Some time ago I read Mary DeMuth’s book Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture: Practical Help for Shaping Your Children’s Hearts, Minds, and Souls.I “met” Mary online while clicking around from blog to blog as a relative newcomer to the blogosphere. I landed on hers and found myself charmed by her personal chronicle of life in southern France. She and her husband were involved in a church plant at the time (they’ve since returned to the States), and I recall a post where she bemoaned the European washing machine. They’re designed for minimal water and electricity consumption, but operate at the same slow pace of the surrounding culture–take your time, no hurry, relax. Every European washer I’ve seen in action when visiting overseas takes forever to churn out a tiny load of wash, pausing at intervals for several minutes. The fiction writer, like Mary, wonders if the machine is merely taking time to reflect on its dreary task of cleaning clothes. To ponder. To enjoy the mechanical equivalent to le gouter. Eventually they slowly pick up speed again to spin a few more rounds only to pause again. You can read her comparison of American-v-European washers here.Anyway, way back then I wrote to tell her that I had seen them in action…and in inaction…and could picture the whole aggravating process of doing laundry without the benefit of a big, honkin’, supersonic, large capacity American washer…and we exchanged a few e-mails. I enjoyed her thoughts, honesty, and style.Well, she kindly sent a copy of this book, Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, to read and review.I’ve sat on it for months. Maybe a year. I’m very bad that way.Mary, please forgive.The title stared at me from the shelf today, so I pulled it down and saw a bunch of Post-Its flagging several pages. Obviously I wanted to return to various sections and reflect on her ideas. So let me just flip through it and share what stood out.The biggest message she conveys in this book and in all her writing is that it’s all about Jesus.”Life’s not about us,” she writes in Chapter 4. “This is the single most important truth we must communicate with our children as they venture into a world of postmodern thought. Jesus is what it’s all about.” (p. 37)How do we do this?”We reveal Jesus by modeling Him. By inviting Him to be near. By muddying our knees in prayer with our children.” (p. 37)With this guiding premise, she dives into the particulars.She talks discreetly about a family that taught about humility and servanthood, but lived as if they were privileged because they were leaders. Then the parents lost their leadership positions. The kids, instead of being thankful for the opportunity to serve in simpler ways, flung themselves to the floor, weeping because a position had been taken away. Mary writes:
What those parents didn’t understand was that parenting is an inside-out phenomenon. What is inside us flows out into our children. We can implement formulas, tell all the right stories, do the required amount of family devotions, and still be imparting exactly the opposite of what we teach. If our outsides (what we say) don’t match the insides (how we act or really feel), our children will detect the difference and will act accordingly….The best method for parenting in a postmodern context is to be real, to share struggles, to show how you run to Jesus when disappointment strikes. Parenting, boiled down to its essence, is modeling.
Mary is a reader, a thinker, and a writer, and while I suspect she’s done a lot more of all three than I have, I do share her interest in reading, thinking, and writing, so I paid attention when she admitted her own concern about losing the heart and simplicity of devotion to Christ to those kinds of pursuits especially in the enthusiastic discussions about postmodernity. She explains:
I’m a thinker. I enjoy discourse. But I wonder whether we are forgetting this verse in our intellectual meanderings about truth: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).The serpent has a way with words. He is able to sway minds. He rallies against simplicity and purity of devotion. And all the while we write and talk and parent, using words but not living them out…Jesus is a person. He is more than mind. He is even more than words. Perhaps we do Him a disservice if we allow our minds to intellectualize everything. I preach this to myself. I love words, making a living from them. But I don’t want to be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus.
She talks about having an ongoing conversation with our kids.She talks about “coaching” them.She also talks about how children help us to slow down, and relates the way their Norweigan friend Frode would walk his kids to school in France:
I run my children to school. Literally. We skip and run and walk very briskly because, well, that’s what we do. We are hurried.But Frode takes time. He talks to his kids. He meanders. He lingers. He is patient.While I rush my children.As I walked (briskly) home after seeing patient Frode, the Lord spoke to me about slowing down, about productivity, about my connectivity with Him…I sensed God whisper, “You know, it’s not how quickly you accomplish tasks in a day that matters to me. It’s you I want. Whether you’re slow or fast. Whether you get ten things or no things done. I love you. Period….Your day is not a to-do list. I don’t look at the tally at the end of the day and either nod in approval or sneer in rebuke. I want to be connected to you.”
She talks about being there for your kids with your focused attention, limiting media, getting kids outside to play, cherishing childhood, reading together, and laughing. In one chapter, she talks about going outside and seeing God in nature, taking art field trips and making art journals, telling stories and enjoying music.Mary is a storyteller, so the book is filled with stories of her own family, stories she’s gleaned from friends, and it’s even bookended with a story to get us thinking about what it means to prepare our child for the world they will one day step into as adults…will we have equipped them with all the best tools and resources?Mary offers us what she has gained from conversations and study of this postmodern world, hoping to give us things to think about–and implement–as we parent our kids. And hopefully, by the grace of God, we will equip our children well for the postmodern world.The key being to recognize for ourselves–and live out alongside our kids–that Jesus is what it’s all about.