Have you ever wished that your children came with a manual?
Have you ever wished that you knew the right tools to nurture a better relationship with them?
I know I certainly have. No sooner than I get to grips with one stage, or one system of behaviours then I am overwhelmed by the apparently simple task of tackling another stage.
In fact, in the early days, my friends found my pleas for a manual – I was a first time mother – so funny that they did, in fact give me one. It was a well-designed dinky little book about nappies and feeds, sleep, cots and so on and so forth. By this point, I was hoarding baby books but it was never enough. Nothing was close to being a manual, even if it did proclaim so on the front cover. Nothing really encompassed the true mess of parenthood.
But, what do you do when your children are beyond the baby stage? There’s no dearth of baby books on the market and even then – I feel – there are slim pickings when it comes to quality. There is, however a pretty big gap in the market for books that attempt to guide and unpack the parenting journey beyond babyhood. Steve Biddulph is a well known author in this regard, known for his Raising Boys and Raising Girls. And now, there’s Philippa Perry.
A trained psychotherapist and well-known agony aunt, Perry tackles the problems which cannot be fixed by a cartoon character on a band-aid. In her parenting tome – actually, it isn’t a tome at all, it’s a fairly slim volume – she talks about feelings.
And, she doesn’t write about your child alone. She writes about you too. She addresses the feelings that lead us to behave in the way that we do, with our children. She talks about our triggers. She urges us, as parents, to unpack our emotional baggage so that we don’t saddle our children with it.
There is a lot of compassion here.
I first became aware of Philippa Perry a couple of years ago when ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) first hit the market. It was a big hit with the London-based Instamum gang when that was still a thing. I downloaded the ebook but never managed to get around to reading it. Recently I saw it in Orel Fussili where it was being promoted heavily due to its recent republication which includes a new chapter about sibling relationships.
One of my favourite quotations comes early on:
“ Maybe you’re scared if you admit that, at times, your irritation with your child gets the upper hans, thinking it will intensify those angry feelings or make them more real. But, in fact, naming our inconvenient feelings to ourselves and finding an alternative narrative for them – one where we don’t hold our children responsible – means that we won’t judge our children as being somehow at fault for having triggered them”.
The blurb reads that this is a book that will help you to understand ‘how your upbringing has shaped you’ and includes numerous different kinds of relationships, including how one can support their partner.
It would be unfair to summarise the book’s advice because this isn’t a book which lends itself well to pithy sound bites but if you were to ask me what my main learnings were, it would be these.
1. Listen. Do not ignore, do not distract. But actually, listen.
2. Take your child’s feelings as seriously as you would your own.
3. Listen – again – to the little things so that your child tells you the big things.
5. When you are around your child, store away your screens.
6. Remember that parenthood is not an exercise in project management. Children are people whose feelings need validating.
My feelings, upon reading this, was one of validation. I felt that I had been explained to myself. I could see my behavioural patterns, understand how I ticked and how my own system of behaviours fed into my parenting.
While this is an easy book to read and deftly written, it is not a quick book. It depends interaction and consideration (much like parenthood then!). I can’t very well round up my review without acknowledging that it does seem to be written for a very European readership and also one where parenthood is met with security and financial privilege. At some points, I felt guilty as well. I recognised my own damaging behaviours (I spend far too long on screens – can you tell?!). While Perry does tell her readers not to feel guilty, there is guilt all the same. I’m not sure if anything can be done about that. Sometimes the truth hurts, and that, in a nutshell is both parenthood and indeed, adulthood.
However, there is so much to recommend about it that I do think it is well worth borrowing or buying a copy. Philippa Perry encourages her readers to take their own mental health seriously, to focus on self-compassion so that they can pass down a legacy of positive parenthood and positive emotions to their children. I can’t really argue with that. This is like a letter from a wise friend who knows her stuff and is willing to talk you through it.
This is still not a manual though. You’re still going to have to figure it out for yourself, work out what works for you. But, this comes close.
I’ll leave you with the quotation that is most likely to strike home:
“When they are trying to, for example, show you their painting (which is your child trying to show you, on one level, who they really are).”
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