Plough Publishing House, Rifton, N.Y., 2012. (Available at $8.50 from Amazon or download the book free of charge at plough.com.)
This book looked like it might take some time to read and digest, so I set it aside until I felt free to devote myself to it. Partly I was concerned that I might find the book old-fashioned, coming as it does from a Bruderhof pastor.
The Bruderhof is an Anabaptist communal movement founded in 1920 by the author’s grandfather.
Then one Sunday morning after awakening early and finishing morning routines while my husband still slumbered, I decided to try a few chapters. Before breakfast I reached the last page.
“Why Children Matter” is laid out very attractively, and the format makes the book seem easy to read. Its chapters are short. Arnold says what needs to be said and no more. The pages have plenty of white space, as if to leave room for the reader’s thoughts. And there is much to think about.
Arnold obviously loves children and sees them as a blessing from God. He also respects and cares about parents. That balance is apparent in the writing.
This book is full of advice for cherishing, guiding and nurturing children, and it is realistic about the challenges of parenting.
The author’s down-to-earth language can be disarming: “For the parents of small children, the first years can seem overwhelmingly strenuous at times — and at the end of a long day, children can even seem to be more of a bother than a gift. They are not porcelain dolls but rascals with sticky fingers and runny noses.”
Earlier in the book in a chapter about motherhood, a paragraph of “shoulds” worried me, particularly its concluding statement that “far from regretting or resenting it, (a woman) ought to feel that motherhood is a gift.” While I agree motherhood is a wonderful privilege, and mothering was my own priority, who can say how another person should “feel”?
But on the whole this book is free of admonishment and has the tenor of wise counsel.
Advice for Grandparents
As a grandmother I liked Arnold’s guidance for parents and their parents in the pages on the role of grandparents. He addresses some families’ ambivalence about that role and urges grandparents to stay connected, even when geographically separated from their grandchildren.
Mostly he reminds grandparents that their children have primary responsibility for their own children and the right to raise them in their own way, even if they make mistakes. And he encourages young parents to turn to their parents for advice.
Arnold speaks to many issues not always seen in other books on parenting, and everything he says seems to come from the loving heart of a man who, with his wife, raised eight children, is grandfather to 42 and at the time of writing expected to become a great-grandfather.
Some Thought-Provoking Observations
Here is a sampling of his observations, thought-provoking opinions and questions:
- “Respect must be earned and not only demanded. When children lack respect for adults, it is usually because the adults in their lives lack respect for them.”
- “In my experience, pampered children are the product of pampered parents — parents who insist on always getting their own way and whose lives are structured around the illusion that instant gratification brings happiness.”
- “How can we teach children anything sensible when we are told to leave God out?”
- “It is imperative … that we as parents boldly pass on to our children the religious values we hold dear, regardless of the consequences. …How, then, should we lead them to God? For one thing, we can never force our values down their throats. Instead, we must let them feel and know the impact of our own faith on a daily basis.”
Quoting his father, Arnold says that “perhaps the suffering of children has a close connection with the greatest suffering ever endured: God’s suffering, Christ’s suffering for lost creation.”
If any of these statements by Arnold keeps you from considering his book, you will miss a beautiful reminder of why children truly do matter to all of us.
It is God, not us, who created our children, says Arnold, and God has “a plan for each one, and our children will become themselves only if they are allowed to develop according to his will.”