Why Children Matter – a review

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This book of short essays on aspects of Christian parenting is full of wisdom and encouragement for parents and grandparents.

It’s written by Johann Christoph Arnold, a senior pastor at the Bruderhof Communities in the US.

There’s no shortage of books and resources available on a plethora of parenting methods, but the father of eight and grandfather of 42 takes a broader brush, conveying an inspiring vision of family life from a Christian perspective.

Why Children Matter is endorsed by the former deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson, and the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan. It testifies to the importance of child rearing not only for the optimal growth and character development of children but of their parents, other family members, and the wider society as well.

There is some specific advice too, about many topics relating to raising children who are empathetic, self-disciplined, hardworking, respectful, and happy.

Parents must be the authorities in their own homes, but he cautions, “if you feel you deserve a child’s respect, digging in your heels for the sole sake of asserting authority will backfire. Your long-term relationship with the child will suffer, and you will achieve nothing other than a hardened heart….a parent’s authority must be grounded in love…”.

Arnold distils a lifetime of experience and deep scriptural reflection and combines it with sensitivity and understanding of the modern challenges to family life. He cautions against the prevailing culture with its ‘obsession for perfection’ that would negate the value of children with disabilities, for example.

He offers a guide to discussing death and suffering with children, and offers words of comfort to parents for when a child dies, and when a child is born with a disability.

In a chapter on discipline Arnold says that he’s against physical discipline but advocates for firm boundaries and instilling a capacity for self-denial by not giving children whatever they want or offering them an array of choices in everything from breakfast cereals to extra-curricular activities.

“In many homes, a great deal of strife might be solved if parents were able to let go of their children and not fret over them, or pressure them with plans for their future,” he muses.

When teenagers are rebelling and turning their backs on everything their parents have taught them, that is the time to “pray rather than talk, and commit their souls to God…and take care not to pile too much blame upon ourselves, or become bitter and despondent”.

Preaching to them will only make things worse, he advises, and will harden their hearts against their parents, but parents should strive to “protect and nourish any flame of conscience that remains in them”.

Arnold says that parents should take care not to lose their joy in their children, even in the most testing of teenagers. The chapter on children and sin is possibly the best in the book, with a depth of compassion and wisdom in a mere handful of pages which is well worth reflecting over again and again.

Arnold paints an inspiring picture of family life immersed in prayer, charity, and forgiveness, while not glossing over the harsher realities of raising a family in a post-modern, almost post-Christian world. It reads like a gentle talk with a wise older friend, well-seasoned by a life filled with family, prayer, and keen observance of the culture.

 

This was a paid review, but it’s a book I’d already enjoyed and intended to add to my list of general and Christian parenting resources anyway.

 

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