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Reading 2012: Spirit-Led Parenting

May 8, 2012

In Spirit-Led Parenting: From Fear to Freedom in Baby’s First Year, Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer reflect on their early years of parenting, and how God moved them from fear to freedom during their first year of mothering. The book is divided into two parts, the first (chapters 1 through 3) focusing on their personal journey and their realization that many young mothers have also had a similar experience, and then part two (chapters 4 through 11) mostly focuses on examining specific areas in which many young mothers have been led to believe confusing and conflicting teachings.

I picked up this book because it was new and written specifically to a Christian audience (with specific encouragement to mothers who have already read and/or practiced confusing mainstream parenting advice). It’s a field in which I try to read broadly, though this one definitely captured my interest as my experience of concerns with some “infant management” teachings seemed slightly similar to the authors’s experience. Still, I was surprised at how refreshing and encouraging this book was to me as we prepare to care for and nurture an infant again, in what could be just a few days or weeks.

Contents: 

  • Chapter One: As We Began
  • Chapter Two: As We Confess Our Fears
  • Chapter Three: As We Pursue Another Way
  • Chapter Four: As We Feed Them
  • Chapter Five: As They Sleep
  • Chapter Six: As We Parent Together
  • Chapter Seven: As We Keep the Spark
  • Chapter Eight: As We Encourage Connection
  • Chapter Nine: As They Sleep … Where?
  • Chapter Ten: As We Stay On Track
  • Chapter Eleven: As We Have Found His Redemption

Why We Accept Fear-Based Living and Rules of Parenting Infants

(For highlighting this book, I think this post is less of a “review” and more of an introduction and exposure to the book. As such, I wanted to pull out several quotes from the book.)

“The stakes in parenting are high. Unlike other areas of life in which we can walk away if things don’t work out, in parenting this is it. You are the only parents your child gets and it is up to you not to mess it up. That is an incredible amount of pressure, and it weighs heavily on parents-to-be. Added to this is the fear of failing our spouses, our marriages, and our circles of friends by not sticking to the established norms for how things are done to build and maintain happy homes.

All of these worries boil down to one central concern: Fear of the unknown. If we could just know for sure what was headed our way in parenting and know for certain what the answers were to any potential problems, we would feel so much more prepared for the journey.” (35)

“Because our culture tends to avoid sharing life together in the intimacy that provides real-life responses to these universal fears, there are bookshelves full of advice from the experts. The authors of these manuals are quite certain they have found the answer to all your baby-raising needs, with some even going so far as to suggest that the approach they take is God’s way to parent an infant.”

“There is something to be said for the comfort mainstream parenting paradigm offers. In the face of fear, the natural response is to seek out a way to avoid what is causing us anxiety or to enact a plan that will help us overcome the fear.” (35)

“When you are peering into the great unknown of life with a baby, it can be quite comforting to know that someone will tell you what to do. We crave a solution, and we are given one.”

“Answers chase the fears away. Charts and schedules color in the unknown. A sturdy plan becomes the lifeline. Now we can do this. Now we can shake the fear.”

Only what if that doesn’t happen?”

“What if the realization that our days and nights and our babies’ behaviors look nothing like the ones we are reading about only sends us careening into deeper, darker tunnels of confusion–and the fears just intensify?” (37)

“The fear of failing these instructions climbs to painful intensity when we also carry the perception that we are failing God.”

“One-size-fits-all parenting advice already makes sweeping assumptions about the effectiveness and appropriateness of the methods for every child of every parent in every home. When such advice is penned or interpreted through a Christian perspective, it can create some of the strongest fear of all for those parents who do not, in fact, fit. Suddenly, everything is at risk: our children, our marriages, our reputations, and even our relationships with God. The implications of these risks can be truly terrifying.” (40)

“Some parenting manuals seem to actually rely on fear to convince the reader that their way is best. Fear can be a strong motivator, but it’s an exhausting burden to carry…Rather than feeling empowered to step off the beaten path to explore a new approach that might be better suited to our families, we found ourselves paralyzed, listening to voices which seemed to play on an endless loop in our minds, perpetually indicting all of our shortcomings.”

What we desperately needed was someone who would tell us that what we thought were our shortcomings weren’t really shortcomings at all, but rather symptoms that fear-sickness had overtaken our hearts and minds.” (41)

“We want consistent guidelines and cold hard facts. We want outlines and directions that are easy to read and follow. But Spirit-lead parenting doesn’t work like that. And the reason for this is yet another radical idea: the first year should be less about training our babies and more about God developing us as parents and human beings. If we let him, God can use that first intense year of baby’s life to train us how to live a life that is fully surrendered to Him, to cultivate in us a trust that follows His lead, seeks Him first, and understands His grace.

A Different Perspective

As we will share throughout this book, parenting under the direction of the Holy Spirit is not easy. It can and likely will squeeze every last drop of self out of us. If we yield to it, though, there is much potential for spiritual growth and for learning–in the most hands-on, real-life way possible–what it truly means to be a servant leader. It can be a year of transformation from which we emerge with a refined and sharpened perspective, equipped to experience other people, other relationships, and other situations through the eyes of a servant. It can be a year of discovering new and life-changing joy and a release from the captivity of guilt and shame.” (44)

“This philosophy of child rearing requires a shift away from the mindset of parenting with the goal of convenience.”

“Letting go of control in any area of life is difficult and prying ourselves from the grip of those messages insisting that we maintain control…or else (Your marriage! Your child’s future! The harmony in your home!), takes far more effort. The relative unknown of surrendering to God’s lead versus the allure of neatly-ordered plans for success creates a stressful dilemma as we question whether He will really come through and wonder if we really hear Him.” (45-46)

“So much of what is spoken to parents (in secular and Christian material) is about maintaining and reclaiming yourself after you have a child, but there are few suggestions that one worthy response to God entrusting you with this little one is dying to your devotion to yourself. And since God Himself directs us to do so, we aren’t turning ourselves over to our babies or to other people as much as we are turning ourselves over to the Lord, who (among other things) leads and commands us to be servants of others.

“If we were to look at our spouse, or at a neighbor that God has placed in our lives who has needs to be met, and say, “I’m sorry, what you need from me isn’t convenient at this time. You’ll have to learn to require those things at an appropriate time,” we would surely consider that attitude to be one from which we need to repent.

Why would we see our children, the most precious gifts that God has placed in our care, any differently? Perhaps parenting an infant is one of the purest examples of living out the gospel because it is truly a give, give, give relationship. It is a constant opportunity to allow God to refine us by laying down our own desires to care for the needs of another.” (53)

“Life with an infant, however, is no time for unnecessary heroics. In fact, it can be a powerful opportunity to learn how to accept the service of others as you serve the needs of your baby.” (75)

Other Excerpts

“One of the most beautiful aspects of a healthy marriage is the way it is always evolving, shifting to meet the needs of both spouses, allowing them to move forward with clasped hands and interwoven hearts. The months of parenting an infant together are ripe with opportunity to grow even closer to the person you have pledged your love and life to through the covenant of marriage.” (117)

“Our encouragement to you is to pray, pray, and pray some more. It would be so much easier (wouldn’t it?) if God had included a short but very specific book in the Bible with black-and-white instructions on all things parenting. But rather than burdening us with more law, He had to have known His gracious offer of freedom would woo us ever closer to Him.” (215)

Final Thoughts

The book is specifically addressed to Christian parents, with specific application to those who have been offered mainstream parenting advice (both, either/or secular and Christian materials). In the preface, Sally Clarkson (author of The Ministry of Motherhood and The Mission of Motherhood) writes, “if you are a new mom, or a veteran mom about to give birth again, you have opened the right book. You only get one chance to give your baby a wonderful first year of life. This book will set you free to enjoy that first year of motherhood with all the blessings, grace, and delight God intends you to experience. Naturally, that’s the way it should be.”

While the book is written specifically with a female audience in mind, there are portions of the book also addressed to husbands/fathers. The authors’ husbands also share how God used the early stages of parenting infants to draw them closer to their wives and to God.

Although I’d hoped to share more of my experience and how it correlated with this book, the time and space is limited here. Essentially, much of what I “bought into” was a result of my fear and my pride, in my case–more pride than fear. Though even initially I was somewhat of an outcast from the mainstream because I did a few things out of the ordinary, there were still elements which I followed religiously and offered to my fellow mothers as the be-all, end-all solution.  Through a couple of circumstances, I finally saw very clearly my own selfishness in my motivation and view of my child. (That’s not to say her first year was mostly rough–there are many wonderful memories, and she was a fairly “easy” infant. But I will never have that first year with just her back, and I regret some of the more harsh ways in which I treated her.)

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  • Shelley May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    I really enjoyed reading these excerpts. I am a new mom (I’m currently holding my sleeping 2 month old in one arm and typing with the other!) The early stages of my pregnancy were typified by fear, either of my own imagination or from ideas I assumed were the only right way from culture. The Lord really used a shenanigan over breast feeding/bottle feeding to show me that I was afraid of what people thought of me, afraid of SIDs, etc, etc… I decided to bottle feed for various reasons and my husband was in full support. It has turned out to be a helpful decision for our little family. I was told by a midwife, however, that she would not deliver my baby if I wouldn’t breastfeed. Whether people-especially moms- agree or not, I realized that many things in parenting circles are raised to extra-biblical status when we force those ideas on others. I have been amazed at the freedom the Lord has worked in my life over the past months and the encouragement my decision has been to mothers who felt condemned. I am happy to report that my little man is fat and happy- and has stayed healthy despite my contracting a stomach virus three days after birth!

    • Erika May 9, 2012 at 1:26 am

      Interesting, cuz I felt like I got a lot of judgment for choosing to breastfeed. Well, technically, for choosing to breastfeed beyond 5 months, in my case. I guess it just depends whee you are. I have even heard of moms who are advised not to breastfeed extendedly because of “Christian modesty.” Really.

  • Johanna Hanson May 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Another one that I have been eying. From reading some of their introduction to the books on various blogs I feel like I would really relate. I’m hoping to read this book soon.

  • Shelley May 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Erika, that is interesting! I live in an extremely health conscious city and it is pretty much a scandal not to breastfeed. I am very supportive of it but made a different decision personally 🙂

    • Keren May 17, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Congrats, Shelley! Enjoy these special and sometimes weary moments. 🙂

      (In my experience/area, extended breastfeeding is scandalous, but probably, at least, among most of my acquaintances, a scandal not to breastfeed. I guess it shows how much our cultures can influence our perception, as well–even across America, the local expectations can be so different.)

  • Laura Oyer May 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks so much for reading our book, and for introducing it here! Blessings to you as you prepare for another little one! 🙂

    • Keren May 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm

      Thank you, Laura! You did an excellent job and I’m thankful to be able to recommend your book and give it as a gift! 🙂