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For better, for worse

Just Give Me the Goods

Nothing aggravates me more than having to wade through some expert's long-winded parenting philosophy when I need help now in one specific area. Maybe that's why I like Elaine McEwan's four-book series of practical tools for parents, published by Harold Shaw. No long-winded expositions here, just real help for real, but common, problems like homework hassles, sibling conflicts, cultivating honesty and helping your child make friends.

As McEwan modestly puts it, "I have picked up a few tidbits of wisdom in my nearly 30 years as an educator and parent." Thank goodness she also has the wisdom to present it in a way every parent will appreciate.

Going for the Golden Years

Wondering how you'll know when you enter the second half of marriage? Check out Dave and Claudia Arp's symptom list:

  • Your teenagers are about to leave home.
  • An invitation to your 25th high school reunion just arrived.
  • You exercise more, but burn fewer calories doing it.
  • AARP wants you for a member.
  • By the time you get your spouse's attention, you've forgotten what you were going to say.

All kidding aside, the later years of marriage present unique challenges. One fact cited in The Second Half of Marriage (Zondervan) made me give this book a longer look, even though I'm years away from the empty nest: The number of marriages ending in divorce after the 30-year mark is on the increase.

As I studied the Arps' challenges for couples, I asked myself if I'm doing what it takes to build a marriage for the future. Much sooner than I can imagine, it will be just the two of us again. And thanks to the Arps, I have a head start on what can be the most rewarding years of my marriage.

Honest Help for Newlyweds

I sure could have used Les and Leslie Parrott's Questions Couples Ask (Zondervan) in the early years of my marriage. It's always nice when you don't have to learn every lesson the hard way. This compact, yet comprehensive, guide covers all the hot topics most couples deal with—sex, in-laws, career demands.

In a few pages, couples can find succinct answers to their pressing questions. The Parrotts even went the second mile to list additional resources on each topic, a great help for busy couples who wonder where they can go for further help.

Differences that Unite

Awhile back I read John Gray's bestseller Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus, and I had plenty of "ah-ha" moments. Yet something seemed off about Gray's advice. Not until I read James Mallory's Battle of the Sexes (Crossway) could I pin down the source of my reservations.

Gray encourages us to draw a truce with the opposite sex as a means of getting what we want in a relationship. Mallory, on the other hand, brings to light the spiritual underpin-nings of the battle and provides a much deeper and more thought-provoking exploration of the issue. According to Mallory, we are to call a ceasefire not to get what we want, but because we are to love one another as God loves us.

In the process of loving one another, we'll no longer consider our spouse an adversary, but instead a person created to balance and bring forth the best in us. Mallory supports his convictions in a way that energizes you to work toward compromise and understanding. In fact, our God-designed differences just may be the best thing we have going for our marriages.

Twice as Helpful

Many of the self-help books out today could make any normal person feel like a dysfunctional mess.

So when I see one that tackles a hot topic but runs counter to the prevailing self-help trend, the reading becomes all the more pleasurable.

Artist Thomas Kinkade's book Simpler Times (Harvest House) offers no quizzes or six-part programs to lead a simpler life. Rather, he reflects on his life and the ingredients of a sane, rewarding lifestyle—faith, family, creativity, romance. Often, in books that are visually appealing—as is Kinkade's with his warm, engaging paintings reproduced throughout—the editorial content is allowed to coast. Not so in this case. Kinkade is an artist who is also a thinker and a gifted writer. Be prepared for a verbal and visual treat.

A conversation with Kathy Peel, author of The Family Manager (Word)

How important is a good family-management plan to a couple's marriage? It's vital. In fact, I've known couples who have nearly divorced over who takes out the garbage. It's the little stuff that causes bitterness to grow and anger to build.

Managing a home well takes supreme effort. What are the perks for all that hard work? If you agree on a few simple operating procedures, everything goes more smoothly and efficiently. And that means you save your time and emotional energy for more important things—like your relationship.

Why is family management more difficult today than it was 20 years ago? We live in a faster-paced society and our kids tend to be involved in many more activities. But one of the biggest factors that makes managing a family tough is that 72% of women now work outside the home.

Teamwork is necessary, but how do you get started? The right approach is important. Husbands, especially, respond to an objective appeal that spells out clear benefits—a little shared effort so you can create a refuge from today's stressful world. Being a family manager is like being the CEO of a major corporation—only the product is a home that renews and refreshes you and your family.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Marriage; Parenting; Reading
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 1996
Posted September 12, 2008

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