Europe Book Review: Our Not-Quite-Holy Family

Most parenting books fall into one of two categories: hopelessly aspirational – these often being written by relatively new parents or "parenting professionals" with an alphabet of letters after their names – or else the combat manual variety, pitting child against parent as intractable adversaries and filled with dispassionate bullet points for behavioral modification.

If X happens, input Y, and Z will be your guaranteed result.

Just follow your instinctive genius moment to moment and your child will unfold like a tropical flower reaching toward the sun/their ultimate destiny for greatness.

The problem is, no matter how many hours you spend co-sleeping or arranging Montessori spaces or doling out consequences which are both loving and logical (harder than you'd think), at the end of the day children are human beings with free will, and no amount of perfect parenting will ensure a guaranteed outcome.

Frustrating as hell, which, while we're on the topic, has a little something to do with the friction and frustration inherent in family life: we have a common enemy, and he has each of our domestic churches squarely in his crosshairs.

And so, failing to invoke the language of faith or to acknowledge the reality of the human experience – that we're all fallen sinners in need of grace and that a battle rages for our souls –most parenting books just don't get it.

But Our Not-Quite-Holy Family does.

In a relatively brief and highly engaging read, using language that is accessible – if occasionally a little cringe-y in the dad joke department – Mark and Melanie Hart trace a pathway to domestic bliss, leaving their own foibles and fumbles as signposts along the way. It's more of a "here's what we've learned" and less of a "do what we've done," which is refreshing for its humility and it's humanity. The title isn't just a marketing-department approved humblebrag; they mean it. They're on the same trek their readers are, perhaps a little further down the path.

Ultimately, there is something else that sets this book apart from most everything else in the parenting genre, and it's the refreshing and increasingly radical admission that in the grand scheme of things, it's not perfect parenting that should be our ultimate aim, but holy, healthy marriages.

Turning away from the kid-centric 21st century obsession with one's offspring, the Harts bring their readers back time and again to the truth that it is the marital relationship from which flows the family harmony, happiness, health, and, yes, holiness.

It's an audacious claim to make, that your spouse comes before your babies. And it's also true. A unified and loving marriage between mom and dad is the single greatest indicator of a "successful" outcome in child rearing, the secret being, of course, that there is no such guarantee at all.

At its core, the book's message is simple, but not easy. Love God. Love each other. Invite Him into the messy imperfection of your everyday life. And let Him transform your not-quite-holy family.


Our Not-Quite-Holy Family

Mark and Melanie Hart

Ave Maria Press, February 2021

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