Spirituality can be a source of strength for married couples as well as for parents, and religion publishers have long supplied Bible-based guides for those in search of better home lives. As families around the globe grapple with new challenges caused by Covid-19, religion publishers are bringing to market books that combine hope and comfort with direction and wisdom in these vital areas.
Susan Tjaden, senior editor at WaterBrook, says, “Having endured a year plagued by a global pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, unemployment, disruption of school and work, and forced isolation, our culture is stressed out and emotionally fatigued.” In response, the publisher recently released Peace: Hope and Healing for the Anxious Momma’s Heart, an examination of scripture, anxiety, and motherhood by Becky Thompson. Pointing out that anxiety affects over 40 million adults in the U.S., Thompson reminds readers they are not alone and that healing is possible. The book brings both a practical and spiritual approach to the discussion of anxiety, Tjaden notes.
Mary Wiley, director of marketing at B&H, says of marriages today: “Covid-19 and the resulting strains of schooling and, for many, job loss has created a season ripe for conflict and difficulty. Resources intended to meet couples in their difficulties and provide solutions and hope are needed for both husband and wife to read separately and together.” The press will publish Complement: The Surprising Beauty of Choosing Together over Separate in Marriage in April 2021. Authors Aaron and Jamie Ivey—the worship pastor at the Austin Stone church and the creator and host of the Happy Hour podcast, respectively—instruct spouses to cheer each other on, respond well when failing each other, and serve one another well.
It takes two
For those approaching midlife—with its unique struggles and demands—marriage can be a place to adjust, adapt, rediscover each other, and grow. Dorothy Littell Greco, author of Making Marriage Beautiful and a leader of marriage workshops and retreats, offers Marriage in the Middle: Embracing Midlife Surprises, Challenges, and Joys (IVP, out now). “None of us will be exempt from the many reverberations of midlife,” she writes. “Ultimately, disequilibrium is a good thing because it forces us out of our comfortable routines and invites us to reinvest in every aspect of our life—including marriage.”
Keeping marriages together is the goal of Before You Split: Find What You Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage by Toni Nieuwhof (WaterBrook, Jan. 2021). In a bid to help readers “leave unhappiness behind instead of their spouse,” the author, a former divorce attorney, highlights the benefits of staying together, suggests responses to difficult emotions, and more (see “Connecting at a Heart Level,” p. 22).
Those struggling with mental health issues in marriage will find help in Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage by Sarah Lund (Chalice, Feb. 2021). Lund, a pastor and minister for disabilities and mental health justice in the United Church of Christ, shares her story of post-traumatic stress and depression as well as the stories of others to show how mental illness and mental health challenges impact marriages. “Breaking the silence about mental illness and holy marriage is a countercultural and radical act,” she writes. “When we can speak openly, honestly, respectfully, and compassionately about pain and doubt in our most intimate relationships, we help to restore dignity and humanity for people living with mental illness and their loved ones.”
Parenting amid crises
Some parenting challenges may never change, but today’s families are also dealing with a climate crisis, economic inequality, and racialized violence—on top of the global pandemic. How can parents cultivate in their children a love of the Earth, a demand for justice, and a commitment to nonviolence? Editor, activist, and mother Lydia Wylie-Kellerman has gathered together diverse voices in The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World (Broadleaf, Mar. 2021) to address these questions. Contributors include Jennifer Harvey (Raising White Kids), who writes a chapter titled, “Raising Antiracist White Kids: Some Rules Need to be Broken”; Janice Fialka (Parents and Professional Partnering), who writes on ableism; and Randy Woodley (Shalom and the Community of Creation), who writes a chapter titled, “The Power of Story: Subversive Lessons from Grandmother Oak.”
“Now more than ever, parents are feeling the urgency of issues like racial injustice, climate change, and economic imbalance—looking for ways to raise their children to be kinder, more generous, and more attuned to the needs of others,” says Broadleaf acquisitions editor Lisa Kloskin. “Contributors offer their stories and hopes for the journey in a time when parents need all the help they can get.”
Emphasizing resilience in this topsy-turvy world, The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times by Amelia Richardson Dress (Morehouse, Jan. 2021) urges readers to recognize the hope in the Christian story in order to find a greater sense of abundance and optimism. Dress is a United Church of Christ pastor and has worked as an early intervention consultant for the Department of Human Services.
From Tyndale, Raising Resilient Kids: 8 Principles for Bringing Up Healthy, Happy, Successful Children Who Can Overcome Obstacles and Thrive Despite Adversity (June 2021) features findings from Rhonda Spencer-Hwang, an epidemiologist and resiliency researcher who studied the childhoods of centenarians for her book. It features steps intended to improve a child’s lifelong wellbeing, including ways to reduce negative stress, enhance academic performance, and strengthen immune systems, according to the publisher.
Geared toward Catholic readers, Our Not-Quite-Holy Family: A Practical Guide for Catholic Parents by Mark and Melanie Hart (Ave Maria, Feb. 2021) shares wisdom gained as parents of four children who realized that, despite the advice they offered over the years as speakers and teachers, there is no formula for having a happy, holy family. Mark is executive v-p of Life Teen International Catholic youth ministry, and Melanie is a mentor for women of all ages; the two work with married and engaged couples in group and personal settings.
Several titles speak to the need for better communication between parents and children. Full-Circle Parenting: A Guide for Crucial Conversations by Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins (B&H, Feb. 2021) uses the 3 Circles gospel (a diagram used by Evangelicals based on conversations about God’s design, brokenness, and Jesus) to work through conversations on sexuality, technology, race, depression, money, and more.
Bethany House has two books on talking straight with children: How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk: Deepen Your Connection and Strengthen Their Confidence by Becky Harling (Jan. 2021) and Talking with Teens About Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, and More by Beth Robinson (Feb. 2021).
Building stronger families
Helping Families Recover from Addiction: Coping, Growing, and Healing Through 12-Step Practices and Ignatian Spirituality by Jean Heaton (Loyola, Oct.) illustrates the connections between the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous and Ignatian spirituality, including the principle of spiritual engagement. Heaton, whose husband and son are in long-term recovery, aims to help families heal from the effects of a loved one’s addiction and move forward into a healthy future. “We acquired this book because we know how much addiction touches ordinary families everywhere, including those who belong to church congregations across the denominational spectrum,” says editor Vinita Hampton Wright. “But the stigma of addiction often keeps people from speaking about their struggles—especially in and around church.”
Under Our Roof: A Son’s Battle for Recovery, a Mother’s Battle for Her Son by Madeline Dean and Harry Cunnane (Convergent, Feb. 2021) takes a more personal look at addiction. In it, Pennsylvania congresswoman Dean and her son Cunnane speak openly about his addiction to opioids and discuss the patterns of a family dealing with an unspoken disease, while also delving into the realities of the pressing national crisis.
Churches and families throughout the country are engaging in discussions around the LGBTQ issues examined in books like Family of Origin, Family of Choice: Stories of Queer Christians by Katie Hays and Susan A. Chiasson (Eerdmans, Apr. 2021). “Family of Origin, Family of Choice challenges readers to take people at their word and to trust the lived experiences of others,” says acquiring editor Trevor Thompson. “Responses of shame, blame, disbelief, and denial are the antitheses of generous listening. The stories on the pages of this book chronicle acceptance and rejection by family and friends. They provide a road map of what to do and what not to do when hearing raw truths from people you love.”
Hays is founder and lead evangelist of Galileo Church, which “seeks and shelters spiritual refugees,” especially young adults and LGBTQ people. Chiasson is a qualitative researcher and social scientist who tries to understand, rather than predict, people’s beliefs and attitudes. “The church could benefit greatly from LGBTQ+ Christians telling their own stories about what love (or the failure of love, as a sad but useful counterexample) looks like in their lives,” Hays writes.
Ann Byle is a writer living in Grand Rapids, Mich., and coauthor of the new e-book The Joy of Working at Home (Credo House).