Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Title: Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions
Author: Elyse M Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 176

When I signed up to read and review this book, I thought it would serve as a wonderful guide and that it would help me to field the tricky questions right.

I certainly needed the guidance. As a parent, I don’t always have the answers, even though I’d like to have them. As a Christian, I’d like my answers to reaffirm my faith.

Tough job indeed.

Often I struggle with my own doubts and fears. You know what I mean. We are all plagued by questions such as Why does God allow wrongdoing to thrive? Why doesn’t He clean up the mess, when He could so easily do it?

With two children bombarding me with difficult questions (a few weeks ago, La N
iña asked me, “Mamma, what is an affair?” and I found myself hemming and hawing, as I fumbled for an answer), I thought this was one resource that would help.

Whatever I imagined that Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions: Helping Them Understand Loss, Sin, Tragedies, and Other Hard Topics by Elyse M Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson would be, it was not. I had expected the book to be a practical guide that would help parents to answer those tricky questions. I found instead a book that thought it was enough to answer all questions with the same answer: faith.

The authors, a mother and daughter pair, emphasise that the book is not a script. That all questions must be answered in keeping with children’s ages, which they have divided into three age groups, preschool, 5-10, and 11+. In each chapter, they first explain the teaching to adults and then break it down in a manner that will be understood by children. Each chapter ends with a section called, “In a nutshell,” which summarises the answers for those in a hurry.

The authors answer questions like what is sin, what is death and why God allows it to happen, what is satan and hell, why do people get divorced, why and how do some people sin sexually, with sub-chapters on homosexuality, child sexual abuse and pornography, why does God allow natural disasters to happen, and why terrorism exists.

To make things more understandable, the authors use examples from popular films like Star Wars, anecdotes from daily life. They quote heavily from the Bible, proving well their familiarity with the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Here, the authors speak from the vantage point of their faith and trust in God is an oft-repeated theme throughout. And therein lies the rub.

All the answers are from a Christian perspective, and of course, I am a Christian, but I felt a little let down, partly because I was looking for practical answers that one could give to children.

Every chapter is imbued with the conviction that Jesus knows the paths we tread and is with us always. I too have strong faith in Jesus but to keep harping on the same explanation for varying problems to a target audience that has not quite achieved the age of developing a strong faith is, in my opinion, not achieving the promise made in the book title.

While I understand what they were trying to say, I found the book unduly harsh, particularly to those who don’t share the same beliefs.

When explaining terrorism to ages 11 and upwards, she says, “We don’t need to fear someone who wants to kill us because if you are a believer, death is not your final destination.” That is taking things too far. Is a statement like that enough to soothe the fear in a child’s mind, say, a child who has seen some horrific images on TV or in real life? I don’t think so.

Earlier in the book, Jessica’s son asks her, “What if I snap my fingers? Is snapping a sin?” She asks him if he is snapping his fingers because he loves God and his neighbor. The boy replies no, and his mother tells him, “Then according to this verse you have sinned.

I’m not really equipped to speak on matters relating to theology, but when the author makes a comment like that, I’m already feeling more than a little peeved.

Even when talking about natural disasters, the authors make no mention of the fact that human beings are largely responsible for environmental degradation.

The Death chapter is another example of this strict adherence to matters of the faith. I cannot imagine talking to my son, who is a pre-schooler, in the manner prescribed in the book. Even if I did, I doubt he would understand.

The authors remind us to temper our explanations, based on the children’s perceptiveness and maturity levels, so that our little listeners are able to make sense of them. But the answers they give don’t follow this guideline at all.

While we must encourage our children’s faith, I don’t think this is the way to do it. Continually skirting the minefield of issues that daunt each question, and playing the faith card as the one-stop answer to all questions isn’t the right way to go about building a child’s faith. A child’s faith needs to be nurtured slowly.

And Jessica admits that faith cannot be taught. That we, as parents, can only nudge and guide our children to the right path, and that we need the Holy Spirit to make their faith come alive. I appreciated that sentiment. I was also touched by the parts where she explained the issue of Child Sexual Abuse to children. This section was handled sensitively and it struck a chord with me.

The book ends with an exhaustive listing of books that the authors have referred to for “Suggested reading.”

(I received a free e-copy of this book from Bethany House. I read it through NetGalley.)

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