Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt
Leslie Leyland Fields
240 pp., $14.99
I was in the middle of an email to Leslie Leyland Fields, whose latest book is titled Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt, when I noticed it was quiet. Too quiet.
My not-quite-two-year-old son was napping peacefully, but I'd been working alongside a stream of chatter from my three-year-old daughter—and I noticed, all of a sudden, that her chatter had stopped. My fingers paused on the keys. Should I go and check up on her? Does "quiet" indicate "trouble?" Or do I assume she's all right for a few more minutes, and finish my email?
I voted to keep writing. When I was done I went in search of her, and found her sitting on the floor in the bathroom. She'd squirted out an entire tube of diaper rash ointment and smeared it all over her feet and legs—and, by extension, everything within about a six foot radius of where she was sitting.
"What on earth are you doing?" I asked.
She looked up at me, and extended a foot.
"So you can wash my feet," she said. "Like Jesus and Peter."
Like Jesus and Peter, indeed. I picked her up and washed her feet, a variant on the verse from John running through my head: Then, Lord, not just my feet but the floor, the sink, the tub, and the toilet as well! When I finished, I set her down and went back to turn off my computer, as my son had woken up from his nap in the meantime. I wasn't sure if the song I was humming as I went to pick him up was The Servant Song, or I Wanna Be Sedated.
Leslie Leyland Fields is no stranger to these moments that make up the journey we call parenting. A mother of six, Leyland Fields is also an educator, a commercial fisherwoman, and the author of five books—including Parenting Is Your Highest Calling. She opens her newest book with an idyllic scene: her husband and six children grouped around her, reading from the Scriptures, ending their day in prayer. "But if I'm honest," she writes, "I have to tell of other moments." She then goes on to paint an entirely different picture, children fighting, tempers flaring, chaos. On one particularly difficult day, Leyland Fields writes, a nagging series of questions kept running through her mind: "Why wasn't I a more joyful and loving mother? Why were my children so lacking? Why did I always feel like a failure? And how could I pray honestly about all this to God? He's never been a mother or a parent!"
Questions like these are all too familiar to parents, particularly mothers. In a Focus on the Family survey cited in the book, the most frequent comment made by poll responders who were mothers was "I'm a failure as a mother." Why is this? Leyland Fields tackles this question somewhat indirectly in her book, but the primary underpinning of her writing rests on her question about God's understanding of the parenting journey. "I realized," she writes, "that God did indeed know how it felt to be a parent. I mean know not because of his omniscience, but know, as in lived, experienced, felt. Know from the inside out. God knows how I feel as a parent because he himself is a parent."
Leyland Fields isn't just talking about God as our parent. As she points out, "Fully three-fourths of the Bible tells the story of God's fathering of the people of Israel, whom he tenderly called 'my firstborn son' (Exodus 4:22)." It is to this Old Testament record of God's parenting, then, that she turns to in order to refute nine parenting myths that are pervasive in our culture.
In a time when many feel the family is increasingly under attack, it becomes all too easy to elevate family above the status God intended—what Carla Barnhill referred to in her 2004 book The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Rethinking the Spirituality of Women as "the cult of the family." But when we are led to believe that parenting is indeed our highest calling, where does this leave us when we feel like parenting failures? "None of us—no matter the depth of our faith, the extent of our research, or the number of nieces and nephews we have—truly knew all that would be required of us when our first child came through our doors," Leyland Fields writes. "No words, in fact, could ever ready a man and woman for the lifelong work of parenting." So when parents encounter the inevitable difficulties, we turn elsewhere for help, looking outside ourselves for guidance. The first place we look is the Bible. But what does the Bible actually have to say about raising children?
This is a question to which most Christian parents probably feel they already know the answer, but Leyland Fields challenges us to look beyond our preconceptions, beyond what many Christian parenting experts have interpreted from Scripture, and return to the heart of God's word ourselves—much as she did. It is through an in-depth examination of the character and actions of God as depicted in the Old Testament that Leyland Fields finds truths to counter the myths in her book.