Thursday, March 01, 2007

Parenting Book Recommendations, by Leslie

My cousin Laura asked me awhile ago for a list of books she could read in preparation for eventually starting a family. I thought I would post a copy of my email to her here in case anyone else is interested in the books that are out there. I commended Laura for wanting to go into parenting prepared because I find it ironic how people will spend so much time researching and reading up about a purchase they are going to make, how to handle their money, how to train their dog, I mean there's a manual for Dummies on about every topic under the sun. But when it comes to parenting, it seems like many people just wing it. They might call a friend for advice in desperation from time-to-time, or maybe mainly just to vent, but it seems like few do actual serious research like reading books and going to seminars and--most importantly--searching the scriptures for advice on parenting. This seems to be in direct contrast to commands in Proverbs to seek out wisdom above all else.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. 8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. Proverbs 2:1-5 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 4:7-8

So we are to seek out wisdom as one searches for silver and treasure. This certainly applies to raising children. The number one manual is the book of Proverbs, full of advice for parents. But here are some Bible-saturated supplements.

In my mind, I divide parenting books into two categories. You have the books that focus primarily on the big picture of parenting or giving you a Biblical vision or worldview for parenting, and then those books that focus more on the nitty-gritty, day-to-day advice of parenting. I think that both kinds are important. But I do think it’s better, if possible, to read the more visionary type of books first and then read the real practical ones. You don’t have to do it that way, but it just kind of happened that way for me, that I happened across the visionary books first and it seemed to give me a foundation to understanding the others. So as I list the books, I will indicate which kind of book it is. Of course it’s not totally black and white, most books have a lot of both kind of advice, but many do seem to have an emphasis either one way or the other. The other thing I would say about these books is that I do not necessarily agree with everything in them, but I feel that they have more than enough good advice to make it worth reading anyway. For example, one of the books has a short paragraph where they mention that they believe every Christian family must home school. Now obviously we don’t agree with that since our kids are in school this year, and we didn’t even think that when we were home schooling. But I still felt I learned so, so much from this book despite an occasional disagreement. These books might occasionally even contradict one another on small points, but overall seem to come from the same Biblical perspective. I am happy to lend any of these books to you if you can not buy them, but some are really worth buying so you can come back to them later.

Standing on the Promises by Douglas Wilson: a handbook on Biblical Childrearing.

This one I would definitely say buy if you can. This is the first book that I would recommend reading because I believe it does the best job of establishing a biblical framework by which to understand family. It answers questions such as: What is God’s design and purpose for the family? What are God’s promises to parents concerning children (hence the title)? What are the parents’ duties before God? What is covenantal parenting? etc. It does have some very practical and helpful advice in the latter chapters as well, but is most useful in getting us to think about our children in biblical and not worldly terms. I would also recommend for this book that you and Scott read it together. Some of the books it may not be as important that you both read the whole book, you can kind of give him a synopsis of the highlights, but this one has a lot to say for both fathers and mothers. I think that Chris and I would read a chapter and then discuss. You will probably have a lot discuss like we did, because it’s very meaty.

Everything that Douglas Wilson has written is excellent but Chris and I also particularly enjoyed Reforming Marriage. If you are looking for a marriage book to read together or for a small group or something, I highly recommend it!

Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

This one is an excellent visionary book too, yet very different from Standing on the Promises. I think it is a good second book because once you have taken Basics of Biblical Parenting 101 (which is what Standing on the Promises is) you are now ready for a real in-depth look at parenting from a heart perspective. Tripp’s emphasis is on parenting in such a way that we win our children’s hearts for God and don’t just go after their outward behavior. He makes many, many points that are both rooted in scripture and insightful. He has much pastoral experience and wisdom that he shares in this book. I think though, after reading To Train Up A Child (which I’ll mention later), he might go a little too far in his heart emphasis. I believe that to a certain extent when a child obeys outwardly even when he doesn’t feel like it, his heart often follows right behind. This concept is not something Tripp would disagree with, but he doesn’t focus on it. So I think this book is an excellent resource when read along with To Train Up a Child which balances it out.

To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl and No Greater Joy, Vol, 1, 2, and 3

These books are getting into the very practical, everyday life of childrearing. I think personally that they are written a little, well, clumsily. Let’s just say, Michael Pearl is not the best writer in the world. Sometimes one paragraph seemed to have no relation to the next and the chapters are rather disorganized. But having said all that, the wisdom that the Pearl’s have on child raising is absolutely profound. It is absolutely worth reading despite any bumps you may come across. They have so much wisdom that is lost to our culture these days. Even though I said visionary books are so important, if you were to only read one book, I would probably pick this one to have you read. I don’t agree with everything, but there is so much to be learned in there. After they wrote To Train Up a Child, parents started writing them and asking them questions about raising children. They kept getting the same questions over and over so they started a monthly newsletter where they posted the letters and then answered them for a lot of parents to read. Eventually they turned these newsletters into books, which is what No Greater Joy Vol. 1, 2, and 3 are. I really enjoyed reading these books because the questions that the parents ask and the Pearls answer are things that every parent has to deal with, but few know how. These books are also very inexpensive, $5 each. I got mine online at but you can also borrow them from me.

Debi Pearl also wrote what I think is the best book out there on being a wife and mother called Created to be His Help Meet. It is thoroughly Biblical in a way that so many “Christian” books these days aren’t. I wish that every woman I know would read it because it is utterly life changing. Beware, it is not fluffy. But it will transform anyone’s life who reads it and decides to live it.

Babywise, Babywise II, Toddlerwise, and Childwise

These are purely practical books about getting your child to sleep through the night, clean up after himself, be responsible, have good habits, etc. Toddlerwise and Childwise I think I agreed with almost everything in them. The first two, though, need a few words of caution. First, I don’t recommend reading these until you are actually pregnant and about to have a baby. Otherwise you’ll have to just reread them again. Second, what you have to understand about them is that they are somewhat reactionary. Anything that is reactionary to another philosophy can be easily misunderstood. These books were written to attack a philosophy common in our culture today known as attachment parenting (Dr. William Sears, a Christian author and doctor, espouses this which I totally disagree with). The idea behind attachment parenting is that you practice the family bed till your child is about two (at which point he moves to a mat on your bedroom floor, but is still in your bedroom), you nurse on demand for at least two years with absolutely no schedule, you carry your child around in a sling all the time for the first year of life. Basically, the baby gets constant attention and everything it wants all the time. So this is the philosophy that the Ezzo’s are trying to teach against. But I feel like they may go a little too far the other extreme. However, if you read the books knowing that, then you will probably learn a lot. They emphasize things like laying your baby down awake so they don’t become dependent on being rocked or nursed to sleep, having a flexible nursing schedule of approximately every three hours as opposed to just whenever the baby cries. They want the parent to take the initiative in establishing healthy eating and sleeping cycles rather than just winging it. So I think they make some good points, however, I wore Abigail in the snuggly all the time for the first few weeks because it was the only way to survive as a family and she was so content in there. But as she got to be two and three months old, she was spending more and more time in a bouncy chair or swing. I think that if I was writing the book, instead of saying don’t carry the baby around in the sling all day, I would say that’s appropriate for a newborn, but it a 6 month old isn’t learning to sit independently for a little while but has to be in the snuggly all day, then we have problems. OR, I would say, do whatever you can to comfort your newborn, constant swaddling nursing, rocking to sleep; they are adjusting to being outside of the womb. But by three or four months they should start to be able to fall asleep alone. Those are the kind of distinctions that the book does not make that I wish they did. Because it gives new moms this idea of if I rock or nurse my newborn to sleep now, I’m going to be still doing that when he’s two. And it’s confusing to us. Rather than saying that stuff is okay in the beginning. Wow there’s a lot more that can be said on that topic but you’re not even there yet so I’ll let it be for now.

Don’t Make Me Count To Three by Ginger Plowman

An excellent book, but I intensely dislike the title. I think the title is misleading because not counting to three is so basic to parenting. When I read that title I thought, give me a break, aren’t most people way past that. Is this like a super, super basic book for parents who are still counting to three? Well actually, the title is entirely misleading because this book is the farthest from basic. In fact, I think this book is one of the last you should read. That is not because it’s not as important as the rest, but because it assumes you have so much in place already. This book is for after you’ve mastered discipline, your children are respectful, obedient, there is peace in your home and you are saying now what? Well the now what is that when we have established those things, we can use scripture, particularly Proverbs, to help our children become wise beyond their years. She talks about how the actual scriptures are so much more powerful than just our teaching or lecturing alone. She explains how to weave scripture into every facet of life. But I really feel like you have to have a lot in place in order to get to the point she suggests. It also applies a lot more to older children I thought, at least three or four years. So you can probably just wait a few years to read this one. But I do hope you will read it eventually.

Hope that's helpful and would be happy to hear suggestions from others.


TulipGrrl said...

From a Reformed point of view, I have serious problems with the theology espoused by the Pearls and the Ezzos and the ramifications in the area of their parenting advice. . . FWIW. . .

Christopher said...


Very true. We don't recommend the theology of these individuals. I've read some of the Pearl's writings on parenting and they are way better than most anything you will find currently in print. But even in these writings you will find some very bad theology.

I guess we kind of see it like we see C.S. Lewis: Read his books as good literature; flee from his theology.


TulipGirl said...

Yet. . . Their theology informs their parenting. *shrug* And that concerns me.

For me, there are recurrent themes that impact my parenting--what is the place of children in the covenant? What does the Gospel and grace look like in parenting? How do I lean into the Lord as a mother?

These ideas are both theological and practical in nature--and are areas I find the Pearls and Ezzos especially fall short.

Just food for thought. . .

Grace and peace,

Leslie said...

Thank you for your comments; we always appreciate responses to our posts. I have to admit, I do not know anything about the Ezzo's theology. We have never done the "Growing Kids God's Way" curriculum, just read the books put out for the general public. As for the Pearls, I do agree that points of their theology is very false, i.e. their view that we become sinners when we sin; we are not born sinners. And I also agree that their error in this area does affect their parenting philosophy. You have brought up such a good point that I am just going to post on it.

MBB in atlanta said...

Hello, I am really fascinated by your writings on your blog. We are a Christian family in Atlanta (PCA church) with 3 little ones, including a baby. I had written off some of these authors, but it's interesting to hear your thoughts. MBB in Atlanta