Book of the Month

God Knows Parenting Is a Wild Ride:
9 things to hold on to.

Kathy Coffey

Sorin Books
ISBN 1-893732-38-X
RRP: $24.95

This is a happy, warm and moving book about parenting. It is written by tradeswoman (she has four children from 16 to 28 years), who has loved her craft, and is at the peak of her form. She is still young enough to remember the nappy and dummy stage but wise and experienced enough to assess and celebrate the contented holiness of the task.

Her central thesis is the following:

‘Seeing home as a sacred space motivates us to invest our time and energy here. Home is the arena for our most influential work. While we may not be conscious of its importance, we are planting seed and laying groundwork here – not for a stock portfolio, a building, a project or a book, but for an irreplaceable human being. It is essential to see that home is the place where we most often participate in God’s holiness, and bring God’s compassion and creativity to our most intimate world.’

She adds important insights to the quickly developing literature of lay spirituality:

‘It is a well kept secret. ‘You don’t hear much about this secret from religious leaders, or even, unfortunately, from other parents. Maybe it is the kind of garment you grow into, like those slightly-too-big jeans you bought your child because they were on sale. But gradually, over a long experience of parenting, after some sleepless nights and days that demand the energy of dynamos, you get the larger picture: you weren’t in this alone. You and God and other people are all in cahoots.’

Families should be like churches, she suggests and churches should be like families. But the book is not mawkishly pious, though quiet and assured in its tone it bustles with wit and earthiness.

She emphasizes the importance of receiving partners to help in the work of parenting, grandparents, friends, neighbours, and other community links. She advises a dedication to nurturing the uniqueness of each child. She reflects on the balance between protecting whilst encouraging a child to have adventures. She is writing from within the American cultural context where events like the Colombine High School massacre have increased parents’ anxiety even about sending their children off to school. But such anxiety is probably universal these days.

She urges parent to keep expanding their own horizons. If parents are not open to grow, or keen to grow, there is a reduced likelihood that their children will establish a learning culture. Of course, if there are too many closed topics in a family, too many taboo subjects, then the family will not be an articulate family. Children need to learn language skills through ordinary discourse at home, skills which will prepare them for the language uses so useful for their personal and economic success.

One delightful chapter describes how she, a total failure at anything athletic as a youngster, was taught and encouraged to ski by her children.

She recommends buying, as presents, experiences instead of constant breakable things.

‘True holiness, that is, which would probably never give itself such a high-fallutin name. We are not talking the kind of syrupy piety that dolls up for church, but screams at the kids to get there on time. We are not talking the airy, distant kind of holiness that flourishes in quiet libraries among adults. We are talking here about the real thing – tested in more furnaces than we care to remember, tried in more acidic baths that we ever thought we could endure.’

This is not an onerous read, not worthy, but full of delight. Folksy, yes, but tempered, tested and profoundly loving.

Maybe all prospective and would be grandparents could buy copies as presents for all their prospective sons in law in the hope that they might find in parenting a new centre for their lives. I’m tempted, but I had better shut up.

One treasure I take away from this book is a quote from Mechtild of Magdeburg:


Love flows from God into


Like a bird who rivers the air

Without moving her wings’.

Hopefully, shortly, Kathy Coffey might write a similar book for those who are newly grandparents.

Reviewed by Terry Monagle

Available from John Garratt Bookroom

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