Listen: Katrina Roe chats with Harriet Connor the author of ‘Big Picture Parents’
The internet has been a Godsend for parents on one hand, and a ball and chain on the other.
Yes, it’s a rich resource of information on everything from teething troubles to rainy-day craft ideas. But it can also be overwhelming, full of conflicting advice on issues like vaccinations, smacking, controlled crying and food additives, leaving parents feeling paralysed.
Harriet Connor is a mum and Bible teacher – and now a parenting author – who used to feel that way. She was fumbling through motherhood in a haze, and often disagreed with her husband on how parenting should be done. And the internet could not save them.
“We were trying to juggle the needs of a newborn with an emotional two-and-a-half-year-old, and I felt like I spent my whole days battling, with the toddler who wouldn’t listen, and the baby who wouldn’t sleep,” Harriet said. “I was just really an anxious, sleep-deprived mess. I was desperate for guidance.
“And when you go to the internet it’s a minefield. I was just carried here and there by every article I read, and I didn’t have a foundation or a framework for making sense of all that information.”
The Wisdom of the Ancients
So Harriet switched off the endless stream of advice, and turned to the Bible for wisdom. The result is a very parenting book with a difference, titled Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life.
“I re-read the whole Bible, from start to finish, to find out what was the big picture,” the author explained. “What are we aiming for? What does it mean to be a human parent in all our imperfections, and to be a parent who’s also a child of God?”
Shortlisted for Christian Book of the Year award, Big Picture Parents provides a foundation of Godly principles for approaching parenting. It helps parents to make their own decisions with confidence—whether everyday ones about nappies and feeding, to bigger issues like discipline and education.
The Wisdom of Grandmas
Interestingly, what inspired Harriet to turn to the Bible, was her grandmothers.
“When I was drowning in confusion, the lifeline for me was talking to my two grandmothers on the phone, because the things they said just really made sense,” she said. “They weren’t changing every five minutes, depending on which article they read. They were time-tested principles.”
Harriet realised that their steady, stable approach to parenting, had arisen from their Christian world view.
“Even if our ancestors didn’t go to church or have a personal faith, they still lived in a world that had been shaped by the Christian big ideas about who we are and why we’re here.”
From Confusion to Clarity
Harriet’s Biblical makeover has “completely changed” her experience of parenthood. She now has a stability and confidence, not because she’s suddenly become a perfect mother, but because she has a stronger sense of purpose, values and direction.
“I have felt a great freedom from the guilt I was feeling.”
“I’ve gone from being confused, to having much greater clarity about what really matters,” she said. “I have felt a great freedom from the guilt I was feeling. I was just feeling guilty that maybe I was damaging our children, because I wasn’t perfect. But I’ve realised that we can come to God as little children and he forgives us.
“I’ve been freed from that need to be the perfect mother, to being a forgiven mother who’s doing her best.”
Fear is no longer Harriet’s constant companion, either.
“I think often we feel fearful about how our children are going to turn out, whether we’re scarring them for life. But coming to God’s word helped me to replace that fear with trust. Trusting God as the only perfect parent, and trusting Him to do what I can’t do for my children.”
No Longer Driven to Keep Her Children ‘Happy’
One of the biggest changes in Harriet’s parenting, is that she is much less troubled by their tears.
“I think in our modern society, most people are probably living as if the aim of life is to feel happy. And I think it filters into our parenting where we just want to make our kids feel good, feel happy and successful, all the time—because we’ve picked up that maybe that’s the main aim of being human,” she said.
“But there’s much more to being a parent than just making your children feel happy. It’s actually about helping them to find their big purpose on earth.
“Instead of focussing on their emotions, I focus on what values are they learning.”
“Experts on happiness are starting to say that what makes genuine, long-lasting satisfaction is not chasing good feelings and running away from bad ones—but connection to other people and to your bigger purpose in life.”
With this new perspective, Harriet no longer rushes to fix every disappointing situation for her kids.
“Instead of focussing on their emotions, I focus on what values are they learning,” she said. “So if it’s half an hour before dinner, and they’re saying ‘I’m hungry’, then I try to think, ‘It’s a good opportunity for them to learn patience’. Or if we’re in the car and they’re bored, it’s a good opportunity for them to learn how to be bored.
“Instead of trying to fix the problem for them or make them feel better, I might ask them to come up with a solution or just help them to keep practising the things we think are important in our family, rather than just trying to fix the emotion.”