Friday, May 10, 2013

Kids, Birds, and Bees (A Review of Growing Up in God's Image)

"What have I taught you about, God, love, marriage and, uh, sex?" I recently asked my twelve-year-old daughter. "Well, in school, they told us about how boys grow whiskers about the time they start to date. And they showed us gross drawings of bodies," she grimaced. "Anything about God or love?" I asked. "No," said my sweet parochial school student. "Did I teach you -- anything?" I asked. Awkward grins on both faces. Again came my daughter's answer, "No." And I realized that I had somehow managed to leave out something really important.

Part of why my husband and I hadn't gotten around to the birds and the bees talk was because we were afraid of doing it wrong. We would occasionally search for a book to help us explain the beauty of God's plan for our bodies to our children in an age-appropriate way. We never really found one until now. Growing Up in God's Image, by Carolyn J. Smith, is that book.

Growing Up in God's Image seeks to provide its readers with a new approach to the facts of life talk, both in what to say and how to say it, as the book's subtitle explains. This "new" approach, which fortunately is no longer so new, relies heavily on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The book's three main sections explore the meaning of spousal love -- that is, the love between man and wife -- through explaining (1) the Trinitarian love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (2) the love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and (3) love as a sacramental sign of total self-giving. Scattered throughout are unexpected Scriptural insights, some of which actually gave me chills.

The beginning of Growing Up in God's Image contains themes that can be discussed with kindergarteners, including what the story of Adam and Eve teaches us about God's plan for marriage and families, and how parents cooperate with God in creating new life.  Later parts of the book include detailed descriptions of the changes that come with puberty as well as matter-of-fact explanations of intercourse and pregnancy. The author, an experienced mother of ten, recommends presenting biological information in the context of growth of the entire person, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. She prompts parents to remind their children to pray for their vocation, for wisdom to see if God is calling them to married life, or perhaps to the priesthood or religious life.

The end of the book is more of a study guide, posing questions without providing answers other than cites to paragraphs of the Catechism. I could see this guide being especially useful in the high school years, after confirmation, particularly if your child is not attending a Catholic high school and is therefore no longer receiving religious instruction. Home schoolers and youth groups might also benefit from it.

My favorite features of the book are the practical instructions to parents. The author includes a lot of  how-to advice, such as at what age to raise certain issues, which parent should present the information, and which parts of the book can be read by a parent and child together. It contains scripts you can repeat verbatim in case you as the mature parent actually freeze or choke when confronted with the reality and the enormity of the task in front of you. There are even diagrams in case of confusion.

Although packed with information, Growing Up in God's Image is shorter than you might expect, at only 74 pages long. The passages about dating could easily be expanded to address today's hook-up culture more directly. Also, in advocating a steady progression from group dates or parties to double dates to steady dating and courtship, the book seems to underestimate the dangers of peer pressure to engage in inappropriate behavior, starting at Spin the Bottle and escalating from there. Nonetheless, the book succeeds in its main purpose of helping parents explain sexuality to their children in a context of discovering God's plans for their lives, and I'm so glad we found it. Now, you'll have to excuse me, because I need to go talk to my daughter about the birds and the bees.

To purchase this book from Amazon, click here.


  1. Thanks for this review! I was going to post in the TOB forum and ask the question if such a book existed. You answered my question for me!