Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed is the book I cannot stop recommending. He talks about the state of modern marriage with unflinching clarity. And in a bold literary move, his wife provides footnotes. It is like being at a dinner party with the funny, poignant couple who occasionally correct one another’s stories.

From a theological perspective, the book serves as the perfect, secular counterbalance to Robert Farrar Capon’s Bed and Board. In Capon’s era, it was women who made the bed, but in Marche’s modern take we learn that bed-making is an activity we all long to avoid. Seriously, if you counsel married couples in or outside of the church, this book is a must-read.

Still, it is Marche’s insights on children and parenting that have stayed with me. He writes movingly about the unyielding expectations placed on mothers and about a kind of “new fatherhood” that has arisen for men. All of it can feel like uncharted territory. As always, children are a life-altering addition. These days, the challenges we face as parents feel more frightening than ever. The good news is, if you feel like you’re lovingly and anxiously winging it, you probably are. Because everyone else is too:

Love of children and fear of the world arrive in stutter-step tandem. Cortisol dances with oxytocin from the beginning. Right after the rush of birth, the very next act is to fit the baby into a car safety seat. Here is new life: don’t wreck it. The anxieties are interwoven with our hopes. Not the least of the pleasurable horrors and abject joys of parenting is the forced reckoning with the unpredictability of the future, the wildness of life. What will become of them, my big-hearted boy, curious and tender; my daughter, who is so trusting she will take the hands of strangers in crowds to be led into dimly sensed, half-promised adventures. Your heart is out walking around in the world. How much do you trust the world? How much do you trust your own heart?

A world filled with lost boys, with boys torn apart by phony masculinity, tossed by shallow dreams of what their desires should be and what the world expects of them, is a world filled with girls who will eventually have to live with these boys. For both girls and boys we want the same thing. We want them to escape the snares of being told what they are, and we also want them to flourish in their nature. We want for our children the chance to be fully human in all the impossibility that entails.

I remain worried about my son. He runs when he should not run. He shouts when he should not shout. When he walks in the street, his conception of the personal space of others is vague at best. Parenthood is a low thrum of anxiety, relieved by staccato bursts of joy and panic. To be a parents is to be worried. Its not supposed to be any other way.

The year after our first conversation with his teacher, my wife and I found ourselves sitting on another pair of uncomfortable chairs in another bland room smelling of markers and anxiety. This time we brought up the boy’s messiness first, knowing it was coming. His new teacher shrugged. “He’s a boy,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Her shrug of acknowledgement was worth more than any advice she could offer. It showed that boys are not given to the world as problems to be solved, by the use of algorithm or sociological experiment. Boys and girls are here to be loved.