Setting Parents Free by John Cox

When I first started reading Dr. John Cox’s book Setting Parents Free, my 7-year-old daughter sat nearby finishing her homework. As my mechanical pencil went wild, she looked up from her notebook and asked, “Why are you underlining?”

“Because I want to remember certain things.”

“Are you going to put it in a bible lesson or something?”

“Maybe! This one is about being a better daddy.”

Her reply took me off guard. “That’s kinda weird.”

“Why’s that?” I said.

“Because nobody’s perfect.”

I sat in shock wondering if she had somehow read the book before I had the chance!

Here’s Dr. Cox’s major premise in Setting Parents Free: you will never be a perfect parent. The very best are simply “good enough.” So, how can we simultaneously 1) give our children what they need, 2) respond as best we can when we fail?

He begins with an observation from his experience as a clinical psychologist: 21st century parents can often feel uninformed, ill-equipped, overwhelmed, guilty, and afraid. And this should be no surprise: we are constantly bombarded with conflicting research, opinions, and techniques that can leave us wondering “which way is up?”

Consequently, Cox’s approach resembles a flight attendant’s pre-flight instructions more than a manual/how-to on changing your child’s behavior: “Should the cabin experience a sudden loss of pressure, put your own mask on first, and THEN assist your child.” What does this mean? Your parenting is a reflection of your own heart before God and man. If you are not in a good place, you will most likely not be able to be there for your children in a way that prepares them for life.

There is freedom from the pressure of being a perfect parent when we recognize that 1) You will fail at times, and 2) Good parenting is not a task, it is a relationship. We will make mistakes, but if we are humble enough to come back to our children and repair, they are in a position to thrive.

Beginning with this foundation, Cox walks through the various questions with research, compelling anecdotal evidence, humor, and biblical wisdom:

  1. Am I screwing up my kids? (Spoiler: yes)
  2. How do I help my kids know that they are loved? (Love)
  3. How do I get my kids to do what I say? (Limits)
  4. How do I help my kids learn to be strong? (Roots and Wings)
  5. How do I help my kids deal with pain in life? (Suffering well WITH them)
  6. How do I teach good values to my kids? (Culture begins at home)
  7. How do I teach my kids about God? (Content, Community, Experience)

If you are weary from the thought of everything you must do to be a good parent, come to Jesus – who transforms us by His word, community, and Spirit into who we must be to serve as under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd to our kids.