The former executive director of small groups at Willow Creek megachurch and co-author of WALKING THE SMALL GROUP TIGHTROPE takes the business model of "polarity management" from small group leadership to parenting in WALKING THE PARENTING TIGHTROPE. But does the concept translate well? Read on.
The table of contents is set up much as the small group book: looking at various challenges to be overcome. The challenges particular to parenting include training, discipline, spirituality, adolescence, finances and interdependence. Dealing with these challenges, Robinson says, requires that you hold certain things in tension (the "polarity"). In this case, the six paired points of polarity are: limits and freedom, punishment and nurturing, tradition and choice, tender love and tough love, support and self-sufficiency, and attachment and autonomy. Instead of choosing one over the other, parents "walk the tightrope," finding balance between each two. The goals parents shoot for in a child's life: wise decision-making, self-discipline, personal faith, minimal wounds, economic independence, and long-term relationship.
All six sets of tensions, Robinson tells us, will keep us on our toes. One minute we'll be calm and things will be under control, the next moment we'll be knocked off balance. "But if you embrace child-rearing reality, you will stay energetically engaged in the adventure even when it feels like a circus gone awry."
As the parent of one teenager who's in her first year of college, and another new college graduate living at home and working full-time, I found the section on fostering interdependence helpful (mostly under "finances" and a chapter titled "Umbilical Cords, Apron Strings, and Phone Lines.") It wasn't so much that I was looking for practical help. I mostly was looking for encouragement that my husband and I are on the right track, moving our kids from total support to self-sufficiency, and that it was okay to let them endure a share of the "failure quota" on the road to maturity.
Robinson is father to three boys, and admits that "on more occasions that I can now count, Lynn (his wife) and I have been left scratching our parenting heads" and are "regularly humbled." Parenting, he acknowledges, is more art than science. There is no 10-step plan that works. There are basic principles, but no just-do-this-and-your-kids-will-turn-out-perfect set of hard and fast rules. He's vulnerable, and regularly tells you where he has failed. He also comes across as unpretentious (he describes their family devotions as ranging from "abject failure" to "moderately interesting"). This is endearing and reassuring. The good personal anecdotes about parenting (including a story about catching his son smoking pot) lend credibility to the text.
There are nods to Willow Creek fairly heavily throughout the book in anecdotes, references, or teachings on various concepts. Anyone who has parented a strong-willed child will relate to some of the stories he tells (including the cat who presumably wet the bed). You might not agree with all of his own methods with his kids (on punishment, for example), but then, that's not the point. You're supposed to gear your parenting to your own kids.
The small group guide (of course!) at the end of the book seems like a good idea --- parents need all the support they can get! Although much of this material will seem like a reinforcement of basic parenting principles, there's still plenty of fresh food for thought.
Even if readers already subscribe to the philosophy Robinson espouses in the book, parents will find this good encouragement for the child-raising journey.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011