looking for minks and money, just be home by dark.

 

And yes, there is daily wailing and gnashing of teeth about the television/ video/computer rule, but the queen of the house agrees wholeheartedly with Rick Van Noy, who says that any natural setting is better than the “flickering waves of TV and the electrifying boing of video games.” So out into the unkempt yard go the children, and to the creek, and to the river, and to the vacant lot by Mrs. Walsh’s house, which isn’t vacant at all, of course.

 

The greatest virtue of Van Noy’s lean and thoughtful book isn’t his thesis, now proved by oceans of evidence about increased obesity and decreased attention spans, or even his graceful and penetrating prose; it’s the witty ways he draws his two children and their friends outside, away from the electric drug—taking the long way to school, poking headlong into every vacant lot, building a treehouse, wandering off on birding adventures, hiking with other families, so that the day isn’t a Boring Family Outing but motley play, skating, wading in creeks, salamandering, poking in tide pools, running around in the dark chasing lightning bugs, and, well, just puttering around with open eyes and ears.

Read the full review:
http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/review/4269/

A NATURAL SENSE OF WONDER:
CONNECTING KIDS WITH NATURE THROUGH THE SEASONS
Rick Van Noy.

Paperback: U of GA Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $14 ]  [ Amazon ]


THE NY REVIEW OF BOOKS reviews several
recent books on George Orwell.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22414


Orwell believed in 1936 that “the combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.” That “never” was a risky call. And on a larger scale, he believed throughout World War II that peace would bring the British revolution he desired, with blood in the gutters and the “red militias…billetted in the Ritz,” as he put it in private diary and public essay. And after the revolution:

The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten….

One out of four on the vision thing; and tractors were hardly a difficult pick.

 

Against such a background, it would be rash to try to predict the continuing afterlife of Orwell’s work. Many of his phrases and mental tropes have already sunk into the conscious and unconscious mind, and we carry them with us as we carry Freudian tropes, whether or not we have read Freud. Some of those English couch potatoes watch programs called Big Brother and Room 101. And if we allow ourselves to hope for a future in which all Orwell’s warnings have been successfully heeded, and in which Animal Farm has become as archaic a text as Rasselas, the world will have to work its way through a lot of dictators and repressive systems first. In Burma there is a joke that Orwell wrote not just a single novel about the country, but a trilogy: Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 

Orwell shared with Dickens a hatred of tyranny, and in his essay on the Victorian novelist distinguished two types of revolutionary. There are on the one hand the change-of-heart people, who believe that if you change human nature, all the problems of society will fall away; and, on the other, the social engineers, who believe that once you fix society—make it fairer, more democratic, less divided—then the problems of human nature will fall away. These two approaches “appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time.” Dickens was a change-of-heart man, Orwell a systems-and-structures man, not least because—as these essays confirm—he thought human beings recidivist, and beyond mere self-help. “The central problem—how to prevent power from being abused—remains unsolved.” And until then, it is safe to predict that Orwell will remain a living writer.

Read the full review:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22414

All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays.
George Orwell.
Hardcover: Harcourt, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]


A Review of A History of the American Peace Movement
from Colonial Times to the Present.


http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=24095

‘A History of the American Peace Movement from Colonial Times to the Present’ is a remarkable achievement, surveying the entire history of pacifist organizations and leaders in the United States from the beginning of its history to 2006. Moving chronologically from the original peacemakers of the country (Native Americans) through the religious pacifists of the colonial period to the religious and secular non-violent activists for peace and justice in the nineteenth century, to the myriad of peace and justice initiatives of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Howlett and Lieberman provide us with a comprehensive textbook history of the most important people, organizations, and ideas of American peace history. It should be required reading for any student interested in researching any aspect of peace history in the U.S., as it will place any specific peace worker or institution within its broader historical perspective. Indeed, it should be required reading for any specialist in American history because it fills in gaps usually left by history textbooks which focus primarily on wars and violent events, and usually pay little attention to peace movements. It effectively demonstrates how peace movements have always existed in American history, always opposed militarists and those who advocate violence, and effectively pressured for peace and justice at home and abroad. It also clearly shows the important role that non-violent activists for peace and justice have played throughout American history, not only in ending wars and offering peaceful resolutions to conflict, but also in supporting justice movements, such as the women’s rights, workers’ rights, and African-American civil rights movements.

Read the full review:
http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=24095

A History of the American Peace Movement
from Colonial Times to the Present.

Howlett, Lieberman, eds.

Hardcover: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]