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Seven Books That Shaped and Guided My Parenting

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

Books have been a significant part of my life in more ways than I can describe, including how Dennis and I parented our six. The recommendations of others introduced me to some of the best books in many categories including parenting, so here are the seven that most shaped our parenting. All are full of timeless content and available online.

1. The Hurried Child, by David Elkind. Professor Elkind helps parents focus on the pressures our culture places on children: preschool for all kids, lessons in competitive sports at earlier and earlier ages and the potentially dangerous influence of screens. Elkind challenged the new values of my generation by writing about the importance of children being allowed to be children, free to learn and grow at their own pace without the pressure of lessons and graded accomplishments.

Our first three kids were under five when I discovered this book, and I felt a strong sense of “this is right.” I wanted the best for my kids and Elkind gave me the courage to say no to the adult peer pressure I felt to start enrolling my preschoolers in classes. Today as I watch my little grandson play in the dirt with his trucks, stack pieces of scrap wood to make ramps and roads, and let his imagination freely grow, I remember my own kids doing the same in our backyard. And it makes me happy to watch his free play knowing how good it is for his development.

The book is available in a newly updated 25th anniversary edition which addresses all that parents face today. Twenty-first century children need their parents to this read book now more than ever.

2. What is a Family? by Edith Schaeffer. Written with a wholistic view of family life rather than tackling how-to topics, What is a Family? paints a portrait of the values that shape a family. The chapter titles answer her title question: “The Birthplace of Creativity” … “A Formation Center for Human Relationships” … “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” … “A Perpetual Relay of Truth” … “A Museum of Memories.”

Schaeffer gave me a vision for how Dennis and I could both create and control the environment that is home. I quoted her often when speaking, marked paragraphs that I reread over and over, and eventually wore the cover off the book!

Her introduction beautifully describes the vision God has for Christian families: “A Christian family is a mobile blown by the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit. Each member of the family, as he or she is born again, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.” As time marches on the family is “constantly changing from year to year, with the mix never the same—agewise, interestwise, talentwise, intellectwise—never static, always with new discoveries … blown by the breeze of the Holy Spirit.”

This book is a timeless treasure worth owning for every Christian family.

3. Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt. I’ve mentioned this book in other blog posts. Reading to and with children, often out loud, has value beyond measuring emotionally, relationally, spiritually and intellectually. Hunt lists dozens of great books for different age groups; chances are you’ll find books you’ve never heard about. Be sure to purchase the latest edition of this book, updated to 2021.

4. A Mother’s Heart, by Jean Fleming. This book taught me a life changing truth: “Children are a piece of a mother’s heart walking around outside her body.” This statement by Fleming explained so much when I was mommy to my six, and it still applies today as my kids are all adults. I understand now it will always be true. The book is available but not in large quantities. If you can’t find it I’d also recommend my friend Sally Clarkson’s books, especially The Ministry of Motherhood.

5. The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom and God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew. These are not parenting books but I include them because they were significant to me for casting a vision for the kind of faith I wanted to grow in my children. We read these books out-loud together when my kids were middle schoolers. I also worked to expose our six to other believers of strong faith to support and strengthen their fledgling relationship with God.