Bringing Up Girls: A Book Review

Sometime back I was asked to review the book, Bringing Up Girls. Given the fact that so many of the doubts that lie closest to the heart have to do with our children, I thought I might include my review here.

The book has several draws, not the least of which is the author. James Dobson is a likable guy. He is intelligent without being brash, compassionate but not shallow, and, at times, he can be quite blunt. It’s a personality reflected in the book, beginning with Dobson’s invitation for readers to, “grab a cup of coffee or put on a kettle of tea, settle down in a comfortable chair, and let’s talk together.” (4)

Cover of "Bringing Up Girls: Practical Ad...

Cover via Amazon

Dobson brought a great deal of experience and passion to this project — a passion that marks every one of the book’s 272 pages. Citing “what has become [his] obsession” Dobson spoke to the felt-needs of women in language that was both knowledgeable and endearing. As a woman and mother of daughters, I appreciate the respect he brought to the subject.

There were a few minor quirks:

  • The book is informal. Very informal. Perhaps too informal at times. The tendency was even more telling as Dobson frequently relied on his readers to understand the cultural and commercial clichés he used to emphasize his points.
  • Ubiquitous and un-cited studies, while not frequent, made enough of an appearance so as to trouble those of a scholastic bent. (To be fair, the book was not necessarily intended for academia at all. Rather material is presented to aide the well-intentioned mother and/or father experiencing typical pressures of raising girls in the Western world. Consequently, while bulimia, cutting, and others are discussed, the more specialized issues of clinical depression, bipolar, etc. are not addressed.)

Traditional stereotypes were often employed to help distinguish between the reality of statistics and the ideal of what moral femininity should be. However, one might wish for a more substantial basis for change, something more than nostalgic imagery. The Bible is that something more–a point he emphasized at the end.

Quirks aside, a couple of items deserve special notice:

Feelings.Dobson attached a high value to the way a woman or girl feels. Husbands and fathers are strongly cautioned against neglecting these feelings–so much so that Dobson obviously felt compelled to add an aside–“please understand that it is not my purpose to browbeat men or disparage their effort…” (89) However, the balancing call for women was not presented. Feelings can be a deceitful affair, it’s true. It is unfair and destructive to assume others are to blame for the way one feels. Daughters must be taught the role of thought in keeping emotion accountable. They must be taught to ask the question “Is this true?” (Proverbs 28:1; Philippians 4:8) This balance was missing from the book.

Morality. Dobson’s book, like the radio program he made popular, is free of deep theological dissertation. Indeed, the word “biblical” doesn’t even make a debut until page 49. Instead, he made morality a foundational element throughout most of book. Make no mistake — James Dobson did not bury his faith in order to write this book. In fact, the final chapter revealed what I took to be the heartbeat of his entire ministry. Quoting from the formerly released, Bringing Up Boys, Dobson reiterated the realities of life in a fallen world,

“Human beings tend to struggle with troubling questions they can’t answer. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so the intellect acts to fill the void. Or to state it differently, it seeks to repair a hole in its system of beliefs. That is why so many young people today chase after twisted and alien `theologies,’ such as New Age nonsense, the pursuit of pleasure, substance abuse, and illicit sex. They are searching vainly for something that will satisfy their `soul hunger.’ They are unlikely to find it… Meaning in life comes only by answering the eternal questions… and they are adequately addressed only in the Christian faith. No other religion can tell us who we are, how we got here, and where we are going after death. And no other belief system teaches that we are known and loved individually the God of the universe and by his only Son…” (259)

That, I believe, is the message that meets the need. Had the author woven this message throughout the book–had he not left it to languish at the end–the result, I believe, would have been an even finer work than the one he has presented.

A complimentary copy of Bringing Up Girls has been provided by Tyndale House Publishers, for the purpose of review.

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