Saturday, March 20, 2021

Book Review: The Sandbox Revolution--Raising Kids for a Just World

"We stand at a time of unraveling." That's how this book begins: The Sandbox Revolution. I knew as soon as I read that line that this would be no ordinary parenting book. I think I expected it to be a happy, heart-full handbook for raising kids in ways that promote justice. I was thrilled before I even opened it, because I deeply believe that parenting is one of the strongest ways we create change in the world--not just because of our direct influence on our kids' generation, but because of the need to consider justice in order to parent consciously, and how that consideration, along with the hardship and trials of parenting, changes us. I was unprepared for the vulnerability, the encouragement of deep personal questioning and growth, and even support I would feel upon actually reading the book. The Sandbox Revolution is so much more than advice; it's a collection of stories, by parents who have had struggles like mine (like everyone's), and thoughtfully dealt with those struggles in writing for me to consider. 

Parenting is a deeply philosophical endeavour. This book makes no bones about that. It challenges us to look at the mundane and the routine as profound. It empowers us to ride that profundity, or even better to take charge of it, and create the world we want for our children. And importantly, the book challenges us as humans, because how can we raise our small (and even adult) humans without digging deeply into our own humanity? Editor Lydia Wylie-Kellermann states in the introduction that "with a love for this world and a commitment to its future, parenting becomes a radical act of resistance and hope." And this work of personal growth is not easy. Each chapter ends with a series of questions we can ask ourselves, as parents and citizens of the world--difficult questions like "How do I need to shift my own habit, internal expectations, or understandings in order for my kids to feel alive in their bodies, loved in their families, and able to make their own borders welcoming?" On broad, universal topics like money, shame, family history, ableism, racism, spirituality, community, and gender, this book is like a giant quilt of stories--a beautiful, diverse, Christian quilt. 

Oh wait--Christian? Yeah. That took me by surprise! As an atheist I admit to having been a little put off by the constant references to God, Jesus, and Christian experience. Most of the contributors are leaders or otherwise deeply involved in faith-based Christian organizations, and their stories, though diverse in gender, ethnicity, and other experiences, are framed in a Christian perspective. 

I have a slightly tumultuous relationship with Christianity. I was raised on one side by atheist parents who sang beautiful southern gospel at Christmas time but also explained that there is no God, and on the other side by Baptists who tried every which way to coerce me into going to bible camp, including threatening me with the fires of hell, which I would surely suffer due to my sinful divorced mother. I knew with certainty which path was for me when our local minister offered me Oreos if I would come to Sunday School and I felt angry. I told him I didn't want his cookies. I have worked hard, as a parent, not to pass that resentment of religion on to my children, but I guess I felt unrepresented by this book. Then I realized that I was receiving just a tiny sliver of insight into the usual experience of bipoc, LGBTQ, disabled, and other marginalized people, and this experience, too, was worth my consideration, in the choices I make as a parent.

To be fair, this book clearly doesn't assume that all readers are Christian. There was usually room for me to appreciate descriptions of Christian experience from my own perspective. I felt no implied judgment. But I did feel this book may not reach as wide an audience as it might if it were from a slightly broader perspective.

And it deserves a wide audience! By the time I'd read half the book (and reached a couple of non-faith-centred chapters), I realized it's a book that I'll keep on my shelf and go back to again and again. It's that important. But before it hits my shelf, it's going out to a growing list of friends and family whose thoughts I can't wait to hear! It's the kind of book I get passionate about! 

Chapter 8, Resisting Patriarchy, brought me to tears. It includes a transcribed conversation between passing male and female parents Sarah and Nathan Holst about their roles and experiences of early parenthood. The way they communicate--equally attentive to both sides of the relationship dynamic--is a courageous and conscious model for all of us. Sarah and Nathan actively demonstrate the work of dismantling patriarchal tendencies in relationships through how they communicate with both the readers and with each other. This book doesn't tell us what to do, as parents. It just opens up the hearts and lives of a few real, diverse, courageous people, and invites us to question our own lives. It's vulnerable, fierce, and utterly current, discussing the impacts of patriarchy, climate change, social justice and even the Covid-19 pandemic on our parenting experiences. 

Of deepest importance to me is that this book gives voice to children. Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, in talking about her young son, says that "Perhaps the most powerful act of parenting I can do is to let him guide me." In fact the last contributor, Myriam, responds to her parent's article about raising children who do not appear to be continuing their parents' activism in political/social movements. Myriam describes her thoughts, including her new experiences of university, and ends her piece with one of the most thought-provoking ideas in the book:

"So maybe my sister and I are not growing into the shell of past activists. Activism is changing. And we aren't going to grow up to become activists; we already are. We are not the people who are going to change the world when we grow up; we are the people who are changing the world right now."

For me, that's the crux of it all: Raising children for a just world (the subtitle of this book) is about listening to our children; making space for them to find themselves in the world with our love and support, but without our dogma, or the shell of their parents' world, around them. It is theirs to build and live in the world right now, and ours to deal with our own issues, so we can get out of their way. I loved this book, and plan to keep it around as encouragement for dealing with my own issues, as my children get out there in the world and do their own work.

The Sandbox Revolution will be released March 30th, and is now available for pre-order from

Iron Dog Books
Barnes & Noble
Broadleaf Books

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