The minute you announce your intention to have a child, you seem to enter a twilight zone of helpful (and unhelpful) advice, rules, tips and strategies for success. Everyone seems to have pearls of wisdom to share. The variety of information can be overwhelming.
This is something Harriet Connor knows well. For Connor, parenting is something that can so easily be distracted by many competing hints and ideas of how to do it properly:
“We are so caught up on the tiny details—all the “shoulds and shouldn’ts”—that we forget to step back and ask ourselves what parenthood is all about.” (p4-5)
But Harriet’s searching has led her to a slightly different solution. Rather than write another book of ‘rules for parenting’, she’s taken a step back to look at the bigger picture. This is far more than just another voice in the multitude with yet another program for bringing up balanced or happy kids. No. This is something better.
Connor explains it like this:
“I went looking for little pieces of grandmotherly advice, but the Bible gave me something much bigger. It gave me a grand vision—a “big picture”—which has put my life and my role as a parent into perspective.” (p8)
The journey of this book, then, is to discover where parents (and children) fit in the grander scheme of things. It wants to begin by showing us the forest, before we are concerned with the individual trees of eating/sleeping/discipline patterns and so on.
Connor’s book is divided into four easy-to-read sections: Our Big Purpose, Our Big Problem, Our Big Values, and Our Big Family. Each section helpfully draws us to look at what the Bible has to say about our identity as parents, our role as parents, and how God’s view of the family can help us in our own family situations.
In Our Big Purpose, she demonstrates how God has made us to be in relationship - with God, with creation and with each other. In Our Big Problem, she elaborates on the fact that we as parents aren’t perfect, our children aren’t perfect, and our world isn’t perfect either. In Our Big Values, she discusses how the Bible’s priorities are good, helpful and wise values on which to base our parenting. Then in Our Big Family, she broadens our horizons, showing us how families aren’t just Mum/Dad/Kids, but so much more than that in God’s plan.
There was so much to like in this book, not least of which was the way Connor is able to share God’s word without burdening readers with unhelpful guilt (something which so easily ensnares worried parents!). Here are some of my highlights:
1. The Big Picture approach.
Rather than being a “Six steps to awesome parenting”, this book anchors us in God’s world. The author very helpfully shows us where we as humans ‘fit’, and how that should inform our relationships with our children. I really appreciated this approach. As parents, it’s great to take a step back for a moment, and see that what we’re doing is far more than bedtime routines, discipline and cleaning up the toy boxes. We have a place in a far more important plan - God’s plan.
2. The Gospel
At the heart of this book are a few really important acknowledgements:
“In order to come to God, we have to acknowledge our Big Problem: that we have not lived up to God’s purposes for us.” (p48)
According to Connor, this is more than just a hiccup:
“Our guilt is not just an uncomfortable feeling, but a symptom of a terminal illness.” (p48)
The author then helpfully points us to the solution,
“At the cross, Jesus exchanged his sinless life for our sinful one. If we give our lives over to him, his death will count for us and we can start again with a clean bill of spiritual health. Then we will experience a spiritual “resurrection” to eternal life, just like he did.” (p49)
I would have loved to have seen a little more expansion on the subject of ‘how to be made right with God’ at this point, but Connor moves on to demonstrate how God is our perfect parent, and therefore the example for us to follow. She does deal with repentance and faith further down in this section, and later in the discussion of ‘Big Picture Values’, though, which is good.
3. A helpful approach to values and parenting roles
Harriet’s writing is very clear and easy to read, and she does a great job of navigating the fraught world of parenting advice. She has a great capacity to distill God’s word in very helpful ways, to show us as parents some of the ‘big picture’ goals of our parenting journey. Above all, her discussion of our families is usually brought back to consider the example of our Heavenly Father, and his word, the Bible.
4. Faithfulness with sensitivity
In ‘Part Four: Our Big Family’, Connor acknowledges the multiplicity of family structures in a helpful, non-judgemental way. There are quite a few helpful discussions in this section, from the way we view marriage, to the role of extended family and church communities in helping to raise children. In each discussion, she brings us away from cultural discourses, and back to the Bible’s wisdom on marriage, gender roles and care for parents, among others.
5. Helpful extra resources
In such a short, easy-to-read book, it’s inevitable that some readers might be left wanting more. Connor provides a long list of recommended reading, divided helpfully into categories. It’s clear - and not just from this list - that a lot of research has gone into this book’s content. She also provides a study guide, with useful questions for small group Bible studies.
Overall, this is a really concise, clear and helpful book. I love the way it anchors us in God’s big plan and purpose, and centres on Jesus as the cure for our biggest problem of all. It’s encouraging, challenging, and useful for anyone - not just parents - to read.
I’ll leave the last comment to Connor herself,
“Parenting on this side of heaven can be hard, but I pray that we will never lose sight of God’s beautiful Big Picture.”
Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life by Harriet Connor is available from The Wandering Bookseller and the Kindle version is available on Amazon.com.au
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