The van Milligens are a doorknife family. I can feel the collective woosh of stirred air as eyebrows all over Canada are being raised. What is a doorknife? It is what we named the butter knife we used to open the door to between our kitchen and garage when the doorknob mechanism stopped working. My husband discovered that we could run a butterknife down the side of the door to release the latch in order to go to the garage. We used this system for three or more years. Yes, we could have replaced the doorknob and eventually did when we decided to sell the house, but until then the doorknife was working, so why bother? The doorknife actually says quite a bit about our family culture. My husband was raised on a farm where self reliance and creative, no cost problem solving were very important. We both learned to make do and be self sufficient when we were growing up and we passed this on to our daughters who remember not only the doorknife, but the duct tape van and other such artifacts that were products of our family culture.
The Importance of Family Culture
Growing With is a book about family culture. It is more than a “how to” book on parenting techniques. While it does include strategies for adapting one’s parenting approach as children grow, the book is more focussed on a parenting posture that can work in various seasons of the parent child relationship. Argue and Powell define “Growing With” parenting as “a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all.” It’s “a relational odyssey with our kids that changes over time; values relationship and responsiveness over task and techniques; pursues our kids rather than waiting for them to go first, and accepts the kid we have, not the kid we wish we had.” It is parenting “that trusts God to transform us all, so while we can pursue relational, intentional, and personal parenting goals, we acknowledge that there are no parenting formulas.” Because it is a book about creating a sturdy faith formational family culture, this book is important for young parents, grandparents, parents of emerging adults and parents who are in the thick of parenting teenagers. It is never too late to adjust one’s posture.
The authors use what they call three dynamic verbs: “withing,” “faithing,” and “adulting” to describe the consistent parenting actions that will be present from the time we welcome our children to the time death parts us. They are verbs that remind families that life together will impact each family member in each of these areas: Withing acknowledges “a family’s growth in supporting each as children grow more independent.” Faithing recognizes that parents also have a role in assisting in “a child’s growth in owning and embodying their own journey with God as they encounter new experiences and information.” Parents engage in adulting by supporting “a child’s growth in agency as they embrace opportunities to shape the world around them.”
Argue and Powell particularly parse out three phases of adolescence through emerging adulthood that require parents to engage in particular roles: Learners (13-18) need parents who are teachers who will lead; Explorers (18-23) need parents who serve as guide alongside them as this is time for differentiation; and Focusers (23-29) need resourcers who are positioned from behind to have their children’s back as they forge ahead more independently.
Woven together, these postures, ages and stages create a mental model for shaping a family culture that is both foundational and yet responsive, adaptive and flexible enough to accommodate the complex variety of personalities and stages of development found in diverse family contexts.
Have you read Growing Young?
Growing With is a companion book to Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Powell, Jake Mulder, Brad M. Griffin. For those not familiar with Growing Young, it is a book based on researching over 250 congregations where youth and young adults were actively engaged in the life of faith and participation in the congregation. The research found that these dynamic congregations were engaging in six similar themes around youth and young adult engagement among which include significant leadership training and involvement, deep relational warmth, and strong empathy for what this and subsequent generations are experiencing as young people.
The two books are meant to work together because the authors recognize that churches and families are partners in the faith formation of children, teens and emerging adults. The Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) based out of Fuller Theological seminary sponsored the research that produced both books. One of the goals for FYI is to promote and support the family as the epicentre of faith formation while congregations and church programming serve as support to the faith formative experience which is happening in the home. Together these books support a covenantal theology that invites church and home to work together in the faith formation of its younger brothers and sisters.
A Cultural Shift
Remember that doorknife? When we finally did get a new doorknob we were really did wonder what took us so long to make the fix. We only got to enjoy the new doorknob for a few weeks before we moved to our new house. You would have thought we had learned from this experience, but sure enough, within a year of living in our new house the button which raised the oven’s temperature broke and the doorknife became an ovenknife that I had to stick into the back of the stove to raise the temperature. We used that system just until it was time to sell our house. I never got to use that new stove. My point? It is very hard to change culture. It certainly takes both intentionality and support or accountability. We would have sworn that we would never “doorknife” ever again, but that simple old butter knife represented more than a repurposed piece of cutlery – it spoke more deeply of our family values and resulting habits. Growing With is inviting parents and grandparents to go beyond solely doing it differently; it is calling all those who parent, whether biologically or spiritually (there are some great insights on mentorship in chapter 6), to a new way of being.
That’s why Growing With is a book that should probably be read with a companion, be that a spouse or other parents. It includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter that will help the reader begin to contemplate and apply insights to his or her own context. But, because this book is asking for a culture shift rather than a checklist of new parenting techniques, it may require readers to have others around them to bolster up or encourage them as they navigate the culture shifts. There is also a small group guide available which could be useful to parenting small groups exploring the book together.
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