Questions and Answers (plus the book winner)

hopes and fears coverPracticing Families would like to thank Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses for hosting our blog’s first book give-away! And thanks to all of the readers who took the time to leave comments on the blog and Facebook page. It was so nice to read about the songs of faith that you share with your children.

Congratulations to “Jo in OKC” who won a copy of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People! Jo, please send your mailing address to practicingfamilies at gmail dot com and we will get your book to you.

Everyone else, we encourage you to order a copy of this book as a resource for your own faithful parenting.

And without further ado, the promised guest post from Bromleigh:


The number of things my children don’t know never ceases to amaze me.

The opposite is, admittedly, also true: reading bedtime stories with my five year old tonight, I was blown away by some of the words she read with ease. Shrieking, muttered, stumbled, mustache.

But the other night, as we read The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Honey, I started when Fiona asked for clarification over a crucial plot point. Namely: what’s “sleepwalking”? Papa Bear, you see, had been sleepwalking, and so he himself had consumed the missing honey while dozing unawares.

I offered the little bit of knowledge I have on the subject: normally, when we’re sleeping, our brains tell our bodies not to move much, so that we don’t act out our dreams and hurt ourselves. But sometimes…

There are days when it takes forever to get through a bedtime story, but I’m glad for these moments: I want both my girls to learn that it is good to ask questions, especially of parents and texts. I imagine this to be a critical life skill if I would raise them to be both faithful and reading people. There are days when I realize just how limited my understanding of science has become in the fifteen years since AP Biology (Mom, why do all the buildings in the skyline look blue from here? Not a single clue, my dear. I don’t know! We should do some research on light and color and distances when we get home!). But these days, honestly, are just grist for the mill, for I have no qualms about my lack of understanding; my stumbling is not representative of some larger interpretive ambivalence.


Josh sharing a bedtime story with Fiona.

Josh sharing a bedtime story with Fiona.

But there are days when the questions are harder. We went to see the musical of Legally Blonde, performed at the local high school. Tons of people brought their little girls for the empowering(ish) story of a young woman who likes pink and discovers herself to be both brilliant and beautiful. If you liked the movie, and you like musicals, you’d like this show. But while I’d seen the movie relatively recently, I hadn’t counted on having to explain quite so many things: why a woman should ostensibly master bending over in a provocative way, for example, or why Elle slapped her professor when he tried to kiss her, or what it means to be gay.

Now, it is easy enough to avoid such questions. There are whole swaths of Christian tradition that advise us to keep our children innocent of such complex realities, that suggest that my first misstep was in taking them to the theater at all. Generations of Americans grew up knowing nothing of such things: once in the mom’s group at a congregation I served, we got to talking about how none of us has privacy in the bathroom, ever; how our children are insistent on barging in. This led to a discussion of how we explain menstruation to our young daughters, or the use of personal products, or the fact that our bodies look different than theirs. Many felt ill-equipped for these conversations, because their mothers had never really managed to talk to them about basic physiology, much less how sex and love and gender all get mixed together in our lives and culture.

My girls don’t know these things, about sexual harassment, or seduction, or the varieties of sexual identities that exist in the world, and when I am caught off guard, my first thought is that I am as ill-equipped to answer their questions as I am to explain the color of the skyline. I don’t know why, or how, or what it all means; I have a hunch.

But my girls, especially my big one, going on six, who is noticing all manner of things she’d simply overlooked before, need to know neither about my ambivalence nor about all the details.

She is trying to get the man to notice her, and she thinks she looks pretty when she does that. Isn’t that silly?

Her teacher knows she is beautiful, and thinks that means he should get to kiss her. But someone should never kiss someone else unless they want it, and a teacher should certainly never kiss a student!

Sometimes men and women love each other, but sometimes men love men and women love women, in the way that they want to be married to each other and have a family. You know some people who are gay: do you remember our friends Lauren and Jen, and how their sons have two moms?

I explained these things softly, as the cast sang their final numbers, as Fiona sat on my lap. I fumbled a bit for the right place to start. I know that they are, in some ways, more fraught than sleepwalking. But part of my sense of what it means to be a faithful, Christian parent, is that I have a responsibility to engage her questions, and to help her see the world as I see it, and as, I hope, God sees it. There will be deeper truths later, and more detail, but for now my job is to start with the basics.

I speak with a bit of fear and trepidation about complicated things, but take some courage in this: God speaks – out of a burning bush, out of a whirlwind, through Jesus, in tongues of flame. God speaks, in the beginning, and now, and always. The conversation of the world is ongoing, and as I introduce my daughters to the world, we need to be in ongoing dialogue about what God’s world holds.


Bromleigh McCleneghan currently serves as the Associate for Congregational Life at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago. She is a graduate of Boston University and the U of C. She and her husband Josh have two daughters, Fiona and Calliope.


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