I have read a lot of parenting books. I remember as a new parent I really wanted books that gave me a five step program for achieving whatever result I was looking for. If the five steps were backed up by Bible verses, so much the better. I still like practical applications when it comes to parenting, but as my kids get older I find that the problems are so much more complex, and so much more demanding than I ever expected, and really y’all, I need vision way, WAY more than I need yet another method.
In spite of what I thought when I was a preteen uberbabysitter, I’m actually not naturally good at this whole parenting thing. Frankly, I’m not naturally good at much of anything requiring patience, sacrifice, and perseverance. But that’s where Jesus comes in. If nothing else, parenting has brought home to me time and again how much I need a savior and how much work God has left to do in my life.
That’s why Michelle Anthony’s book Spiritual Parenting: An Awakening for Today’s Families hit me so hard. In reading about the vision we should have for our kids and our role in casting and modeling that vision, I felt challenged at numerous points that God wants to change ME and MY character and behavior, and that if I don’t accept that conviction, I’ll have a hard time showing my kids how to do so.
The book is packed with thought-provoking vision leavened with just enough practical application that you understand it and are inspired, without feeling bound to do things in one specific way. A couple of the points stuck out to me particularly:
- The importance of showing our kids that they are part of a larger story–God’s story. I recently had a talk with a friend who does not have this worldview, and I left the conversation feeling so grateful that I have a perspective wider than my own story. As Anthony writes, this frees us to worship God and not ourselves. I was challenged to think of ways to convey this to my kids–it’s one of the main inspirations for how I homeschool (although I wouldn’t have thought to articulate it this way) but I am thinking of ways to more explicitly ground the way my kids understand the world as being God’s story, not theirs.
- Not allowing my words to define my children in negative ways. As Anthony says, “Spiritual parenting tells our children, ‘Yes, this time you did not choose truth, but this does not define you. This is not who you are. You still belong to God.’…We must remind them of their true identity because guilt and shame are debilitating demons.” I’ve started using this idea to change the way I pray over the kids at night, praying very specific blessings and asking God to make them kind, strong, and things like that. Even in the few days I’ve done so, it has been interesting to see how their own prayers have changed. I hope that over time their view of themselves will also change to incorporate more positive things.
- Teaching children to have a heart for service. I was convicted to examine my own attitudes toward how I serve my family and others, and was inspired to try to cultivate and atmosphere of serving in our home. Anthony describes how her family uses the phrase “What needs to be done?” to remind them to have a heart for service in every situation, circumstance, and relationship. I loved the emphasis Anthony put on service as an act of worship–that we offer a spiritual service to God when we serve others. What a terrific viewpoint to have. It’s one I am praying to see increased in myself as well as in my family.
- The importance of responsibility. Anthony writes, “To be responsible for someone or something makes us accountable. And if I live in an environment where I am not responsible for anything or anyone, I become self-centered, selfish, and myopic in my perspective.” I had not really given much thought to what underlies responsibility or how to foster it, and I appreciated the chapter on how children (and adults) can train themselves to take responsibility, especially for others–even just looking for someone who needs kindness or encouragement–and how that helps us to tune in to what God is doing all around us. Anthony also makes an interesting and helpful connection between responsibility and generosity, which makes sense given the other-centered focus of both traits, and offers lots of helpful ideas for how to foster those qualities.
- Teaching children respect–and respecting them. Anthony’s thoughts on showing children respect in little things like just looking them in the eye and listening generously were very helpful and I thought her observations about how children model the respect they have observed in their parents were sound.
There were tons of other points in the book and I’m sure different ones would impact you, but ultimately I think the strength of the book is the idea that God is working on parents as much as He is working on children, and that we can have hope and be encouraged because of that. At one point Anthony writes, “I desperately want to teach my children to be sacrificial and other-centered, to have eyes to see the needs around them, and then to take responsibility for what God is asking them to do. So this is why so much of being a spiritual parent is about the work that God wants to do in each of us–first.”
I finished the book with dozens upon dozens of tabs marking things I wanted to remember, but rather than feeling weighed down by yet another to-do list, I felt uplifted by Anthony’s statement that as a parent I must “recognize the enormity of my responsibility and then faithfully seek God for the wisdom and power I need but don’t possess.” Amen!
Spiritual Parenting is a really amazing book, and I would highly, highly recommend it to all parents. If you really only have time to read one or two parenting books, this is one I might recommend for one of the spots. It’s that good. If you read it, please let me know what you think!
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