Seven Books That Shaped and Guided My Parenting


Books have been a significant part of my life in more ways than I can describe, including how Dennis and I parented our six. The recommendations of others introduced me to some of the best books in many categories including parenting, so here are the seven that most shaped our parenting. All are full of timeless content and available online.

1. The Hurried Child, by David Elkind. Professor Elkind helps parents focus on the pressures our culture places on children: preschool for all kids, lessons in competitive sports at earlier and earlier ages and the potentially dangerous influence of screens. Elkind challenged the new values of my generation by writing about the importance of children being allowed to be children, free to learn and grow at their own pace without the pressure of lessons and graded accomplishments.

Our first three kids were under five when I discovered this book, and I felt a strong sense of “this is right.” I wanted the best for my kids and Elkind gave me the courage to say no to the adult peer pressure I felt to start enrolling my preschoolers in classes. Today as I watch my little grandson play in the dirt with his trucks, stack pieces of scrap wood to make ramps and roads, and let his imagination freely grow, I remember my own kids doing the same in our backyard. And it makes me happy to watch his free play knowing how good it is for his development.

The book is available in a newly updated 25th anniversary edition which addresses all that parents face today. Twenty-first century children need their parents to read this book now more than ever.

2. What Is a Family? by Edith Schaeffer. Written with a wholistic view of family life rather than tackling how-to topics, What is a Family? paints a portrait of the values that shape a family. The chapter titles answer her title question: “The Birthplace of Creativity” … “A Formation Center for Human Relationships” … “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” … “A Perpetual Relay of Truth” … “A Museum of Memories.”

Schaeffer gave me a vision for how Dennis and I could both create and control the environment that is home. I quoted her often when speaking, marked paragraphs that I reread over and over, and eventually wore the cover off the book!

Her introduction beautifully describes the vision God has for Christian families: “A Christian family is a mobile blown by the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit. Each member of the family, as he or she is born again, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.” As time marches on the family is “constantly changing from year to year, with the mix never the same—agewise, interestwise, talentwise, intellectwise—never static, always with new discoveries … blown by the breeze of the Holy Spirit.”

This book is a timeless treasure worth owning for every Christian family.

3. Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt. I’ve mentioned this book in other blog posts. Reading to and with children, often out loud, has value beyond measuring emotionally, relationally, spiritually and intellectually. Hunt lists dozens of great books for different age groups; chances are you’ll find books you’ve never heard about. Be sure to purchase the latest edition of this book, updated to 2021.


4. A Mother’s Heart, by Jean Fleming. This book taught me a life changing truth: “Children are a piece of a mother’s heart walking around outside her body.” This statement by Fleming explained so much when I was mommy to my six, and it still applies today as my kids are all adults. I understand now it will always be true. The book is available but not in large quantities. If you can’t find it I’d also recommend my friend Sally Clarkson’s books, especially The Ministry of Motherhood.


5. The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom and God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew. These are not parenting books but I include them because they were significant to me for casting a vision for the kind of faith I wanted to grow in my children. We read these books out-loud together when my kids were middle schoolers. I also worked to expose our six to other believers of strong faith to support and strengthen their fledgling relationship with God.

Also in this category were Elisabeth Elliot’s books on her childhood that told stories of missionaries visiting their family and telling God stories from their adventures in other countries. This inspired Dennis and me to do the same. We loved having other adults who loved Jesus come have dinner and talk about their relationship with Him with our kids listening. It was one of the best things we did to help our kids grow their faith.

6. Mothers and Sons: Raising Boys to be Men, by Jean Lush. This book became a handbook for me with my two sons. Even though I had three brothers I felt clueless about how to raise my boys to be men. This book gave me lots of ideas, as well as the vision and courage to guide my sons to serve others, work hard, and protect those who needed their help and strength. I believe it’s a must read for every mom of boys.

7. The Bible, by God Himself. You could also title this book, “How God Parents His Children.” I saved this one for last for because it’s most important. There are stories, ideas and examples on almost every page of this living book.

One verse that was crucial for Dennis and me was Proverbs 6:16, which starts with the words, “There are six things the Lord hates …” Now that’s a show stopper of an introduction! Don’t you want to know that list? I did when I first read this verse as a parent.

And when I read the first items on the list—“haughty eyes” and “a lying tongue”—I knew these were my marching orders as a mom. If God hates these attitudes and actions in His kids then I needed to hate them (hate the behavior not the child) too. That meant I shouldn’t tolerate them in my children’s hearts and character. I hope this is a teaser and that you will find this Scripture passage and read the list with your spouse or on your own if you are a single parent. Make a plan for what you will do when these things show up in your kids’ lives and attitudes.

Another parenting verse I found that was also significant was, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Do you see the application for moms and dads? This is how God parents us: repetitive teaching, lots of corrections (which means both explaining what is right and restoration to an obedient state and a resolved relationship with you) and reproofs (i.e. it means teaching evidence or proof of why lying is wrong and telling the truth is right, for example) and training (instruction on what to do next time). This verse gave us a pattern to follow, and we did.

We followed plenty of additional passages in the Bible, but I don’t have space to list them. Some of them are in our book, The Art of Parenting. Others you’ll have the privilege of discovering on your own.

Parents today are facing different challenges today than we did in our generation, but the parenting principles of Scripture that God wants us to follow are the same over the centuries. Why? Because every child is born rebellious and needs parents who will love well by guiding, correcting, training and showing them what it looks like to follow God. Our world needs the children of today to become the godly leaders of tomorrow.

I hope these books help and inspire! And I’d love to hear which ones were most helpful!

Be sure to read Barbara’s post about reading to your children, plus a suggested reading list, in “The Delight of Reading with Your Kids.

Also, be sure to download Barbara’s new ebookWhy Gratitude Matters Now More Than Ever.

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8 thoughts on “Seven Books That Shaped and Guided My Parenting”

  1. I would love to gift my DIL any one of these wonderful books to encourage her as she and my son raise their 3 littles. But I am concerned as to how she may receive my gift. My attitude is to exhort and support, uplifting her, but would she take it as if I think she’s not doing a good job of parenting? I would love your thoughts on this. Thank you!

  2. Dear Barbara Dennis and staff,
    I am about 10 years behind you in this journey and you two have mentored me all the way starting when I was a single staff girl!!!
    Thank you so much for the years and years of your faithful service to the Lord Jesus. I am a appreciative beneficiary!!!!!
    Reading my Bible knowing Jesus and hearing him direct me and listening to your lessons has totally changed the coarse of my family.
    Blessings and gratefulness to you and your family,

  3. Hi Barbara,

    Excellent choices; I have read some of these. You and Dennis, with God’s assistance and leading, did a wonderful job raising your fine children. The wonderful fruit now shows in them and their children.


  4. Thank you for this list of great books! I added a lot of them to my list of books to read. One of my personal favorites is “In My Father’s House” by Corrie ten Boom. It’s a beautiful example of how one family lived out their faith.

  5. Thank you so much for this list! I was not familiar with a few of these books and am
    going to get them for my children who have children this Christmas!

  6. “Shepherding a child’s heart”, “Instructing a child’s heart” by Tedd Tripp, and “Restoring the Christian family” by the Sandfords were life-changing for us!

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