I’ve been a parent for twenty-two years.
My husband and I are different parents today than we were two decades ago.
Our older kids got the better end of deal in a number of ways. Bad Manners at Dinner Night, memorable (although not always for the best reasons) camping trips, and a well-documented childhood via memory books are a few of them. We were younger, more fun, and certainly had more energy.
Our younger kids got the better end of the deal in a number of ways. More balanced parenting, more focused time from us (without younger siblings crowding the scene), and an extended carefree childhood. We are older, more experienced, and our views on parenting have evolved through the years.
And parenting comes full circle as I watch our older kids start families of their own.
We each carry into adulthood our own stockpot of thought – a unique concoction simmering with hopes, opinions, and views of the world. From the day we become parents, we nurse our children from the well-seasoned brew. Sip by sip, then gulp by gulp, they take in our ideology. They digest it. For good or for ill, the ways in which we look at the world (or a rejection of them) become an intrinsic part of their being.
My parenting is influenced more by what I believe to be true about the world – than by what I believe to be true about parenting.
To what do I look for security?
How do I respond to whatever (or whomever) threatens it?
How do I view struggle?
What do I want most for my kids?
How do I prioritize the way I spend my hours?
What’s my response to life’s unexpected disappointments, tragedies, or windfalls?
The answers to these questions won’t be found in any parenting book, yet they influence most every aspect of parenting toddlers and teenagers and married adults.
The best parents I know are learners. They take seriously the process of being transformed by the renewing of their minds. They are willing to examine their own hearts and to glean from the wisdom of others.
Who seasons your thinking?
Here are a few of the books that have helped shape the lens through which I look at life. And in turn, have impacted the way I parent my children:
Refractions is one of the few books that I’ve read multiple times. It’s probably the book I’ve most often given as a gift. In a series of insightful and inspiring essays, artist Makoto Fujimura explores what it means to become more human in a world that is increasingly dehumanizing. His essays include reflections on teaching a special needs class, frantically arriving to pick up his soot-covered children from school on 9/11, and an unlikely meeting with a famous architect while in line at a voting booth. I’ve learned much from Mako. To slow down and absorb the goodness in my everyday life. To value the discarded. To train my eye and my heart to see beauty in the midst of darkness and despair. Refractions continues to impact our family in profound and practical ways.
I’d also highly recommend Mako’s most recent books, Culture Care and Silence and Beauty. They are beautiful and life-giving and make fabulous presents.
If you watch movies, read this book. If you’re a parent, read this book. If you want to better love your neighbor, read this book. It’s as much about posture of heart as it is about moviegoing. As a result of reading Through a Screen Darkly, I view not only movies but also current events and the people in my life through a different lens.
As we are currently parenting teenagers numbered 3 and 4 (and soon to be 5), we’re immersed in helping them navigate the choppy culture-war waters. As I consider the ideals and abilities I hope they carry with them into adulthood, the ability to think critically without developing critical spirits is near the top of the list. To that end, I’ve found myself wishing for a Through a Screen Darkly-ish book for my teenagers. I’m happy to report that if all goes as planned, such a valuable publication may be available in the very near future.
The headlines from the past few months, and no doubt for the foreseeable future, tell the story of a culture that is divided. In a thousand different ways. Some people criticize. Others avoid. But a third option exists. We can participate in the redemptive work of cultivating a culture in which all people, including the most vulnerable, thrive. Crouch offers cultural insights, practical applications, and an invitation to examine our own biases and blind spots as we engage with the culture.
Culture Making helped equip me to have productive conversations with my kids about how they view and process the world in which they live – and about how they can offer healing and beauty in the places that are broken and dark. I should note that Crouch’s Strong and Weak and Playing God are on my to-read list and are sure to provide important insight, inspiration, and fodder for significant conversation.
I’ll start by confessing that I’m a an unashamed fan of George MacDonald, the man C.S. Lewis regarded as his “master.” The Princess and the Goblin is among my favorite books (of both adult and children’s), and I’m slowly working my way through MacDonald’s shorter stories. Last year, I discovered The Wise Woman. I was stopped.
In this charming little fairytale, MacDonald brings into focus the foolish, selfish hearts of two very different girls – which are really the foolish, selfish hearts of us all. He exposes the relational astigmatism of the girls’ parents – which is the same distorted vision suffered by every mother and father. We don’t see ourselves clearly. We don’t see our children clearly. Yet there is One who does. Who intervenes and exposes in order to reconcile. Who allows temporal hardship and heartbreak for the purposes of making us “lovely creatures.”
I’d suggest a first reading of The Wise Woman by yourself, then a second time aloud with your child. Be forewarned that you may emerge from your reading with a truer picture of both yourself and your child. Which is both the bad news and the good news.
A Bird in the Tree is the first book in the Eliot Family Trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge. I’m an enthusiast of all things written by Goudge (in particular, her children’s story The Little White Horse), but this book is among my favorite works of fiction for adults.
A myriad of voices from our world scream (and hiss in quiet whispers) that achieving personal happiness is the ultimate goal. We tend to deny our deepest longings or demand that they be fulfilled. Goudge suggests that a deeper joy – one found only through self-sacrifice and commitment to something greater than self – is possible. Her characters are deeply flawed and, therefore, relatable and believable. A Bird in the Tree casts a clearer vision for what kind of mother and grandmother I hope to be.
Beauty and shabbiness are quite comparable. . . A thing of beauty is a joy forever, but it most be a costly and strong beauty, purchased at the high price of service or sacrifice, not skin-deep but bone-deep, if it is to be as desirable at the shabby end as it was at the sumptuous beginning.”
Although The Eliot Family Trilogy has recently been republished in soft cover, I’d recommend hunting down nice (used) hardcopies. Check addall.com and you shouldn’t’ have a problem. These books make beautiful keepsakes to read, to re-read, and to keep for your children and (future) grandchildren to enjoy.
It’s virtually impossible for me to pluck out one among the many of C.S. Lewis’s books as having been more significant to me than his others. The Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy are staples in my personal library and continue to shape much of my thinking. I suppose I chose The Great Divorce for this particular list for a few different reasons. The story takes the reader on a bus ride to heaven. While there, we overhear a number of conversations, each revealing something new to us about the nature of heaven, hell, grace and judgment. In reframing the way in which we may imagine heaven, we are given a glimpse of what may be happening “behind the scenes” on earth. One of the passages (speaking of heaven) that I return to again and again:
That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say, ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”
This short book by Buechner offers a unique perspective of the gospel – as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It challenges and encourages us to take an honest look at ourselves and at the world in which we live.
It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name. . . That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.”
If we can learn to see our individual stories – laced with beauty and heartache and the unexpected – as part of the Great Story, then perhaps we can help our children do the same.
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Who seasons your thinking?
For the benefit of others, please share some of your most influential non-parenting books. We’d love to grow our list.
As you plan for the summer, consider choosing a book to read, then invite a friend (or a few friends) to join you and discuss.