How NOT to Raise a Pharisee

My oldest daughter, Natalie, is best described with one word: sweet.

She is nine years of sweetness and joy held together with art projects, Puppy Place books, giggles and a fierce love of all things horse. She is compassionate and sensitive, eager to do the right thing and quick to step in when someone needs help.

She’s also a Pharisee.

I can say that, because I’m a recovering Pharisee myself. (I think many oldest children struggle with Pharisee tendencies. That kernel of responsibility planted in us by our birth order often grows into a tree of self-righteousness. For more proof: See the Older Brother in the story of the Prodigal. Notice he wasn’t the younger brother. Interesting.)

A few months ago, Natalie and I were talking about sin on the way to school (not a daily occurrence, I assure you), and she said something like, “Well, I’m glad Jesus died for those people who are bad. But I’m not a bad person. I’m good.”

Inwardly, I smiled with understanding. Outwardly, I reiterated what we say often in our house: We are all born with a twisted heart. No one is really good. Some people may look better than others on the outside. But our souls are infected with a fatal illness. Jesus is the only antidote.

And in my marrow, I was convicted once again that my job as a parent isn’t just to raise kids with good behavior. I want nothing less than changed hearts. Even a Pharisee can look good. Only a God-believer can
be good.

Enter "Spiritual Parenting" by Michelle Anthony. I was given the opportunity to review this book last month. I don’t do many reviews these days, because my life is scattered right now, and I’m trying to maintain a healthy dose of margin.

But this book? The tagline is “It’s not about perfect behavior. It’s about passionate hearts.”

Yes please. That’s a parenting book I wanted to read.
At its core, Spiritual Parenting then is not merely a book on “how to parent.” It’s far more than that. It’s a book about how to view your role as a spiritually minded parent, the God-given role that is yours alone. Essentially, it asks the question, “What is my end goal in raising each of the children God has entrusted to me, and then how will I parent them with that end in mind?”

With that perspective, I can take my focus off a series of day-to-day events and set it on the bigger picture of passing on my faith. Each moment of every day becomes an opportunity to parent toward my God-given goal. I parent in a way that does not simply spend my hours but allows me to invest my days toward eternity.
- Michelle Anthony, "Spiritual Parenting"
Oh my word. AMEN! That’s how I want to parent my children.

Michelle goes on to (rightly) say that we can do little as parents to truly change our children’s hearts. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. But we can give the Holy Spirit room to work. To that end, she details ten “environments” we can build into our home that will allow our children to “not only hear God’s words but also have the opportunity to put them into practice.”

Intrigued? "Spiritual Parenting" is on sale right now on Amazon for only $10.19. Or you could win a copy of Michelle’s book and her corresponding children’s book, "The Big God Story" by leaving a comment on this post. David Cook has graciously agreed to send one of my readers an early Christmas present. I think its wisdom will encourage you, whether you have a Pharisee or a prodigal.

David C. Cook supplied me with a copy of "Spiritual Parenting" and "The Big God Story" for the purposes of this review. My opinions are strictly my own. The links in this post are also Amazon Affiliate links, which means I will earn about two cents if you buy one of Michelle's books by clicking through my blog. Comments will close Sunday, December 5 and a winner will be chosen at random that evening. I will let Natalie draw the winner. Because Pharisees are especially good at rule keeping.

UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations to Amy from Occupation: Mommy. Your books will be in the mail shortly!


  1. My husband and I are both oldest children, and I do worry about that a little. May God show us mercy as we parent all our children, but especially our oldest!

  2. My daughter struggles with how to raise her children to be more than "just" good, successful and happy, and I know that this book would be a real blessing for her (and her kiddos). <3

  3. Although a youngest child myself, I too struggle with Pharisaical tendencies, and that is one thing I have been so concerned about with my own children - not raising people who look good and are convinced of their own righteousness, but who understand that sin affects all of us, even those of us who look "good" to the rest of the world.

    So yes, definitely sign me up for this giveaway!

  4. Nicely said Miss Kelly! I am most of the way through that book as well. Our Sunday morning curriculum comes directly out of those philosophies. Michelle has influenced me greatly. I have had multiple opportunities to listen to her speak. It is all so true and so good! Thanks for your words.

  5. Well, I praise God that I as an oldest sibling I am not like these other oldest siblings.

  6. This is a subject that has been so heavy on my mind lately, as my daughter has entered elementary school and is starting to shape into her own little person. I would love to read this book.

  7. OH YES! We've been talking about this too! it's not the behavior it's the heart. I would love to win this book.

  8. LOL - I just commented this morning in Bible Study that I am a recovering Pharisee!

    I'd love to be entered.

  9. That sounds like an awesome book. Raising children in faith is such a challenge--it's hard to remember that, in the end, it's not our job to bring them to Jesus, just to make sure the door is open for them to be able to cross the threshold on their own. It's so easy to forget to see the forest and get slammed in the head by the trees.

  10. That sounds like a wonderful parenting book. I really struggle with seeing the bigger picture and parenting with the end in mind. I tend to get bogged down with the daily/moment 'stuff'. Thanks!!

  11. sounds like a great book especially as my hubby and I start our journey of parenting.

  12. That sounds like a very interesting book!

  13. My husband and I are eldest children, too. I was born with a wagging finger.

    I see this tendency in our oldest kiddo. Just today, at the doctor, I had to correct her many, many times for correcting her littlest siblings over silly things. The trick is to make her aware of this without squelching her leadership abilities. I mean, she was born first for a reason, right? ;)

    I'd love to win this book! Thanks, Kelly.

  14. Oh, sign me up. You have piqued my interest for sure!

  15. first. LOVE LOVE LOVE that pic of Natalie. She's gorgeous!
    second. Have you read Tim Keller's "Prodigal God"? I truly loved that book. It offers such a good perspective on phariseeism in our lives.
    third. Have you read "Shepherding A child's Heart?" Probably. It's been out a while. What I loved about it was it's emphasis on the heart, not the behaviour, of a child (and a parent).
    fourth. I'd still like this book too :) I'd read it and then pass it on to a young mother I've been meeting with.

  16. fifth. Please ignore typo of it's/its in previous post. ;)

  17. What a burden we oldest children bear. ;) I fight it all the time...both in myself and in Noah.

    Sounds like a great book!

  18. I'm a recovering Pharisee, too (yes, firstborn, here!). I would love this book to learn better as I raise my three little ones alone.

    That's right, this former-Pharisee landed on her backside when my life fell apart and I became a single mother.

    Thank you!

  19. Yes please.

    Even tho I don't need it. Surely I can find some bad parents to give it to.


  20. Kelly, I loved this post. Loved the reminder that spiritual parenting is much more about the heart, always, than the rules. loved that and a good reminder for me and my kids! Hope you guys are doing well, friend. Loved visiting here tonight. . . .

    and ps, you don't have to enter me in the drawing. shipping is expensive out here!

  21. At church this past week, we talked about self-righteousness. Hmm. It's so easy to be in those shoes. As a fellow "first born" I think that this would be a great book for me to get my hands on. I love this line: “It’s not about perfect behavior. It’s about passionate hearts.” Wow. So true!

  22. My husband and I are both first-borns. I would love to read this book!

  23. I am a recovering Pharisee. Being the eldest AND bring raised in a legalistic church did not help my case at all!

    I'd love to win this book!

  24. Oh, how timely that I'd choose tonight to catch up on your blog. I NEEEEEEEED this book. I'm really struggling right now - with lots of stuff - but especially this whole parenting gig. Pick me, O Recovering Pharisee!

  25. I'm an oldest, too--this book sounds very intriguing!

  26. I remember reading a book, the title now forgotten, where the author asserted that the best thing he could do for his kids would be to teach them of their own sinfulness. It was an earth shattering revelation to me, a perspective I had never considered despite the fact I am a follower of Christ and well acquainted with my desperate need of His grace and mercy. In our culture of healthy self esteem equating never acknowledging anything bad, it is an unusual perspective! I love this post because I too long to NOT raise Pharisees but to raise boys passionate about the Lord and humbled by their sin and overwhelmed by His gracious forgiveness granted through His Son.

  27. sounds like a fabulous book :) my middle one is my pharisee...she loves to point out when sister does something naughty and she is not....

  28. Sounds like a great book. I would love to be entered in to the contest! Thanks!


  29. Spiritual Parenting is such an excellent book! We are raising 2 "PK's" and I pray against legalism so very often. SO easy to get caught up in all that got the Pharisees in trouble.

    So happy I stumbled upon your blog today :)