Book Review: When Kids Ask Hard Questions

My husband and I have been very intentional with our parenting, from the very beginning. When I was pregnant with our first, we spent our Saturday mornings reading parenting books together on the back deck, over coffee and pancakes. We talked about the things that mattered most then: birth plans, feedings, sleep schedules, and diapers. Not everything went exactly how we hoped or even decided early on, but everything we did, we did with intention, in ways that worked best for us – even in ways that others didn’t approve of (see: giving birth at home…).

In more recent years, though, things have changed. Parenting is different now. The blender that I used to puree sweet potatoes for my kids is long gone, and they now cook dinner on their own. We no longer schedule our lives around naps, we don’t pack strollers, they don’t need constant supervision.

But we have a lot of conversations. I mean, a lot. 

I often find myself sitting next to my kids, talking through the Big Things that are happening in their lives — some of those Big Things I experienced when I was their age, but let’s face it: Our kids have different lives than we did, and some of this is new for all of us. 

Ever-striving to be just as intentional as we were in those early years, my husband and I have never stopped reading… except, now, we find ourselves reading more articles about the science of the development of the adolescent brain, and fewer books marketed to parents. 

One of the reasons for that is that, frankly, there aren’t many books out there for parents of adolescents – particularly from a progressive faith perspective. Most “Christian” books have a theological lens I don’t adhere to, and would never recommend to parents in my congregation. 

When Kids AskBecause of that, I was delighted to see When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Faith-Filled Responses for Tough Topics (edited by Rev. Bromleigh McCleneghan and Rev. Karen Ware Jackson) come across my social media feed recently. I have gotten to know several of the authors through membership in Young Clergywomen International, and they are pastors and professionals I deeply admire and trust. I preordered the book as soon as I saw it, and I am so glad I did!

About the Book

When Kids Ask Hard Questions covers a breadth of topics, from gun violence to body positivity to forgiveness to income inequality. It is laid out as a series of short essays, which makes it easy to start with the topics that are most relevant for you. It can also be used as a sort of reference book, to easily access topics as they arise in your family or ministry.

There are over 30 essays, each by a different author, broken up into these sections: 

Who Am I? Reflecting on Bodies and Souls

Who Are We? Reflecting on Families and Relationships

Why Did This Happen? Reflecting on Loss

What Am I Afraid Of? Reflecting on Fear and Courage

What’s Going On? Reflecting on Faith and the Way the World Works

What’s Fair? Reflecting on Money and Economics

Each essay starts with the personal connection the author has to that topic, followed by an explanation of what kids might be experiencing and why. The best part is that each essay ends with a “Crafting the Conversation” section, including bullet points, Do’s/Don’ts, discussion questions, or other helpful tips in talking to your kids about the issue. Each essay also has a “Further Exploration” reading list; given that each essay is only a few pages long, I appreciate being pointed to more resources.

Things I Loved

I started out by reading the essays I have already given the most thought to, as a sort of litmus: Technology, Violence of the Cross, and Sex (written by middle school teacher Joshua Hammond, Rev. Traci Smith, and Rev. Dr. Emily Peck McCain, respectively). These are topics I have been talking to my kids about since, well, before they could talk back. As soon as I read those three chapters, I knew immediately that this book was worth every penny, and more. They grapple with the same very real tensions I have around these issues, and I appreciated (and felt affirmed by!) their approaches and responses. 

The tone of this book is genuine and kind; I could imagine sitting over coffee with the authors talking about our kids and sharing stories. In conversations about parenting, there is a fine line between offering advice and suggestions, and coming across shaming and pretentious; this book stays on the kind side of that line. I never felt like I was a bad parent or raising horrible children if I disagreed with the author, which isn’t always true when reading parenting advice! 

I also liked that the breadth of the essays includes timeless topics, such as friendships, faith, and doubt… as well as topics that weren’t discussed when I was a kid, such as gender identity, mental health, and cultural appropriation. I found so many of the essays mirror the same conversations that arise with my own kids, making it very relevant for parenting today. 

One of the things I appreciated the most was that each essay was written by a person with a particular expertise in the area they were writing. There are essays on topics I don’t have any personal experience with, such as divorce, blended families, suicide, and pregnancy loss. But as a pastor, I know that a lot of families I love and care for go through these situations, and it was helpful to read about these topics I haven’t put a lot of thought into, because I’ve never had to. Whether these come up in my own family or not, having this book on my shelf will make me a better pastor. 

There are also essays written by non-Christians, which I really appreciate. For example, there is a helpful chapter (“Honoring Differences”), written by Rabbi Danya Rutternberg, and a poignant one (“Love for Your Neighbor”) by Aliye Shimi, the Muslim Executive Director of an interfaith ministry. Too often, books from Christian publishers only include voices of Christian authors, even when discussing other faith groups. In lifting up voices of other faith groups, the book models having tough conversations with people who have different perspectives and experiences… something I hope our kids are able to do as well.  

Things I Didn’t Love

I found that I didn’t necessarily agree with every word of every essay; there are some topics that I might approach a little differently than the authors. In talking with my own kids, I might emphasize points the authors didn’t, or reframe some of their perspectives. There were also some topics that have impacted my family that I would have loved to see chapters on (such as moving). That said, no book can cover everything, and since every family is different, I wouldn’t expect that I fully agreed with all 33 of these authors!

Thankfully, I didn’t find anything that was problematic or would in any way cause me to hesitate for one second in whole-heartedly recommending the book. 

Who I Would Recommend WKAHQ To

Parents of kids of all ages, grandparents, teachers, pastors, children’s church volunteers, people with friends who have kids, social workers, camp staff, babysitters, and anyone in any way involved with any kid’s life (does that cover it?)

But there is a little secret about this book. Pastors often talk about how “children’s sermons” are really to the *whole* congregation; sometimes the adults in the pews connect with what’s said on the chancel steps as much as what’s said behind the pulpit, so we craft children’s sermons with that in mind. I found the same thing with this book.  Yep, it is excellent for those who work with kids… but, in reality, I think many adults ask these same questions. This would be a helpful book for *everyone,* because, though a lot of these questions emerge when we’re kids, those questions never really go away. Many of these topics are about humanity, not necessarily childhood. Read it with kids in mind if that’s helpful, and you’ll probably learn things for yourself too. 

You can buy it directly from the publisher here, or on Amazon here. As always, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon and other sites, so more people will be exposed to this book, and more like it can be published!

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