Last weekend I read Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. I am a bit wary these days when I approach Christian parenting books. I'd heard a lot of people recommend this book but it's taken me a while to get around to reading it. In the end, I didn't find it all that helpful. Here's my summary of the likes and dislikes.
* The emphasis on the idea that we should be thinking beyond behaviour and control to nurturing the heart of a child. Controlling their behaviour is not as important as seeing them reach a place of maturity where they behave right because they want to behave that way, and not just because they fear various consequences.
* The multiple reminders that disciplining out of fear, frustration and especially anger is not what parenting should be about at all.
* That different ages & stages require different approaches.
* That good communication is as important as disciplinary actions.
* The encouragement to distinguish in the later years between what's really important and what's not.
* There seems to be a lot of theory in there and not a lot of practical ideas. The one practical idea - spanking - is the only concrete tool given and other tools (like time outs) are sometimes criticized or just not spelt out at all.
* There are a lot of examples of conversations you might have with your child which challenge them about their heart and motivation. In the book's examples, the child then changes their mind about their behaviour and starts to obey. Maybe I'm doing the conversations wrong, but that frequently does not happen in my house. There's no guide to what to do next if the child is not brought around by this chat (other than spank them).
* "The rod" from Proverbs 23 and other places, is interpreted pretty exclusively as "spanking". I don't have a problem with some spanking as part of loving discipline, but I find it hard to see "the rod" as meaning only spanking. For starters, if it were to be literally applied, shouldn't it be a rod and not a hand that is used on the child? And if we see it as something beyond the literal use of a rod or stick, then aren't we already moving towards saying that it is a broader term meaning corrective discipline? I would have liked Tripp to further discuss what other discipline measures he would use once spanking was no longer age-appropriate.
* There seems to be an assumption that if you parent right early on and continue parenting well, rebellion will be able to be dealt with through discussion and mutual respect. Sometimes logical consequences are hinted at (paying back for something broken). But there's no suggestion of what to do (other than pray and "re-establish your authority in the home") if you have older children or teens who are not displaying basic respect and doing basic required tasks. That said, I did like the way he saw the older teenage years as a time when dos-and-don'ts give way to a greater emphasis on character and choices. However, it was still a bit vague. There seemed to be a big jump between when you gave up spanking and the kind of relationship you might have with a young adult.
* Some of his suggestions could be very impractical if you are parenting more than one child at once and need to maintain supervision (especially in the early years).
* Some of his ideas about family activities or children's involvement in sports etc. are disputable. There are good reasons and bad reasons for all of those things... I felt he alluded to those areas without giving much direction on how he thoughts parents should approach them.
So all up, it isn't a book I'll be recommending to others. However, it's interesting that even though I disagreed in a number of areas, I found myself concentrating more on communication and looking for inner-motivation issues after reading the book. So I think I got a few things out of it. Here's a more substantial review on the book by Wendy.
More and more I'm coming to think that good parenting is predominately about the character and maturity of the parent rather than specific parenting techniques or theories. Some Christian parenting books leave me feeling that the task of properly parenting my child is so complicated and nuanced as to be virtually unachievable. And while I agree that because we are fallen creatures it is a task unachievable without God's enabling grace, I also think that God did not design this relationship to be impossibly complicated either. Looking after their physical and emotional needs and teaching them how to love God: that seems to me to be the basics of the mission. Most of my own parenting fails have come not from a misunderstanding of my task but from a failure on my part to live as Christ intended: with patience, love, gentleness, self-control and so on. What I really need for parenting is godly wisdom and a continuing growth in my own walk with the Lord. I parent better when my eyes are fixed on Jesus...I think I'd do well to try to keep my reading list reflecting that emphasis.
So, have you read this book? What did you think?