Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

My oldest child just turned thirteen. In honor of that occasion, here is my top ten list of parenting books. 

1. The Bible 

If you could have only one book for parenting, you would want a Bible. To start, it is a great bedtime story book. The stories are vivid, dramatic, romantic, supernatural, heroic, terrifying, gentle, compelling, and inspiring. As a moral instructor, the Bible is unparalled. Beginning with the Ten Commandments, the Bible sets out the rules to live by, and demonstrates the consequences when we do not follow the rules. Beyond specific prohibitions, the Bible gives affirmative commands, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the Golden Rule.  We teach our children to remember these rules to guide their choices, big and small.  But the reason the Bible tops my list of parenting books is its lessons for overcoming failure. The story of David’s repentance after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his arrangement for the death of her husband, and the story of the Prodigal Son’s return home after he spent his inheritance on wild living, both show how we are to act after we make mistakes. Instead of compounding our errors or giving up in despair, we can take steps to acknowledge our errors and make restitution. Finally, the story of Adam and Eve and their perfect Father encourages me by showing that, even if I were a perfect parent, my children would still make bad choices.  

2. Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?
by Gary Thomas

What is the best thing I can do for my kids?  Is it buying them the right clothes, reading them the right books, sending them to the right schools, or involving them in the right activities?  No, the best thing I can do for my kids is provide a safe and secure nest in which they will grow, learn, and be nurtured. My husband and I create this safe and secure nest by having a loving, sacrificial marriage. “Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling,” C. S. Lewis convincingly wrote, “It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God.” Thomas provides inspiration for a stronger marriage through stories of real marriages, like that of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. He describes the Lincolns’ difficult marriage and argues that Abraham Lincoln’s commitment to the Union was similar to his commitment to his marriage. Reviews for this book claim it is the best marriage book ever written, life-changing, and earth shattering. I agree. 

3. And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children
by Susan Yates

This book is my favorite for parenting in the trenches of the early years. A mother of five and the wife of Rev. John Yates of the Falls Church, Susan Yates speaks from the wisdom of vast experience. She notes that women have seasons of their lives. When a mother is getting no sleep, no peace, and not enough adult interaction, one of her biggest challenges is thinking that this difficult time will never end. Yates reminds us that kids are little only once. All too soon, the kids will grow up, and mothers will have adequate rest, order, and solitude. Cherish those childhood moments now and know that even the difficult ones will not last forever, despite the feeling that they will. 

4. Revolutionary Parenting: What the Research Shows Really Works
by George Barna 

Despite the deluge of parenting books (more than 75,000), Barna explains why he provided yet another. His book details research on specific practices of those parents who have successfully raised spiritual champions. Barna defines spiritual champions as “individuals who have embraced Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord; accept the Bible as truth and as the guide for life; and seek to live in obedience to its principles and in search of ways to continually deepen their relationship with God.” Barna discusses the crisis in American parenting, conditions for revolutionary success, planning for spiritual champions, how revolutionary parents behave, and finally, how his study of revolutionary parenting changed his approach to parenting. The book is concrete, thoroughly researched, practical, and to the point. My favorite sentence — “It doesn’t get any more meaningful than this” — reminds me that my “greatest legacy will be the children who grow up, leave my home, and become the new church body.” 

5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families
by Stephen R. Covey

A father of nine children and a successful business guru, Stephen Covey took the principles of his wildly successful 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and applied those principles to family life. Covey reminds his readers that you need a plan to guide your family to its destination if you care about where your family ends up, and he gives specific suggestions on implementation. 

6. A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family
by Mary Ostyn

You do not need to have a large family to benefit from reading this book. You know that any book is worth reading that begins with this Mother Theresa quote: “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” Acknowledging that mothers often struggle with sleep deprivation, Ostyn suggests each evening praying specifically that whatever sleep you get will somehow be enough. Her discussions of money, parenthood and stress, the supermom myth, likeable kids, and school success will resonate with all parents. 

7. Siblings without Rivalry
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

As a mother of six children, I see no shortage of sibling rivalry.  Yet I also often see acts of selflessness and touching moments of deep love. The principles in this book can help engender more of the latter and less of the former. We have noticed that when we abide by the precepts of the book, the children respond in wonderful ways.  The book gives seemingly formulaic suggestions for how to deal with common types of conflicts, but the amazing thing is how well the principles work when put into practice.  The book offers many concrete suggestions for validating a child’s feelings without taking sides. 

8. Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child: What are the Options?
edited by Paula J. Carreiro and Eileen Shields-West 

Parents often struggle with the decision of how best to educate their children. With contributions on choices such as homeschooling, Catholic schools, Reggio Emilia schools, and special learning needs schools, this book offers a detailed and varied discussion of the options available. Whether you are just beginning the selection process or have already started down a particular path, this book will offer valuable new insights. 

9. Daily Light Devotional
by Anne Graham Lotz 

Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth, has carried on the family tradition with Lotz’s own highly regarded ministry. This devotional was first compiled in 1794 by Jonathan Bagster, and Ruth Graham gave it to her daughter, Anne, for her tenth birthday. As a parent, Lotz gave copies to her children for their tenth birthdays. Lotz enjoys knowing that wherever her family is, they are all reading the same devotionals for that day. The book has morning and evening devotionals that are compiled from Bible verses. I enjoy reading these passages with my girls. 

10. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Kids
by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. 

This gem of a book details Mogel’s transformation when she realized that her psychology practice could help “provide powerful theories for understanding children’s emotional problems, but the theories shift too frequently to be an anchor and give short shrift to problems of character.” She then sought to integrate psychology and Jewish teachings, addressing the problem of “anxious parents, anxious children.”

As Mogel writes, “unsure how to find grace and security in the complex world we’ve inherited, we try to fill up the spaces in our children’s lives with stuff: birthday entertainments, lessons, rooms full of toys and equipment, tutors and therapists.” But this creates more anxiety for the parents who fear that their children will not succeed and not be able to “sustain this rarefied lifestyle.”  To counter this parental anxiety, Mogel sets out nine blessings — wisdom based on Jewish teachings — to guide parents in the daunting task of raising children.

More on: Bible

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles