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Book review: Parenting for a Better World edited by Susanna Snyder and Ellen Ott Marshall

08 September 2023

Dennis Richards looks at advice for parents

THE core message of this stimulating volume of essays lies in a question: “How can we parent in this world, as people of Christian faith committed to social and ecological transformation?” If that sounds a touch pompous, you will quickly see that the opposite is true.

Originating during lockdown in a conversation between two friends on opposite sides of the Atlantic, it is realism itself. And it needs to be. In a rapidly changing world, the task of parenting is clearly harder than ever. There will be embattled veterans of each different stage of parenting, desperately seeking for any glimmer of hope. As Christians, they will be more likely to “beat themselves up” for every perceived failure and conflict, and the many apparently backward steps. The essays are wide-ranging, and the contexts are varied. Race relations, feminism, global warming, food insecurity, community projects, and street demos are to the fore.

The very first essay establishes the flavour of this generous-hearted collection: kindness to yourself, kindness to others, and — this is new to me in a parenting volume — kindness to the planet. For many readers, the key to its success will be the “Try it out” section at the end of each essay. There are no right answers. If it isn’t working, let it go and move on. Worst of all worlds would be simply to add yet another chore to an already busy, even over-busy, life.

Edible gardening is a case in point: watching things grow and eating the produce may well be engaging for many children. Try it! For others, it will be music-making or creating collages. Theological concepts are understated, more food for thought than obligations. Jesus listened to children: he asked questions. Both the Lord’s Prayer and the Magnificat feature in unexpected contexts.

And the task of parenting teenagers, with their growing awareness of injustice, is not ignored. Two accounts by black American parents are particularly challenging of racial stereotyping, resisting the images that society projects on to their sons. There is encouragement for parents and their offspring to participate in street protest together. When one of my daughters informed me of her wish to be an eco-feminist warrior, I would have been grateful for the advice from this book. It complements perfectly Donald Winnicott’s reassuring concept of parenting that is “good enough”. And most of us would be happy to settle for that.

Dennis Richards is a former head of St Aidan’s C of E High School, Harrogate, in North Yorkshire.


Parenting for a Better World: Social justice practices for your family and the planet
Susanna Snyder and Ellen Ott Marshall, editors
Chalice Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.99

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