Do you need a book that gently and effectively melds progressive Christian theology with the (non-Pinterest) realities of parenting? Are you trying to locate your own parenting practice somewhere between books that advocate spanking and books that suggest wine pairings with your overnight oats? May I suggest Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World by the Reverend Molly Baskette and Ellen O’Donnell, PhD.
This book is easy to read and moves by pairing the psychological development stages of children and teens with habits and realitites of parenting. There are helpful tips in each section for how to have conversations, develop or change family practices, or to wrestle with challenges. The tips are broken down by age-appropriate parental response and each chapter closes with a very helpful prayer.
Early in the book, Baskette and O’Donnell examine the Bible verse “train a child in the right way”. Their interpretation of the verse gently turns it from the idea that the “right way” is external to the child, but instead that the “right way” is rooted in who the child is and how the child is in the world. Just like your cat (or most cats) has hair that grows in a certain direction, you could brush it over and over to make it go the other way- but the cat will resist and you will become frustrated or give up. Similarly, raising a child against his/her/their own grain is going to be self-defeating and possibly spirit-crushing for one or both of you.
The chapter titled “How Much is Enough” gives helpful tips on how to talk with your children about money. I also appreciate the difference between “secret” and “private”. Private information can and should be shared with people who need to know, when they need to know it. Our conversations and habits around money teach our kids about our values and our own struggles. I found this chapter to be helpful in giving me ideas for working with my own children. I also appreciated the nuance of this chapter, which reflected that not all of the readers might have the same financial situation or privileges.
The book is generous in its balance toward finances, education, human sexuality, gender norms and expressions, and religious and spiritual experiences. It is not quite there in the same way with regard to race and racialized language. While there is a consistent use of language to acknowledge living in a non-binary world, language around light/white as good and dark/black as bad (or less good) occurs several times in the book. In the chapter “Service and Community”, the authors seem to assume that the reader is white, with instructions on informing the reader’s own self on the history of racism in the United States and how a racialized system continues to play out today. If the writers had acknowledged their own race experiences as the point of their advice, that might have helped.
Said more than once, though, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is a good and helpful parenting book. It provides conversation starters and family guidance in the vacuum that exists with regard to faithful and boundaried parenting with progressive values. I already have thought of several people to whom I wish to gift the book.
I received an advanced copy of this book for review, but I would like to commend the authors and Convergent (the publisher) for having an audiobook available on release day. Accessibility is everything. This book is a great listen, absorbed easily in the chapter sections and read smoothly by the authors.