Friday, June 22, 2012

I am reading: Spirit-Led Parenting

Spirit-Led Parenting: From Fear to Freedom in Baby's First Year
By Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer

I don't really know anything about child rearing.

I'm only four-and-a-half years older than my youngest sibling, not exactly old enough to remember much about her infancy.

My mom tells us stories about when we were younger, but these mostly revolve around funny things we did (like how a couple weeks after Sister was born, Misha and I went to Mom and told her that she should probably take Sister back to the hospital, because her real mommy would be missing her and she obviously didn't belong with us) rather than the day-to-day details of How To Rear A Child.

I don't have any close friends or cousins with children.

As of yet, no one has bothered to foist his or her sage advice on me, in spoken or book form. (Or if they did, I wasn't paying attention. I once tried to explain to my mother that it wasn't that I didn't listen to her, it's that I evaluated what she had to say and came to my own conclusions, and proceeded to act on those conclusions rather than her instructions. This doesn't go over well when you conclude you don't need to do your chores, but it's a great skill to have once you're out in real life making your own decisions.)

So I am not quite the target audience for this book. The real target audience is the mother who has been inundated with advice about The Way To Rear a Child, advice that doesn't resonate with what her own instincts tell her. Specifically, the mother who is surrounded by baby-training, anti-spoiling advice (such as advocated by Gary Ezzo in his book Becoming Babywise) but who feels led to practice more Attachment Parenting-style practices.

For that mother, yes. You will find comfort and reassurances in the pages of this book, in the stories of Megan and Laura and many others who have fought the guilt imposed by others and found peace with particular parenting practices.

But if your instincts don't really point you in that direction, or you're in a community that primarily practices Attachment Parenting, or one that really doesn't care what you do (or at least you don't care whether or not they care) may find it all a bit much.

The core message of the book--that parents should follow their instincts, common sense, and the leading of the Holy Spirit in this joyful-but-difficult time of life--is one that absolutely every mother and father needs to hear (skip the Holy Spirit bit if you're not Christian, obviously, but the instinct-and-common-sense thing holds true).

Just some of us could use some counter-examples as to how this looks, exactly, in non-AP homes.

That would be my one criticism of the book except, as I said, it is targeted at readers who need exactly this, who are already overwhelmed and guilt-ridden by far too many examples of the successful use of other parenting rule sets. So I'm not sure it's a weakness so much as--I'm just not a member of that target audience. INTJs don't have a lot of time to waste on guilt.

Still, Megan and Laura have much to say to any new or soon-to-be parent (and even old parents could stand to be reminded of some of these lessons), and I do highly recommend anyone in that broader category read this book.

Here is some of my favorite advice from Spirit-Led Parenting:

Parenting as Servanthood.
When the intangible God chose to make Himself tangible to the world, He chose the form of a servant. Think on that for a moment. He could have come in any incarnation that pleased the Father, and the incarnation that He knew would prove to be most powerful, most influential, and most extraordinary was that of servant. Surely, that must speak volumes to us as believers as to how we are to approach each relationship with each person (no matter how small) the Lord places in our lives. (p. 47).
This does not mean that parents should become slaves to l'enfant terrible, catering to their young child's every wish and whim.

Instead, it means accepting that, especially in the infant season, the child's needs come before the parent's wants (and to a certain degree, things we think are needs, like sleep). It means the parent should approach the child, not from the vantage point of a ruler determined to make her subject submit to her expectations, but as a servant, seeking how best to meet the baby's needs and thus the needs of the family, even if that way doesn't exactly look like we expected it to look.

For some, that will mean surrendering a full night's sleep for longer than we hoped; for others, it will mean helping a child to learn how to sleep longer sooner because to not do so is too detrimental to the family as a whole. It might mean breastfeeding or bottle-feeding or co-sleeping or crib-sleeping. It means being open to the way God has designed your child (and you!) to function, and serving him or her joyfully, or as joyfully as you can at three a.m.

The Idolatry of Success
If baby is thriving and mom and dad are happy, isn't that an ideal situation? Well, yes. Most of the time. As we've said before, scheduling works wonderfully for some families from early on and most little ones eventually fall into some sort of routine as they grow. This is where it is important to watch that the success of the schedule does not become another sort of idol. (p. 200).
My dad was in the Navy when we were young and would be out to sea for months at a time. Because Mom was not only sort of doing the single parent thing, but also tended to find herself in new cities with no friend or family support system in place, she developed a very strict structure for our lives.

When Dad came home from a tour, he wreaked havoc on our schedule. Having not seen his babies in months (and months is a long time for kids under five), he of course wanted to soak up all the time with us he could get. There would be a whirlwind of events to attend and people to visit and lots of staying up past bedtime just because.

Which meant that there were lots of super-cranky, out-of-sorts babies and one highly irritated Mama. Because while, once the two weeks' leave was up, Dad could go back to his regimented on-board existence, Mom was left to clean up the mess of suddenly disagreeable and off-kilter kiddos. What should have been a time of joy and togetherness often become a time of stress and disagreement.

Mom set a strict schedule for good reasons. It was what our family needed to get through its days in that season of life. Dad broke the schedule for equally good reasons. Obviously, the story has a happy ending: my parents are still happily married, and none of us kids turned out to be crazed social deviants. But it's important to remember that, when things are going well and the schedules and techniques we use are working, we must still remember to be flexible, to be open-minded, and to accept the upsets to our routines as a healthy part of life.

Relinquishing Control and Relying on God

This passage, written by Laura, could easily have been written by me:
Here is something else I know: if scheduling Maya's days had "worked better" for us, I would have missed out on an area of spiritual growth for which I am now profoundly thankful. My need for control is an aspect of life in which I fiercely resist dying to self. An organzied, steady schedule to sail tidily through the early months of parenthood would have become a grievous idol for me, allowing me to take credit for the "success" of my orderly days, stand in judgment of those who parented differently, and find seeking God's plan for our family to be almost unnecessary. 
Let me give you an example of the specific kind of control-freaks the DDH and I are. Thursday, his mom called and asked if we'd like to meet her and her husband at a free outdoor concert that evening. I thought it sounded like fun, and the DDH agreed, so we said yes, gathered up a blanket, and headed out.

As we were preparing to leave, though, I noticed the DDH seemed particularly grumpy. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Do you not want to go to the concert? We don't have to go."

"No," he said. "I want to go. I just hate having my plans changed at the last moment."

Yes. It was something he wanted to do, but because it came up at the last minute, he was discombobulated and grumpy about doing it. I am the exact same way sometimes.

I have very carefully avoided giving myself any rules for parenting. I'm not going into it with much of a plan or an expectation. Because I know when my plans get messed up, I get grumpy. And if there is one thing babies are good at, it's messing up plans. My INTJ Mastermind personality says that I must be in control, but I know that a) that's impossible in this situation and b) I need to learn to rely on God and listen to His plans rather than clinging to my own.


I have no idea where this parenting journey is going to take me once T-Rex gets here. Like I said, so far my only plan has been to have no plan at all. But I will likely re-read Spirit-Led Parenting in the months ahead, finding comfort and reassurance in the voices of so many parents who have been there, done that already, and to remind me where my focus should be: on the Spirit who brings us peace in the midst of life's messiest and most sleep-deprived seasons.

Be sure to check out Megan and Laura at their online homes, too, SortaCrunchy and In The Backyard--they are both wonderful and entertaining bloggesses as well as Real Book Authors.


  1. I like the concepts you laid out here.
    I don't really feel pressured to parent a certain way from my friends and family, but the rest of it sounds like something I'd be on board with.
    Reading actual books is something I am trying to do a bit more of lately. I need to finish up some other books, but this one is going on my list!

    1. I hope you find it encouraging! ^_^