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Book Review: Parenting The Complex and Beautiful Vocation of Raising Children

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Amid a sea of self-help books, one has emerged where the Christian parent can find solace, encouragement and great advice. Whereas many texts help the faithful discern priesthood, marriage, consecration or other spiritual life as laity, few focus specifically on Christian parenting.

Parenting: The Complex and Beautiful Vocation of Raising Children by Holly Taylor Coolman shares an overlooked aspect of child- rearing: it is a vocation, a calling from God. With this reminder, she invites readers through a step-by-step process for perceiving parenting as an apprenticeship wherein parents actively hone their own skills while instructing and guiding their children.

Coolman describes the journey of parenting as “mapmaking.” Distinct from other “how-to” books, she writes as she converses with friends; an experienced mom sharing earned wisdom with fellow earnest parents. Her many anecdotes help readers relate and engage, lending greater credence to her good advice.

Through her experiences, Coolman gently guides readers (whether frazzled parent, competent grandparent or church minister) through parenting’s complicated facets. Without losing the forest for the trees, she breaks advice into manageable pieces with simple illustrations. For example, she explains how toddlers learn about the world by asking when to ask for ice cream—a simple yet striking reminder that everything is new to the tiny child! Similarly, she highlights that the toddler’s “ability to see the thing as it is, in all its specificity, and delight in it, is sometimes dulled later in life, but it is essential to our lives as human[s] and people of faith” (30).

This Christian awe and wonder are central to “parenting as apprenticeship,” the hinge on which the book is anchored, for in the parenting journey, the parent learns alongside the child. Parent and child receive instruction and learn simultaneously and joyfully together.

Coolman also emphasizes leaning on one’s community to broaden one’s support in parenting—a helpful reminder that young parents can recapture and prioritize with like-minded family and friends. Her examples include Cousin Camp, leisure time with grandparents beyond the lux Disney World vacation, fishing with an uncle and talking with a neighbor, friend or coach.

Organized chronologically, the first chapter is “New Parents” and last is “Parenting Adults.” Chapters on wider topics are interspersed, such as “Fostering Community: Within and Around” and, perhaps most poignant for our modern social conversation, “The Challenges of New Technology.” This mom will certainly return to chapters in the near future, such as the ever-applicable “Busy Days” and “Moving into Adolescence.”

Examining tough situations through a positive lens, Coolman proposes wise, thoughtful and loving responses to issues faced by all families. She describes in an uplifting and encouraging style the ideal that every parent hopes he or she can respond with. Whether a parent is single, raising biological or adopted children or living far from or near to extended family, Parenting: The Complex and Beautiful Vocation of Raising Children is an enjoyable and reliable roadmap to parenting as a Christian apprentice.

Abigail Ulbrich holds a BA in philosophy from Boston College and an MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband, Shane, live in South Bend, IN, with their five children.

Holly Taylor Coolman, Parenting: The Complex and Beautiful Vocation of Raising Children. Baker Academic, 2024. 160 pages. $21.99

This article appeared in the July 2024 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.


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