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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"When Parenting Isn't Perfect" (Jim Daly with Paul Asay)

TITLE: When Parenting Isn't Perfect
AUTHOR: Jim Daly with Paul Asay
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017, (224 pages).

What is a "normal family?" Is it the one painted by TV shows like the Brady Bunch or My Three Sons? Can a family ever be perfect? We have often asked about why families are not as perfect as they seem, regardless of how hard we try. What if we abandon the search for "why" and focus on "how" to bring about a better family instead of a perfect one? This is where this book comes in. The promise in this book is about helping us deal with "truth and reality" in a manner that embraces our blessings and to empathize with other families struggling to do the same. Imperfection is a key recognition here. Those of us who fail to recognize this will tend to project expectations of perfection onto others. The question "How good is good enough?" is a good diagnostic. The author shares the story of Casey and Doug who despite the best Christian upbringing still ended up getting pregnant outside of marriage. Do we practice "resume virtues" (appreciating good throughout life) or "eulogy virtues" (appreciating good after death). If we emphasize character above achievement, we would most likely practice more of the former. We will never be good enough, so let us not put all our eggs of hope into the basket of earthly achievements. So what do we do when parenting isn't perfect?

Be aware of our limitations in thought and in deed. Just saying that everybody is not perfect will not cut it. We must avoid letting our desire for success place unhealthy expectation on the family. When a parent forcibly implements a certain expected behaviour, no matter how good it is, it could very well plant the seeds of dysfunctional behaviour. Be careful of perfectionism. Broken families that rigidly insist on perfection will end up forming fragile people. Daly puts it very well, that "Perfection is the enemy of parenting." This is the key idea in the entire book. What follows is a four-part framework to drive home this point. Part One addresses the question: "What's wrong with trying to be perfect?" Are we insisting on unrealistic targets? The author then presents to us the futility on trying to attain perfection, that being real is more important than imagined perfection. Like many books of this nature, readers are reminded to look to Jesus and to pattern our parenting in the ways of Jesus. Some fundamental tools proposed are geared toward knowing our kids rather than imposing our expectations on them. Tools like:

  1. Knowing our kids through joining their world
  2. Laughing with them
  3. Practicing the Golden Rule with them
  4. Remain consistent in our parenting
  5. Show them the proper behaviour through modelling instead of telling
  6. Quantity time is important
  7. Talking with them 

Indeed, one key fundamental factor in good parenting is about good marriages. Parents need to take a step back to examine their own marriages, and to see differences as blessings to live with rather than barriers to overcome. Learn to delight in differences and to enjoy learning about each other. Part Three deals with the difficult phases of coping with depression, tragedies, and when circumstances go horribly wrong in some manner. We need to quit the blame game by learning to listen; to be frank; to lighten up; and to love. This is a critical skill because it is so easy to escalate any argument through the blame and shame strategy. We all need a safe place to be honest and to be humble. Parenting is also about discerning when to give freedom and when to hold back.

There are lots of personal stories and illustrations in this book that will keep the readers engaged. Instead of aiming to be a perfect family, aim toward being the best family that we could possibly have. By applying the skills and principles laid out in this book, we would be much better off avoiding the trap of perfectionism. Indeed, this single biggest takeaway is worth the price of the book. Having said that, this is often easier said than done. Just like the way we approach life with the Sunday-School "Jesus is the Answer" solution to every problem, we too can say "Nobody is perfect" and exempt ourselves from expecting perfection in what we do. Parenting per se is never complete. We are always learning. Many parents who had grown up children would be filled with wisdom about what to do and what not to do based on hindsight. Unfortunately, by the time they had learned that, it would be too late to apply it to their own children. The best that could be done is to share the wisdom and knowledge with others. This book is doing some of that through the experiences of the author.

This book is down to earth and puts to practice what we often talk about in theory. This is particularly relevant for young parents just starting out in their parenting journeys. It is easy to fall into the cycle of expectations and perfection. Learn from the experienced. Listen to the stories. Let our hearts be open and willing to change, and to acknowledge that we too need to be shaped by the Lord. That is the best way to be a good parent. I am curious. When will we know if what we do is the best? How will we determine when we are stuck with being "good enough?" That discernment will probably be related to how well we know our children and ourselves.

Jim Daly is President and CEO of Focus on the Family organization. He succeeded James Dobson in 2003. Dobson went on to start Family Talk ministries. While there has been philosophical differences between the two persons, both are passionate about parenting, the family, and Christian witness in the home.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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