When our first child was a baby, I did not have to look hard to find parenting advice. Strangers offered it unsolicited; moms at church were eager to share their hard-won wisdom. And the books were everywhere: whether I was learning how to introduce my daughter to solids or troubleshooting potty training, I never struggled to find a manual meant to walk me through it.
But as my daughters have grown older, the topical resources have grown thin. I’ve found books on homeschooling: sure. But books on raising teenagers? Not quite. Most of the Christian books I’ve found about adolescence onward have to do with body-related topics, like puberty or purity. I’ve found few willing to offer us a grace-filled, big-picture view of how to faithfully parent our daughters through these last years together at home.
Maybe, my husband and I speculated, everyone’s eager to write about those early years because they seem fairly cut-and-dried compared to these later years. When our daughters were little, parenting felt like planting seeds in neat rows. Weeds cropped up in the garden, sure, and slugs ate a handful of seedlings the minute they emerged—but those remaining sprouts of faith and obedience were full of possibility. We planted and plucked up new weeds and anticipated the harvest.
Now that our daughters are older, tending the garden takes more deliberate labor. It is enjoyable work—if we follow the garden metaphor, it is work I gladly volunteer for summer after summer—but it is demanding: we hunt for pests, trellis vines, and stand beneath the midsummer sun, watering each bed by hand. Many times, we give into the temptation to sit on the porch with a book rather than work in the garden. Now that the growing season is in full swing, the tender weedlings we missed last week now tower over our crops, their roots so gnarled and knotted that removing them takes work of almost surgical precision.*
As we move from one phase of parenting to another, we’re finding that we need skills we hadn’t needed before, that parenting takes less “training” and more talking (and a lot more listening). And that our daughters differ so wildly from one another that a book whose guidance helped one would almost certainly be useless for the next.
So I notice that I rely less on parenting books now than I do on prayer.
Kathleen Nielson clearly gets this. Her Prayers of a Parent series consists of four volumes aimed at four different stages of a parent’s career: young children, teens, young adults, and adult children. These are slender books filled with prayers for specific topics or issues our children may face or that we may be called on to shepherd them through. Her prayers are beautifully written, poetic even, and each one is anchored in Scripture and accompanied by a short reading. And each volume deals with issues specific to each season of parenting, an approach I find heartening, because it acknowledges what I’ve long suspected: parenting doesn’t really end, it just changes.
I have wondered sometimes if the reason it’s hard to find books on parenting older children is that this stage seems to rest so heavily on relationship: our relationship with our children, their relationship with God, and our relationship with him as well. And so I think Kathleen Nielson is onto something here. Any approach we take to raising older children has to begin with a deep and trusting relationship with our Father. That is where all parenting starts, but as our children grow, we feel that more acutely. We may tend the garden, but he is, ultimately, the one who causes the growth. He is the one who causes our children to flourish. Nielson’s prayers remind me of that each morning, as they lift my eyes from my own concerns for my kids and focus my vision again on the one who loves us all.
* I’ve noticed that anything I write that I find at all clever was inevitably flavored by something else I read long ago. In this case, I was well into my gardening metaphor and feeling pretty great about it when I remembered that Kelly Keller had written a beautiful piece that already ran along these lines. I heartily recommend it: “Parenting is Gardening,” on The Gospel Coalition.
Prayers of a Parent (series)