There are so many parenting books available—but as people of faith, we want to be intentional about the messages we espouse. Cindy Wang Brandt writes from her home in Taiwan about her own journey from a strict, shame-based faith to one centered on grace and justice. Brandt finds it impossible to separate her faith from her parenting. Her new book, Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness (Eerdmans, 2019), is a guide for parents looking to raise their children in a faith that sees the image of God in everyone, understands the importance of our bodies to God, and seeks justice for all people.
Living Lutheran spoke with Brandt about her belief that the world begins to change at home, with our kids.
Living Lutheran: Could you tell us about Parenting Forward?
Brandt: I’ve joked that it’s like a social justice manual for parents. Parenting Forward is a book about raising children with justice, for justice. I spend the first half of the book addressing how to treat our children justly, with full autonomy and power, giving them the dignity they deserve and yet are often denied as human beings. But the work doesn’t stop there because our children don’t exist in the vacuum of our home life. They interact with the wider world. Therefore, justice for children also has to mean we challenge the systems at work in our world. The second half of my book covers systemic oppressions such as racism, gender inequality and homophobia.
You write about how parenting is largely about parenting yourself. What do you mean by that?
We often mistake parenting with shaping our children into who we want them to be. Giving our children autonomy to be themselves means parenting is not done in the direction of our children but in the direction of ourselves. We can’t manipulate them, but we can change who we are as parents. We can choose to break the cycles of pain and wounds in our own lives so we are healthy and whole in our presence in the home. We can choose to treat our children with the utmost respect and kindness. We can choose to live joyfully as we witness our children’s playfulness and whimsy.
Who we are impacts our children, of course, but parenting is more about who we choose to be in relationship with our children than about how we mold them according to our liking.
One of the guiding principles of your book is childhood autonomy. Could you explain that concept and why it’s so important?
“Autonomy” and “consent” are buzzwords in our socially conscious vocabulary. But at the root of it is simply equality—extending human rights to everyone who is a human being. We often treat children as less than human, although we would never admit this. For example, we expect children to operate on a schedule when we allow ourselves leeway to be flexible. Or we find it troubling when they’re crying or throwing a tantrum when we experience the ups and downs of our own emotions.
I hope my book helps [us to] uncover some of the biases we have against treating children as less than human and [to] start changing our attitudes.
What are some suggestions for parents who want to teach their kids to engage with issues of justice but don’t know where to begin?
Not to belabor the point, but we have to first treat our children with justice. So much of the oppression that exists in our society today stems from childhood wounds resulting in adults who are incapable of breaking away from their own internalized oppression. As we desire to respect the full humanity of our children, it will follow that you’ll need to work for justice in the world. For example, in wanting to raise your girl with gender equality, you’ll find messages from the media that speak otherwise. As you work to dismantle these biases, include your children in your own journey toward discovery and resistance. One of the best places to begin is children’s books that address justice. My go-to recommendation is Books for Littles, a children’s book curation site.
What are your hopes for your readers?
I know most parents are tired. I know many may feel like a parenting book is only reminding them of what they aren’t doing. I want parents to know they are loved and they are enough, but that everything I speak in the book is with the intention of liberation for themselves and for their children. My hope is they don’t feel burdened but finish the book feeling more free.