Opening sentence: “This is not a straightforward parenting book.”
Parenting is not easy. I’ve never felt such a mass of contradicting emotions or been in situations that were so wildly out of my control (I’m talking toddler logic and tantrums…) At the moment I have two pre-school boys; the youngest is two so we have left the baby years, but nothing really prepares you for the mental battles you have to deal with daily (sometimes, it feels like constantly) when parenting toddlers. So that’s why I decided to give this book a read. A little bit of guidance on how to bring some order and calm into my household right now would be much appreciated.
Philippa Perry has been a psychotherapist for over 20-years (she is also married to Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry, fact fans) and what really appealed to me about The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read was the focus on parent / child relationships, as Philippa says, “I am interested in how we can relate to our children rather than how we can manipulate them.” It also looks just as much at the behaviour of the parent as the child, “How we feel about ourselves and how much responsibility we take for how we react to our children are key aspects of parenting.” She also discusses how: “Our own behaviour is probably the biggest influence on our child’s behaviour.”
In Philippa’s approach, she gets you to first look back to your own childhood: how your parents treated you, your earliest memories and the feelings they trigger and think about what elements of your own upbringing you are using to parent your children. “It is necessary to become more self aware around discomfort so that we can become more mindful of ways to stop us passing it on.” If you find there are a lot of negative things cropping up when you do this, in this book she lays out methods to change that, “It is not the rupture that is so important, it is the repair that matters.”
She asks you to think about how you react to your own feelings, “naming our inconvenient feelings to ourselves and finding an alternative narrative for them – one where we don’t hold our children responsible – means we won’t judge our children as being somehow at fault for having triggered them.” This is something I am guilty of, but didn’t quite realise until I read it here. Recognising your flaws, working on them and making a conscious effort not to pass them on, ‘being aware of the dangers of passing your inner critic on to your child’ is the important thing.
Key to her approach is to never underestimate how important it is to ‘acknowledge, take seriously and validate your child’s feelings.’ ‘Feeling with rather than dealing with’ is her mantra that really appeals to me. Constantly dismissing or repressing your child’s feelings can cause their instincts to dull in the long run and this could have negative consequences. So instead, ‘This is what a child needs: for a parent to be a container for their emotions.”
We are encouraged to observe our children and see things from the child’s point of view: “respect for their feelings, their person, their opinions and their interpretation of their world.” To not be quick to label them (‘it’s hard to thrive with the restriction of a label’) and to ‘Praise effort, describe what you see and feel and encourage your child without judging.’
She then moves onto how to deal with behaviour issues, not with exact techniques, but with more overarching methods that centre on the fact children need love plus boundaries. I will be employing such techniques as: “A good rule of thumb when arguing is to do it with ‘I-statements’, not ‘you-statements'” and ‘being sensitive to feelings and following rupture with repair is always better than stand-offs.’ She says that – in terms of behaviour – distraction and manipulation won’t work in the long run.
Maxims for behaviour:
- Define yourself rather than the child
- Acknowledge your decisions are grounded in feelings, not facts
- You are both on the same side
- Collaborate and brainstorm
- Be authentic, children follow the behaviour they see from you
A big takeaway from this book for me was that your child won’t share things with you if you have conditioned them to believe that some emotions are not worthwhile, they will stop confiding in you, so always sooth them and help them put their feelings into words. This was another light-bulb moment: ‘A toddler won’t have chosen to have a tantrum, they’ll just be having one.’ Children literally are their feelings, so by being sympathetic to their frustration and employing a collaborative, brainstorming method when it comes to dealing with tantrums will help them the most.
Four skills we need to help children develop:
- Tolerating frustration
- Problem-solving skills
Each section also contains exercises, inviting you to actively think about the areas you’re reading about and apply the method to your own life. I liked these call to actions throughout, it made me engage far more with the book and I actually had one or two revelations while reading.
Parenting is such an emotive topic but I found a majority of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read enjoyably refreshing; its focus on feelings and communicating with children as the mini-adults they are, rather than sugar-coating everything or relying on bribes to get them to cooperate is brilliant, “What children need is for us to be authentic, not perfect.” Basically, acknowledge your child’s feelings and ‘life is less likely to be a battle’ as ‘We all behave better when we’re not desperate for more contact and connection, when we feel we belong.’ This is exactly what I needed to read right now, I’m adjusting some of the ways I now parent, hopefully with a positive outcome. Ultimately, this book reminded me: ‘You and your child are on the same side: you both want to feel content rather than frustrated.’ Amen to that.
/ Published by Penguin Life 2019