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Reading 2012: Parenting Is Your Highest Calling

February 29, 2012

In Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt, Leslie Leyland Fields addresses nine myths that are common in Christian parenting teachings, books, and ideologies. As a sort of “Lies Parents Believe,” the nine myths that Fields addresses are as follows:

Myth 1: Having Children Makes You Happy and Fulfilled: Discovering God’s Real Purpose in Giving Us Children

Myth 2: Nurturing Your Children Is Natural and Instinctive: Why Biblical Love Is So Difficult to Live Out

Myth 3: Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: How Pursuing God First Frees Us to Love Our Children More

Myth 4: Good Parenting Leads to Happy Children: Exchanging Shallow Hopes for God’s Deeper Purposes

Myth 5: If You Find Parenting Difficult, You Must Not Be Following the Right Plan: Learning to Rely on God Rather Than Formulas

Myth 6: You Represent Jesus to Your Children: How We Trap Ourselves in a Role We Weren’t Meant to Play

Myth 7: You Will Always Feel Unconditional Love for Your Children: How Our False Ideas of Love Burden Us with Guilt

Myth 8: Successful Parents Produce Godly Children: The Danger of Making Too Much of Ourselves and Too Little of God

Myth 9: God Approves of Only One Family Design: Why God Is Not Limited by Imperfect Families. 

One nit to pick with this book was the way that Fields frequently examined God’s actions toward people or nations, and drew parenting lessons from such situations. This is a common thing to do, and I’ve yet to read a book on Christian parenting that doesn’t do this in some way, some correct and others way off base. God does use maternal and paternal expressions to give us a greater picture of Who He is; yet in some, if not many, of such instances He is not merely acting as “parent,” but as a God whose other attributes cannot be disconnected from His divinity. In other words, just because God did certains things and acted in a certain way, does not mean he was acting distinctively as a parent and that they are ways we should relate with our children; we cannot act or react in the same ways because we are not divine. (For instance, the relationship between Jesus and God the Father when Jesus died on the cross isn’t necessarily an illustration for parents about how to relate with their children. This particular example wasn’t one in this book, though it’s one I’ve read elsewhere.)

No doubt there are aspects of parenting and lessons that we can draw from how God dealt with Israel or with us, but this is an area I fear we continue to be confused over. Given the fact that Fields included “You Represent Jesus to Your Children” as one of the myths she debunks, I was surprised at how frequently she drew out parenting lessons from God’s divine interaction with the nations.

This book challenged and encouraged me personally on many levels, and overall I was pleasantly surprised by its content. In general, I agreed with the majority of the myths Fields presents and debunks in the book, though I don’t know that I would have always taken the same paths of logic to dismantle them.

Parenting Is Your Highest Calling would provide a good read for parents in any season, but would perhaps prove particularly helpful to those in the early seasons of parenting — when such myths are particularly enticing and easily marketed to parents who do truly want to do the very best for their children. “Yet not many of us have examined our own parenting assumptions and expectations, holding them up to the unsparing light of the Scriptures. In the absence of biblical truth, we quietly absorb the ‘truths’ our culture offers us” (6). The book provides study questions at the end of each chapter, thus making it a potential book for group or personal study.

Excerpts:

“Ironically, pretending that parenting is easy diminishes the value of family. As truth seekers and truth speakers, we need to be honest about the cost of parenting. None of us–no matter the depth of our faith, the extent of our research, the number of nieces and nephews we have–truly knew all that would be required of us when our first child came through our doors. No words, in fact, could ever ready a man and woman for the lifelong work of parenting.” (6)

“If I pursue God first as my highest call and am satisfied in his love, then I am freed not to love my children less but to love them rightly. I am freed from the error of the disciples’ mother, who sought identity and significance through her sons rather than in her role as God’s redeemed daughter.” (73)

“[W]e need to give up the notion that God has given us a comprehensive child-raising rule book and that his primary concern is that we do everything “right.” Pursuing our relationship with God before anything else frees us to see each child in her own uniqueness rather than squeezing our children into a prefabricated mold. It frees of from the expectation of total control. It frees us from the unbiblical promises of sure outcomes. It frees us from seeing our children as products rather than people…At the root of all this, we need to choose to give up the quest for an expedient parenting life.” (117, emphasis mine)

“As believers, we often forget that our children enter a church and a faith practice through our choice and our faith, not their own. As they grow toward adulthood and independence, it is not only natural but necessary for them to examine the beliefs we claim. We need to extend grace to them as they begin a spiritual journey that might look different from our own.” (177)

 

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  • Erika March 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Just curious about myth 6: You Represent Jesus to Your Children: How We Trap Ourselves in a Role We Weren’t Meant to Play. Can you or someone share more about what the book mentions here? I don’t see how this is a problem?

    Also Myth 8? I’m kind of seeing what you/she’s saying, but not completely getting it.

    Thanks! Really not starting to be contrary–I know there are some commenters here that are, but I really am curious.

    ~Erika

    • Keren March 6, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Good question, Erika.

      I think what myth 6 is getting at is the popular notion that “you are the first Jesus your child knows,” and that how your child perceives Jesus depends on how you act as a parent.

      There is some truth in that, but it puts a burden on the parent that isn’t one the Bible intends parents to bear. While you aren’t Jesus, you can certainly model Jesus. The church (and Christian parents) also needs to make teaching clear that people will always fail us–even parents–but that Jesus never will.

      As to myth 8, something that the author emphasizes in the book is that God calls us to be faithful in our parenting, regardless of the outcome. It’s easy to think that the outcome relies on us, but it doesn’t. Godly parents can have ungodly children, and ungodly parents have had godly children. Like Sally Clarkson mentioned in her book, The Ministry of Motherhood, “I can be God’s agent for cultivating the hearts of my children; in fact, I’m supposed to fill that role. But only God can give them life, strength, and divine guidance” (132).