I have been an avid reader of parenting books. When Audrey, our first child, was a baby, I wore out my copies of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and The Baby Whisperer. Who knew that the simple task of helping your child fall asleep could be so difficult?
I've enjoyed others along the way, and I'm especially happy to tell you about Shelly Wildman's next book, First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship. Here's the blurb I wrote for the back of her book: "Shelly Wildman doesn’t offer burdensome to-dos or simplistic 1-2-3 formulas; rather, she calls parents to prayerful intentionality with their children. Warmly, wryly opening her own life to readers, Wildman allows us a window into godly parenting that happens in the thick of soccer season, basketball tryouts, homework, and Sunday morning worship. Despite her many exemplary qualities, Wildman never claims to be a perfect mom—which must be why I love this book so much."
Shelly has generously agreed to an interview here on the blog, so here we go!
Writing about parenting can be a powder keg—people have pretty strong opinions about raising kids. Why did you choose to write a parenting book?
I kind of feel like I didn’t choose to write a parenting book, but that the book chose me. (Sounds like a scene from Harry Potter, doesn’t it?) I fought writing it for a long time because I knew I wasn’t a perfect parent—I had messed up so many times that I didn’t feel qualified to write this book. I still don’t. But the idea kept nagging at me for so long that I finally felt like God might have been pushing me to do it.
I believe with all my heart that stronger families will make for a stronger society, which is so important today. And I believe that the strongest families are those that have Christ at their center. But so many parents today have lost their focus or their sense of purpose. They spend their time on meaningless, temporal things, when, really, the most important mission field is right in front of them. I’m hoping to encourage parents to look at the bigger picture, to ask why they are doing what they’re doing, and to think critically about God’s purpose for their kids and for their families.
I have three adult daughters now, and my hope is, now that my husband and I have raised them, that they will go out into the world and make a difference. And should they have children someday, that they would also make disciples of their kids. Instilling a Christ-following legacy is important work—I believe it’s THE most important work parents can do—and we’ve got to be intentional about it.
What makes your book different from other parenting books?
So many parenting books are “how-to” books. They seem to say, “Just follow these ten steps and here’s what you’ll get in the end.” But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why.
Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?
Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?
Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?
Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them.
Why do you think some kids, even though they had Christian parents, don’t grow up to follow God? Is there anything Christian parents can do to ensure that their kids will choose to follow Jesus?
This is such a difficult question for me to answer because I honestly don’t know why. I know that parents can do all the right things—have time in God’s word together every day, take their kids to church regularly, pray diligently for their kids—and still have kids who struggle. I don’t believe there are any guarantees in Scripture that our kids will choose to follow Jesus into adulthood.
But I do believe that Scripture commands us to parent with the end goal in mind: having children who know and love the Lord. We are to be diligent in our calling to present our children to God, and we have to trust Him with the outcome. We have to persevere every day to show our kids that following Jesus is the path to true life, even though some days can be downright hard.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 has been such a guide and encouragement to me as a parent, especially where it says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your offspring may live.” We have a choice every day, and it’s our job to show our kids that choosing Christ is the only way to a fulfilling life.
What books influenced your husband and you as you raised your three daughters?
Honestly? Not very many. So many parenting books seemed to offer a formula—do this; don’t do that—and we weren’t looking for a formula. We knew that every kid is different and that every family has different needs, and most parenting books didn’t take that into account.
That said, there were a few that made an impact. Our pastor, Kent Hughes and his wife Barbara, wrote a book called Common Sense Parentingback in the ‘90s that, well, made sense to us. Some of the information is a little outdated today, but overall, it really helped us make good decisions about our parenting. And then there was James Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child, for the obvious reasons. I think the book that made the most impact, though, was probably Shepherding a Child’s Heartby Tedd Tripp. That book made me realize that my goal as a parent isn’t good behavior, but a changed heart. That, to me, was really impactful. If I were still parenting younger kids today, I’d also recommend Paul David Tripp’s Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Will Radically Change Your Family.
What was your lowest parenting moment?
You mean besides that time I locked my one month old in the car? (True story!)
I think my lowest moments were the times I let my daughters down. When I betrayed their trust by sharing too much with others. Or when I didn’t fulfill a promise I had made. Parents can feel their kids’ disappointment, which hurts so much. But more than that, too many disappointments lead to mistrust or a lack of respect, and I never wanted that to happen.
That said, parents are human. We do mess up. We do let our kids down. And those are the times we have to humble ourselves with our kids and apologize, sincerely. We need to let our kids know that we don’t always do things perfectly or say the right things or even parent correctly. But that we need grace and the help of God as much as they do.
Who do you hope will read this book and what do you hope they will gain?
I hope parents with kids of all ages will read this book, but especially parents of younger children. I hope grandparents will read this book. And I hope it sparks lots of discussion between husbands and wives, moms groups, or even small groups in churches.
My hope is that parents will come away from reading this book with a stronger sense of their purpose as parents and that they might gain a couple of new ideas that they can implement in their own family. I also hope people will read the last chapter very carefully and prayerfully. The last chapter of the book is on letting go, and it’s a concept that I think is becoming lost a little bit today. It’s so hard, but it’s so important, even when your children are young, to start thinking about letting go. We’ve got to be parents who demonstrate faith in God’s sovereign work in the lives of our children.
Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor and author of the forthcoming book First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel.