Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World

Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World

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Overview

A witty, compelling guide to raising open-minded and morally grounded kids in these crazy times, with an approach that’s rooted in science, psychology, and faith

“Groundbreaking, profound, frank and friendly.”—Wendy Mogel, PhD, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

When Rev. Molly Baskette and Dr. Ellen O’Donnell first met, they were both new mothers seeking parenting wisdom. They read a lot of books on the topic, but none of them contained practical suggestions that would help their families psychologically and spiritually while maintaining their progressive values: How do we teach the art of forgiving and serving others? How do we raise kids who are tolerant, curious, and honorable? And what about the sex talk? 
 
Taking matters into their own hands, Baskette and O’Donnell began creating actionable steps addressing these questions and more. This book is the fruit of their many conversations begun long ago during the daycare carpool, from angsty moments to hallelujahs.
 
In Bless This Mess, readers will gain constructive tools as they learn how to talk to their children about social justice, money, God, ethics, bullying, disabilities, sexuality, and their bodies. Parents will also glean insights on how to serve others with joy, give generously and gratefully, and—perhaps most important—learn how to stop being so afraid all the damn time, even while raising kids in an increasingly chaotic and often scary world. With real-life examples, relatable personal stories, and strategies tailored to the toddler, preteen, or teenager, Bless This Mess guides parents of children at all stages of their development.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984824127
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/06/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 347,101
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

REV. MOLLY PHINNEY BASKETTE, MDiv, is the senior minister of First Congregational Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of several series of books, including grief workbooks for children and practical how-tos for church renewal. She lives in Alameda, California, with her husband and two children, where she loves to march in the streets, bike the Bay, or read in the hammock, depending on God's agenda for the day.

ELLEN O'DONNELL, PhD, is a child psychologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Shriners Hospitals for Children—Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. She has authored numerous articles and book chapters on topics in child psychology, such as learning disabilities, coping with a child's or parent's medical illness, and positive parenting practices to prevent depression and anxiety in children. Ellen lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two boys.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Spiritual and Progressive Parenting

Not an Oxymoron

Some years ago we stumbled on a satirical New Yorker piece that read: “A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go f*cking ape shit.” It went on to describe the all-too-familiar and all-too-frustrating experience of reading popular parenting books, even when they are based on really sound psychological science.

The ideas are many: good parenting is all about supportiveness. No, wait, it’s all about grit and resilience. Nix that, it’s about nature versus nurture. Free-range kids, helicopter moms. Tiger-mothering or attachment parenting.

Does the world really need another parenting book?

We think so.

Once, Molly came to Ellen in tears. Frustrated and overwhelmed with how to parent strong-willed three-year-old Rafe, Molly had resorted to spanking, which went against everything she believed in as a parent and a Christian—but none of the other methods she used had worked. She had read lots of books and articles and watched videos, but none offered the spiritual and empirical guideposts she needed in one holistic approach to be the kind of parent she longed to be: kind, funny, and easygoing yet firm, always on the floor, playing games, doing messy crafts, singing with her children, deftly engaging their deep theological questions, providing a loving and supportive but never hovering or stifling presence as they grew. Instead, she was becoming the mother she’d always feared she’d be: repeating the same mistakes her own mother made, impatient, a yeller, a control freak with lapses into temper. How could things be unraveling so?

Until now, many of the spiritual and psychological guideposts for raising kids have been on seemingly opposite ends of the field. On the spiritual side, there are numerous “Christian parenting” books, but many of them encourage a body-negative theology, strict gender roles, and a fundamentally pessimistic worldview, not to mention a “spare the rod and spoil the child” mentality. That form of parenting doesn’t hold up to what psychological science teaches us ultimately works for our kids or families, and doesn’t fit with our experience or with the type of parents we want to be. We imagine that you, like us, have no interest in raising “real boys” or perfectly compliant girls.

And while there are plenty of great secular parenting books out there, none, by definition, gives guidance on Christian spirituality. (Why would they? They’re secular.) Popular parenting books based on the science of developmental and clinical psychology give short shrift to religion. At the far end of the field, those books tell us our kids don’t need religion and that it may even be bad for them, leading to increased risk-taking behavior like underage drinking and unprotected sex (a misread of the research that we’ll clear up in a bit). Few recognize that spirituality is good for our kids and families, and none acknowledges that parenting at its best can be a deeply spiritual experience.

Good-Enough Parenting

So what does make for good parenting? Or what we prefer to call “good-enough parenting”? Sound psychological science on child development has plenty to offer in this department. So does a deeply rooted spirituality, because parenting is a spiritual practice, taking us to our highest highs and our lowest lows, while helping us mature alongside our kids. Our goal in this book is to curate the best of what psychology and an open, inquisitive, LGBTQ-affirming Christianity has to say about both the red-letter days and the deep joys of childrearing. A marriage of the scientific and the spiritual can help us raise whole, healthy kids who will grow up to be more fully who God intends them to be: autonomous and emotionally intelligent adults, each with their own unique personality and calling.

We don’t claim to have the magic wand. Parents often assume that Ellen has a secret weapon to “fix” whatever ails their child and family emotionally. And the parents in Molly’s church sometimes come to her as the “paid religious professional,” the only one with answers to their kids’ or their own probing spiritual and theological questions. But you don’t always have a pastor or a psychologist in your back pocket or at daycare drop-off. Even if you did, she would tell you there is no instant fix or “right” answer. Our kids and our families are complicated and messy. We have a lot of wisdom and experience to guide us, but few quick-and-easy solutions.

As regular churchgoing faces precipitous decline, this book acknowledges that more and more of our children’s spiritual learning, active or passive, is happening in the home. Our assumption in writing this book is that you are your child’s first and best spiritual teacher. You are the one they will come to with big questions about life, death, God, faith, and doubt. You are the one they will need when life throws more at them than they can handle. You are, in fact, their first God-figure (don’t let it go to your head).

You know your children better than any professional. You are the expert who has logged countless hours in discovering who they are—but to be an expert also takes humility and the ability to take a step back to get a wider lens.

As a minister who lets good research guide her pastoring, and as a clinician who is a lifelong person of faith, we want to give you a way to let both Christian spirituality and sound psychological science shape your parenting and the conversations you have with your kids across ages and stages: conversations about social concerns, sexuality, violence, generosity, justice, and issues of right and wrong in an often morally confused and confusing world. There is a way of being an informed, effective, and loving Christian parent; a way of weaving all of those things into the fabric of your family’s life; a way to talk to your kids about God and Jesus that is authentic and perfectly in tune with all of your family’s values. We know it can be done because we are living it.

And spoiler alert: even with our advice and strategies, you will never be the perfect parent. You will never have the perfect child, suitable for humble-bragging about on social media. No matter how hard you try, things will go wrong that are out of your control: learning disabilities, health challenges, unexpected losses, and hard seasons. It’s why this book is titled Bless This Mess. God doesn’t need to bless what’s already working. It is in our pain, our need, our helpless crying out that God is able to draw near and bless us and the messes we find ourselves in.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Before We Begin 1

Part I Foundations

Chapter 1 Spiritual and Progressive Parenting: Not an Oxymoron 9

Chapter 2 Spare the Rod and Spark the Child: A New Parenting Proverb 18

Part II The How-Tos

Chapter 3 How to Be "Good": A New Way of Talking about Goodness and Badness 45

Chapter 4 How to Fight-and Forgive 80

Chapter 5 How Much Is Enough? How to Talk to Kids about Money and Stuff 114

Chapter 6 Service and Community: How to Follow Jesus 140

Chapter 7 Sabbath: How to Make Every Day Holy 162

Chapter 8 The Beauty of Bodies: Sex, Drugs, and Going beyond "The Talk" 192

Chapter 9 Routines and Rituals: How to Turn Holidays Back into Holy Days 226

Part III Singular/Sacred Stories

Chapter 10 Worry Once and Worry Well: Brave Parenting 257

Epilogue Still Becoming 294

Notes 298

Acknowledgments 304

Index 306

Reading Group Guide

Part 1: Foundations

CHAPTER 1

Spiritual and Progressive Parenting: Not an Oxymoron



1. Molly and Ellen begin the book by revealing their hesitation in even writing it. Does the world really need another parenting book? The advice out there is already so contradictory and overwhelming. Think of the parenting books you’ve read. Which have been the most meaningful: was it a memoir, or a practical handbook? Or maybe your best parenting nug- gets have not come from books, but from a trusted family member or friend. What is the polestar or plumb line to which you have returned again and again? Remind yourself or share with your circle right now.

2. What does progressive Christianity mean to you? Molly describes it this way: progressive Christianity is a theology in which love trumps any doctrine or dogma, in which God is still speaking and every human can hear God’s voice for themselves, in which belonging is more important than belief, and the Way of Jesus is a way of healing and wholeness that brings people together in kin-dom across disability and difference. For a more comprehensive primer, see Molly’s piece here.

3. Bless This Mess is based on the assumption that you are your child’s first and best spiri- tual teacher. Be honest: how equipped do you feel for the job? Who was your go-to person for questions about life, death, God, faith, and doubt when you were growing up? Were the answers satisfying, or not so much?

4. Before you can take on the role of spiritual guide for your kids, you need to get clearer about your own spiritual and religious perspectives. This is not the same as being certain, but humbly leaves room for doubt and curiosity. If you grew up in a faith tradition, what do you want to pass on to your kids and what do you want to leave behind?


5. In this chapter and throughout the book, Molly and Ellen confess some of their biggest parenting regrets. With a deep breath, in a confidential space, name one (or more) of yours. What did you learn from them? What new direction did they point you in as a parent—how did they help you to “fail forward”? Who or what helped you to get through in hard times? What mess are you perhaps still in the middle of—and who has your back?

6. Read these two scriptures aloud: Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:26. How do these touch you, today, in this particular parenting moment?

7. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for si- lence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.





CHAPTER 2

Spare the Rod and Spark the Child: A New Parenting Proverb

1. The evidence is abundant and clear that corporal punishment is bad for our kids, or at least counterproductive. Yet go to any cocktail party of white middle- to upper-class parents like Molly and Ellen and you’ll at some point have a version of the conversation, “I don’t spank, but I was sure spanked as a kid and I turned out fine.” Chances are someone in that group has at one point spanked out of anger or desperation. Plenty of families still use corporal punishment for sound (if empirically contradictory) cultural reasons. Were you spanked as a kid? If so, what was that experience like for you? Have you spanked? What was the experience like operating as the parent, with more power?


2. Grab a pencil and paper. Try sketching a sort of “family temperament map.” For each mem- ber of your family, kids and adults included, use these questions as a guide:
a. Think of each member of your family along a spectrum of “high reactive” to “low reac- tive.” Were they the proverbial “easy” baby? Or a bit more difficult? Did they tend to cry a lot, a little, or just the right amount? Were they able to soothe themselves, or did they need a lot of comfort? If they are now older children or adults, who and what comforts them now when upset or stressed? Do they prefer to be left alone for a bit, or cuddled and “held” (physically or metaphorically) immediately? Where do they fall on a scale of cautious to adventurous? Is a warning of danger enough to keep them permanently on the sidelines, or do they need to test everything out for themselves?
b. Did they generally meet developmental milestones like walking, talking, and toilet- ing on time? Early? Late? Are they basically more precocious, or cautious? Ellen often describes kids as “mountain climbers” or “stair climbers.” Mountain climbers develop pretty steadily and consistently, occasionally pausing for rest but generally moving up- ward on a steady arc. Stair climbers tend to bound up three or four or five steps at a time—but sometimes they stumble back down a few stairs and seem to regress before making a big developmental leap. Who are the mountain climbers and stair climbers in your family?
c. Value judgments aside, how extroverted versus introverted are members of your family? How does each react to new situations or deal with adversity?
d. There’s a psychological concept known as “goodness of fit”: basically the extent to which a person’s temperament “fits” well with their environment. How does each of the tem- peraments and personalities in your family mesh with the others—for better and for worse? Don’t assume that similar temperaments are to be desired. Remember how Kagan’s high-reactive babies grow up to be well-adjusted adults when they are challenged just enough out of their comfort zones? Similarly, a more cautious parent may keep the thrill-seeker grounded. In what ways are your own temperament and person- ality similar to and different from those of each of your children and from your co-parent or partner if you have one? How does this work both for and against you and them? Remember: even those of us who share DNA can be very different—but we can still love each other.
e. Remember too, that temperament is not the same as personality. Do include personality characteristics and personal interests in your family temperament map. Who is the co- medienne, the comforter, the bookworm, builder, or scientist? If left to their own devices (and without actual devices) how would each family member choose to spend their day? What does each member find intrinsically motivating?
f. If you get really into this and want to pay to complete an adult or child measure of temperament go to b-di.com/index.html where you’ll also find more resources on temperament.


3. “To be a parent is to be afraid a lot of the time.” What are your biggest parenting fears? Make a list. If you have more than one child, in what ways are your fears for them unique to their temperaments and personalities? Can you find a way to get some space around those fears? Check your fears against reality with someone you trust or write a simple prayer to ground you in reliance on God when you feel yourself getting fearful or control- ling (control = a strategy fueled by fear). Or write one together as a book group!


4. The Holy Trinity of Parenting: A Three-Legged Stool Think of the Holy Trinity of Parenting (autonomy support, structure, and involvement) as a perpetually wobbly three-legged stool. We should be always striving to have the legs be equal in length, but they never will be. A stool that is short on autonomy support and long on structure and involvement risks being controlling. A stool that is long on involvement and autonomy support but short on structure risks being lax or permissive. A stool that is short on involvement risks being neglectful, out of touch with who our kid really is, or at least blissfully ignorant of the choices and challenges they are facing. Going back to the fears you identified in question 3, or thinking of a recent parenting struggle, which legs of the stool do you feel a little short or long on? How might you work for a better balance?

Creation Myth: God as the First Parent
The first Biblical parent was not, in fact, either Adam or Eve—it was God! God’s “three-legged stool,” going by the creation myth in Genesis, was pretty sturdy. To wit:
Autonomy support: After God set up Adam and Eve in the Garden She left them to their choices, inviting them to eat of any tree in the Garden, except one. She had ultimate power and control and eas- ily could have kept them from the tree. Instead, humans were allowed free will—autonomy. God never explicitly called the fruit “forbidden” but She did forewarn Adam and Eve, bringing us to structure.
Structure: God gave Adam and Eve information about their environment. She warned them of the conse- quences of their behavior if they ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Actually—Her one glaring parenting booboo—She warned them they would die, overstating Her case a bit. There are perils to lying to our kids about the potential consequences of their choices—they risk disbelieving us if what we said would happen, doesn’t, just as the serpent predicted.
Involvement: God created and knew Adam and Eve, and their world, inside and out—proof there is no such thing as being “over-involved.” God spent quality time with them in the Garden, but didn’t anxiously hover, giving them space to grow, while always staying in touch with what they were doing. When Adam and Even made a poor choice they didn’t die—but their innocence sure did. God visited them straightaway, and, knowing what had happened (the perk of omniscience), gave them a chance to tell what had happened in their own words, and take responsibility for their choices. When they didn’t, God shooed them from the garden, but not without gifts they would need to make their way in their new life and adult environment: clothing as comfort and protection.



5. Read Proverbs 13:24 and 22:6 aloud in at least two different translations (we suggest Biblegateway.com, the NRSV, and The Message as sources/translations). How has their meaning changed for you since reading this chapter? What nuances, contradictions, or wisdom do they have for you today? Does the “carpenter and grain of wood” metaphor of parent and child resonate with you? Can you think of a time when you have gone against your child’s grain, learned more about them, and changed your approach?


6. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.



Part II: THE HOW-TOs


CHAPTER 3

How to Be “Good”: A New Way of Talking about Goodness and Badness

1. Molly and Ellen argue that to help our kids reach a more complex and Christlike level of moral reasoning, we can use stories both real and historical. Think about the last time something bad happened in your community, or on the news, and your child overheard it. How did you handle the conversation? Maybe you altogether avoided talking about why an older sibling was grounded for the weekend or turned off the television and pretended not to have noticed that your 9-year-old saw there was shooting in a nearby neighborhood. How might you talk with them about it now, to scaffold them to the next level of moral reason- ing? What would you say to help jog them out of overly simplistic, black-and-white thinking or the myth of redemptive violence, to nuance the idea of good guys and bad guys? Keep both the “zone of proximal development” (next-level-up of moral reasoning) and your child’s temperament in mind. How much would you say without it potentially being too much? What clues would you look for that you had said enough?


2. The cathartic power of confession doesn’t get enough credit in progressive Christianity. Try making your own confession now. Think of a time when you slipped into take-no-prisoners black-and-white thinking when facing off against your child, stubbornly clung to your own position even when you knew you were in the wrong, or misdirected your anger. If you had a do-over, how might you frame the situation differently? Remember, ours is the God of infinite second chances.


3. Read Proverbs 19:19 aloud. When was the last time you effected a rescue for your child rather than letting them face the consequences of their own behavior or reason through their choices for themselves? Use the SOLVE technique to re-reason the situation through now. How would that conversation have gone if you had put it on them to come up with options to solve their own problem?


4. We are all ego-involved in our children’s decisions and actions. The challenge is to keep our own egos in check. As a thought experiment, get on the scary carnival ride of imagining the poor choices and scary decisions your child might make as they enter the next developmen- tal phase. What could they do that would threaten your idea of yourself as a good-enough parent? Practice now how you might react in a way that restrains your own ego and focuses on supporting them in getting out of the mess they make while still granting them some autonomy.


5. What were your family’s patterns and culture around “goodness and badness,” autonomy support, and moral reasoning? Who was the “good child” in your family, and who the black sheep or the scapegoat? How did your own parents react when you or your siblings made poor decisions? How did they react when they behaved badly? Did they ever apologize to you? Do you apologize to your own kids? Why or why not? On the flip side, how did your family set (or fail to set) boundaries when you were growing up? How has that influenced the setting of boundaries in your own family? Do you want to adjust them now, in either direction?


6. Read the story of The Prodigal Son again, in Luke 15:11-32, with a new lens for goodness and badness. What is bad about the “good” son? What is good about the “bad” son? What are their grains and temperaments? What does their father do well? Where could he have done better, by each of his sons, to scaffold their moral development?


7. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.

CHAPTER 4

How to Fight and Forgive

1. What are the most common triggers for conflict in your family right now? Keep in mind you may have to do some digging to determine what the fights are really about. Picking our par- enting battles is hard work. Do a little self-assessment. How are you doing? Are you picking fights that are in fact unwinnable? Often we are fighting with our kids over some skill they are lacking or still developing. Maybe the 4-year-old keeps popping out of bed because she hasn’t learned to soothe herself with rational reasoning when there’s a bump in the night and she needs a mantra from you. Maybe the 15-year-old isn’t doing his homework because he has no idea how to organize himself to even start. Can you identify something you need to teach your child to avoid or at least decrease the fights you are having?


2. How would you rate the basic level of respect in your family at this moment in time on a scale of 1 (very little respect) to 10 (all respect all the time)? Keep in mind that respect is very different from perfect compliance with parental wishes. Respect is connected to self- differentiation, the ability to say, “I hear you and I respect your opinion even if I disagree and choose differently sometimes.” Do this exercise for both parent-to-kid respect and kid- to-parent respect. If you have more than one child, how respectfully do they treat one an- other? We expect your ratings will be somewhere between 2 and 9. If you want to move the needle in either direction, how might you do that? Consider starting with a prayer, “God, help me to remember that my child is not my employee or ego-projection but a fully autono- mous being with their own needs and desires. Help me to be the loving parent they need, both firm and compassionate, in this moment.”

3. Write down what you want your family’s values to be (as suggested in this chapter). If you have a co-parent, have them do the same and share your responses. Together, decide what hills are worth dying on. Next, involve your children in crafting a family mission state- ment. Get as creative (or not) as fits your family. Use the Perry-Moffit family’s example on page 88 as a guide.


4. Read Genesis 25:21-34 for a short take on one of the dysfunctional families of the Bible (go on and read chapters 27-33 for more of the soap opera if you have time). What are the core values of Isaac/Rachel/Jacob/Esau’s family? Would they all agree to those values? Name all the different conflicts going on. Is this family stuck-together emotionally, or distant (or both)? What advice might you give to each of the family members to resolve their conflicts? What similarities do you see between their family and your own—and what differences can you celebrate?


5. Going back to the trigger points you identified in #1 above, which of these are tied to your own self-esteem and experiences? Are the conflicts you have most often with your child triggering unresolved conflicts or achievements of your own? Are they bringing up old wounds from your childhood? Is your self-worth as a parent too tied up in your child’s behavior (oh, ego involvement!)? Keep in mind that ego involvement can be tied up in current as well as past wounds and insecurities. Maybe you worry that your child’s tantrum in the check-out line is the result of you working too much and not being present. Can you grant yourself grace and come to a sense of “good-enough” parenting? Sometimes a tantrum is just a tantrum.


6. Think through how you might use the Holy Trinity of Parenting (autonomy support, struc- ture, involvement) to better handle the common conflicts in your family. Replay a recent fight or disagreement or tantrum. What choices might you offer your child (autonomy support = not too many choices)? How might you communicate the potential consequences of each choice both for them and for others, including you (structure)? Are you missing something your child is trying to tell you in their anger or defiance (involvement)? When thinking about structure, consider whether or not you have been using rewards and con- sequences wisely. If you have more than one child, do this exercise for conflict with each of them. How do their different temperaments and personalities (and yours!) impact the way you handle conflict with each of them? Use the tools of the NVC outlines in the chapter to help with this part: identifying feelings, the basic human needs underneath those feelings, and making requests. You may even find, after doing this exercise, that this particular battle is not worth fighting again!



7. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.


CHAPTER 5
How Much is Enough? How to Talk to Kids about Money and Stuff



1. Chapter 5 revolves around the question, “How much is enough?” This question doesn’t have an absolute answer. Your family’s conclusion may be different from your sister’s or your neighbor’s based on a variety of factors. Perhaps you and your co-parent have differ- ent ideas about how much is enough. A good place to start in answering this question is to take the test at globalrichlist.com. After you take it, though it may mean guessing a bit, take it again for where your family of origin fell when you were growing up, adjusted for inflation. The similarity vs. difference between how you grew up compared to how you are raising your children can help you to better understand your own attitudes toward and emotions around money. For example, you (or your co-parent) may have a very clear impetus for operating from a scarcity mindset, or one of abundance, maybe even to a risky extreme. This exercise can help you to answer the question: “What is your family history around money, and what do you want your family story to be? Can you find a way to be more generous given the financial and emotional baggage you may carry and constraints you are operating under?”


2. How is your family currently dealing with needs vs. wants? How are you doing (or not doing) allowance? After reading Chapter 5, are there changes you’d like to make? If save, spend, share won’t work for your family, come up with your own plan that fits with your family values and is practical enough to implement.


3. In Chapter 5, Molly and Ellen talk about tithing as a means of reckoning with money and generosity. This may be a big ask for your family. Start by talking about how you currently give money away: how much do you give? To whom or what? Why? Is there a cause that’s important to you or one of your children that you are missing? How might you inch your family toward giving more, in a gradual exposure?


4. Read Matthew 6:21 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. What is the relationship between money and heart? What is, in your experience, the relationship between generosity and gratitude?


5. Think of the biggest purchase you made for yourself or your family in the past year. How does it make you feel now? Think of the biggest gift or donation you made in the past year. How does it make you feel now?


6. Take a moment to think about how much pressure each of your kids (and you) are under. Is it too much? Does it risk feeling like control to them, creating anxiety and stress? Is the pressure coming from you, from their school, your community? How much of it is driven by your own anxiety or fear? What changes can you make as an individual, family, or maybe even in your community to ease the pressure and stress. For an example of a community and school-level approach see: challengesuccess.org/schools/school-program/


7. We live in a world that has an incredibly hard time downshifting from Chronos (clock-time) to Kairos (God-time). Part of the problem is our inability to sit with boredom and discom- fort. As a result, being busy has become an addiction. When we aren’t busy, we find ways to busy ourselves—most often, scrolling our screens (kids and parents both). What do you need to give up or cut back on to spend more time in Kairos? What about your kids? How might you make the shift?


8. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.


CHAPTER 6
Service and Community: How to Follow Jesus



1. Richard Weissbourd argues that if we are to teach our kids kindness and empathy, we need to make them responsible for others from a very early age. What responsibilities do each of the kids in your family have at the moment? Are there changes you want to make? If they have a reasonable number of chores, do they know the rationale for doing them (e.g. starting the laundry for you when they get home from school means you get to bed earlier on a weeknight)?


2. How are you doing at modeling kindness? Are there small (or maybe big) changes you might make in how you speak to or about others (while driving, shopping, or on the phone with your friends) that would set the example you want for your kids of knowing that all human beings have equal value and worth not only in the eyes of God, but in your eyes too?


3. Go back to the family mission statement you crafted after reading Chapter 4. Are kindness and service to others among your family values? If not, consider adding them now. How well are you living out your family mission statement? What changes need to be made? Make a plan to change one thing—either a habit of communicating, or a commitment to service, and ask your family to agree to it for the month ahead. Then regroup and evaluate at the end of the month.


4. Talking about race and racism with your kids is hard but it needs to be done if our kids are going to learn what racism really is, and how pervasive it is. If you are white (like us), you probably also need to spend more time addressing your own learning curve, repenting your mistakes, and trying to do better. Reading books is one way of educating yourself; there is a starter resource list on our website here. And: If we are going to raise kids who have a chance of dismantling racism, we also need to have conversations with people who are different from us, not just about them. How diverse are the communities that you and your kids inhabit? If the answer is “not very,” begin to have conversations with your fam- ily and others in your communities about why that is and what shifts might be made. Are there ways to make your communities more open, inclusive, and affirming? Or ways you and your family might step out of your comfort zone to put yourself in community where you are the minority?


5. Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-13. Think or talk about the most diverse communities you’ve been a part of—racially, socioeconomically, or in other ways. How did those communities embody this scripture, forming one cohesive but differentiated “body”? Who is missing from the “body” of your current circles, and who would make it whole?

6. Jesus calls us to be a people for others. Think or talk about a time when your willing service changed or saved someone’s life. What about it was most meaningful for you? If your kids are school age or older, do they know about this experience? How might you tee up a similar experience for them (or the whole family)?


7. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.



CHAPTER 7 Sabbath: How to Make Every Day Holy

1. What is your current spiritual practice? Does it involve praying, together or alone? Inten- tional experiences of art-making, dance, music, nature, or service? Do you go to church or have another kind of regular religious observance? What do your children know (or not) about your spiritual practice or your spouse/co-parent’s practice if you are partnered? In short, what does your regular communion with God look like—or what would you like it to be?


2. Read Mark 2:27. How do you hear Jesus’ teaching? In what ways has your family life, activities, or work schedule become out of control? How does your family find Sabbath? Does it satisfy? If it doesn’t, how might you build rhythms of rest and restorative play amidst the work and necessary tasks of daily life? Pull out the family calendar and take stock together. Are there activities that could be crossed off the list to give you more spaciousness and time in your life together and individually?


3. Take a moment, close your eyes, and pray on each of your kids. Not for your kids but on them. In the words of Simone Weil, give them your “absolutely unmixed (imaginal) at- tention.” What are their gifts, talents, challenges, passions, and struggles? What is their grain? Think about and pray on what you love about them, and the parts that drive you bonkers. Ask God to show you how what drives you bonkers may eventually become a great blessing to them, you, or the world.


4. When, where, and how do you pray together as a family? Is it working for you? For your kids? Are there ideas from this chapter you might try on for size? If your kids are older, ask them to commit to six weeks of trying the new routine before they give up on it (that means you commit, too!).


5. Write out your current family bedtime and mealtime routines. Even if it feels like chaos right now, and no “routine” at all, sketch out how most meal and bedtimes go, because patterns will emerge. Are the kids getting enough sleep for their ages and stages? Are you? Are mealtimes a battle of how much or how little is eaten? What might you take away from this chapter to make tiny shifts toward more peaceful, restful daily routines of feeding and sleeping?


6. If you’ve read this book, chances are you’ve been to church at least once. What makes for good church in your memory and mind? Is there a way you could give the gift of good church to your kids—at home—or are you feeling a longing to take steps toward finding a good enough church in your community?


7. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for si- lence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.


CHAPTER 8
The Beauty of Bodies: Sex, Drugs, and Going Beyond “The Talk”



1. Thinking of the ages of your kids now, when you were their age what did you know about sex? How did you learn it? What do you wish you had (or hadn’t) known at their age? How do you think your knowledge about and perspective on sex at their age compares to theirs? Is there anything you want them to know but aren’t sure they do?


2. Where are you with sex now? Both for yourself and your kids? What values do you hold around sex as a parent, and how would you like to communicate those to your kids?


3. How well do you think your communities, schools, and church handle gender and sexual- ity? Read Galatians 3:28. How has reading this chapter, and this scripture, affirmed or challenged your understanding of Christianity, gender, and sexuality? Do your kids spend any time in communities where gender binaries and stereotypes are regularly challenged, and where all sexualities are not just tolerated but embraced? What changes do you want to make, and how might you work with your kids to make them?


4. What are your values around alcohol and drugs? Are your values in line with your own hab- its? How do (or don’t) you and the other adults you spend time with model those values for your kids? Thinking on your own family history, personal history, and current relationship with substances, which parts of the story do you hope might be the same or different for your kids? What do you want to share with your children, understanding that they might need to learn their lessons by personal experience?


5. Remember that role-playing is a very effective strategy in helping kids navigate their own relationship to and experiments with drugs, alcohol, and sexuality as they get older. Give them safe opportunities to talk about what is going on for them, and the choices they are facing, without fear of your judgment or anger (autonomy support and involvement).


6. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.


CHAPTER 9
Routines and Rituals: How to Turn Holidays Back into Holy Days



1. You’ve already sketched out your daily routines of dinnertime and bedtime in Chapter 7. Now think about which parts of those routines qualify as ritual. Maybe your family rituals happen at other times of day, a secret handshake at the bus stop, or a phrase called out when each family member arrives home. Share your family rituals and the feelings they evoke in you as well as the feelings you hope they evoke in your kids.


2. Of the holidays discussed in this chapter, which do you celebrate “religiously,” and how? Are there things about them that you might like to change or ideas from this chapter you might like to try on for size? Pick one holy day you are most drawn to and make a plan to deepen your spiritual practice as a family the next time it comes around.


3. The Big C: not Christ, but Christmas. If your family incorporates Santa into Christmas, how do you do it? At what age do you remember giving up your belief in the Big Guy? What do you see as the potential benefits and downsides of having Santa be a part of your fam- ily’s Christmas? For more on this topic see Molly’s blog post or listen to this awesome episode of This American Life on the perils of Santa taken to an extreme.


4. Did you go to camp? Whether it was a church camp or not, what were some benefits of the experience? How might you give your kids that experience? If you didn’t go to camp as a kid, did you have an experience of autonomy, leadership development, and intentional com- munity that was similar? Read more about Ellen’s camp memories here. Read an essay about Molly’s reflections on her church camp, written when she was undergoing chemo- therapy, here.


5. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.

PART III :
SINGULAR/SACRED STORIES


CHAPTER 10
Worry Once and Worry Well: Brave Parenting



1. Parents who have been through great loss have a lot to teach us about letting go. What losses have you had to grieve as a parent? What ideas or expectations of who your child/ren would or should be do you need to work on letting go of?


2. Which of the stories of difference and dis/ability spoke to you the most, and why? How might you let it inform your own parenting? What other parenting stories have helped you along the way?


3. Read Matthew 6:34. Make a list of all of your worries about your kids. Which ones are wor- ries “for today”? Which ones can you put off for a while? Which are worries over which you have some control, and which are out of your control? Focus on one particular today-worry. How are you handling it? Is there anything practical you would like to do differently after reading this chapter?


4. Now, using the concept of “prayer as surrender” outlined in this chapter, turn that worry into a written or spoken prayer for you and for them. Say it out loud.


5. Pray (by yourself or in your group) the end-of-chapter prayer. Open up some time for silence and “popcorn praying” as you hand your struggles, confusion, worries, and longings over to God. Listen, in the silence, for comfort and direction.




EPILOGUE
Still Becoming

We leave you with this prayer Molly wrote for a confirmation class at her church for parents to speak to their child as they held their hands and looked in their eyes. Pray it alone to yourself and aloud to your child whenever they are facing some new transition, or when they are ready to launch (because let’s be honest: you will never really be totally ready for that). Pray it to remind them that both of you are still becoming. Their story and yours is still unfolding and will be until the day each of you dies (and perhaps beyond!).


A Blessing on Launching


It has been one of the great joys of my life to get to know you and watch you grow. I am so glad God gave you to me to teach, protect, love, and launch.
Now you are crossing over a threshold into a new adventure.
God has been with us all along, and God will go with you into whatever happens next.

May you run and not grow weary. May your heart be filled with song.
God goes by many names and sometimes will go by no name at all, as your faith and doubts continue to assert themselves in new ways. By whatever name you know God, may the love of God renew your hope, even if it seems like hope is lost.
May this next chapter of your life be filled with joy, growth, and challenge in the right proportions to help you keep becoming.
And may the roads you travel always lead you home.
Wherever you go, you will always, always, have a home with us.

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