Rating: 4 stars
The parenting book du jour, Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, promises that, through kindness, compassion and understanding, you can avoid ‘screwing up’ your child. It takes a big-concept rather than task-specific approach (e.g. there is only one chapter on ‘behaviour’ and no chapters on things like ‘bedtime’ or ‘potty-training’) and comprises six sections: Your Parenting Legacy, Your Child’s Environment, Feelings, Laying a Foundation, Conditions for Good Mental Health, and Behaviour: All Behaviour is Communication.
Certainly it’s easy to see why this is the big parenting sensation of the moment. Its prose is clear and concise, its message is simple, and it offers many great examples of how its philosophy (I would avoid saying ‘methods’) has benefitted families. It’s a quick read, it’s not burdened down with jargon or complex theorising about why the way it recommends is the right way, and it is an enjoyable and interesting as well as a useful read.
I’m writing with some degree of bias, since I am a new parent and this book heartily recommends doing many of the things that align with my own personal preferences; most notably, it is very strongly against sleep training, which I cannot bring myself to do despite the recommendation of more “traditional” parenting advice outlets. Hurrah! I’m off the hook. It is also broadly in favour of a more liberal and permissive style of parenting than an authoritarian and routine-based one, which suits me better in terms of my own lifestyle and preferences for organising myself, so I think I was always going to be warmly disposed to the message of this book.
And the message of the book feels very current: it is about compassion, understanding and adapting with your child. It is not a guide to how to get your child to fit in with you, or another routine (@ Gina Ford), or how to ‘train’ them to behave. In fact, it is more about training parents to engage with their child as another human to connect with rather than an as-yet-unformed adult to be shaped.
So, in the main, I thought this was an accessible, warm, sensible and highly practical parenting book. There were a few moments, however, that jarred with the praise of the book as ‘warm’ and ‘encouraging’. There is a fair amount of commentary along the lines of “If you do x y z you will inhibit your child’s potential for future happiness” or emotionally stunt them in some other way – one does not expect a parenting book to be without warnings – but sometimes patronisingly followed with or preceded by “Now, don’t throw this book away in a temper if you have been doing x y z – there is always time to change your ways.” The assumption that a reader who had been acting contrary to the book’s advice would have a ‘fit of temper’ seemed condescending and also like a sort of smart-Alec trick: if you disagree with me, I know I’ll be making you angry, and if you are angry that only means I’m right. I thought the book would have been better, felt warmer, and felt more collaborative with its readers without this.
Overall, though, I would strongly recommend to anyone. It is as much about our relationship with our own parents as with our children, and contains much interesting food for thought.
Reviewed by Louise