Edited by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Karen Ware Jackson
Chalice Press, 208 pages
Reviewed by Shelby Etheridge Harasty
As soon as I opened up this book, I knew it was an excellent purchase. Like many pastors, parents regularly ask me: “How can I talk to my kids about [fill in the blank here]?” This book engages many of the difficult issues facing our communities and congregations — from gun violence to immigration, racism and income inequality, grief and loss, drug use and divorce. Often, it’s easier to avoid talking about these things altogether, but that does not help us create relationships that are honest, open and vulnerable. Whether it’s nurturing children as pastors, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers or parents, as we work through the joys and challenges of raising children who are thoughtful and engaged with the world around them, it’s inevitable that questions will come up. Life circumstances may even demand that these tough topics be addressed.
Each chapter in this book is written by someone who has experienced the topic firsthand. The editors, Bromleigh McCleneghan and Karen Ware Jackson, did a great job of compiling different voices to write on a wide range of topics. In the essays, pastors, young parents and experts engage with topics that can be hard to know how to talk about, like mass incarceration, cultural appropriation and navigating questions about gender and identity.
The chapters are all organized in the same way. They start with personal reflections by the authors of the essay who address the issue head on and the ways they have struggled and engaged with particular issues. The next section of each chapter is called “crafting the conversation,” where the writers give specific tips about how to talk with kids about whatever topic the essay addresses. This section often includes questions that kids might ask or questions that parents might ask kids, as well as questions we can ask ourselves as we navigate these topics. Finally, each chapter ends with resources for further explanation, so parents, pastors and educators can seek out more information as they dive deeper into each topic.
This summer a family in our congregation lost their son in the third trimester. This was an extraordinary heartbreak for the parents, their two children, their families, neighbors, friends and our congregation. As I read the chapter titled, “She’s having the temper tantrum you want to have: Kids and pregnancy loss,” my heart broke open again recalling the conversations they have been having with their kindergarten-age son. Reading that chapter, written by two pastors who lost their own daughter during pregnancy, has been an act of prayer and pastoral care as I continue to minister to this family during their tender grief.
This book addresses some of the most poignant questions in life at any age: Who am I? Why did this happen? What am I afraid of? What is fair?
When it comes to working through these questions with parents and families, I cannot think of a better resource than a person who has shared the same experience and reflected on it through a theological lens. This book will be an asset to the shelf of any pastor, educator or parent.
Shelby Etheridge Harasty is associate pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland.