It is one of the easiest things in the world: making a parent feel guilty. Well this one, at any rate. There’s always something one’s done wrong, or haven’t done, or overdone or underdone. And the myriad numbers of books that remind / correct / reevaluate / deconstruct parenting methods is overwhelming. I’m not sure where he got this from, but my boss Hugh was speaking on a parenting course at All Souls last month, and he mentioned that 75,000 books on parenting have been published in the last 10 years!! Yikes.
I’ve certainly not read that many. I’ve in fact only read a handful – but most of the time, my experience has been the same: a sense of guilty failure. And too often, I’m actually talking about those written from a Christian perspective.
So I picked up Nicky & Sila Lee’s with a small sense of foreboding. And I have to say I was slightly put off by the rather grandiose title (‘The’ Parenting Book??) & Nicky Gumbel’s somewhat overblown preface. But I suppose that’s all part of the marketing strategy. Still, once I started the book proper, I was gripped – throughout all 500 pages of it – and hugely encouraged. It was full of things that we could start doing or do differently – and every now and then, I found that we were sort of on the right lines already.
Why every parent should read it
There are a number of aspects of the book that make it so good:
- They are not afraid to acknowledge their own mistakes – nor to allow their 4 children (now all grown-up) to mention their own frustrations and regrets about how they were parented (as well as the joys). They come across as thoroughly human and down-to-earth. As does the whole book. This was very refreshing.
- They have gathered ideas and principles from a wide range of research, at the level of both popular pastoral books and some more in-depth psychological stuff (more often than not gleaned from newspaper articles – I would imagine their clippings files are bulging). But this is worn lightly – and nearly always relevant and to the point.
- They are not afraid to be counter-cultural, but at the same time, their advice is very wise and common sensical (drawing the best of traditional wisdom and integrating it with new discoveries and developments as well as their own experiences).
- Big picture principles are covered, as well as chapters addressing specific issues related to age groups. While the toddler and young children sections are no longer directly relevant to us, I certainly found myself looking back and thinking that it made sense, orwishing we’d read the book back when it would have been.
- Every principle is well explained and illustrated with practical examples. It is littered with personal experiences (of their own, of their own children and of people they have encountered along the way). These ground the book. Furthermore, each chapter ends with questions to reflect on – all the time encouraging a conscious and deliberate (but never heavy-handed) approach to parenting.
- They do attempt to engage with the challenges arising from single-parent families, or step-families – though my guess is that many struggling with these issues will find this more of a springboard to other resources than a comprehensive aid. The book concludes with a number of suggestions for reading and online help, however.
- The book is clearly coming from a Christian worldview perspective, as becomes increasingly evident towards the end. But again, it never feels heavy-handed nor pushy. This makes the book supremely lendable to anyone (which of course reflects the origins of the book: both their HTB Marriage and Parenting Courses are designed as entry points to Alpha). There could perhaps be more here – a comment I’ve heard more than once about the courses is that they are perhaps a bit too ‘Christian-lite’ – but in terms of what they are seeking to achieve, the balance struck seems perfectly reasonable to me, even if I might have done some of this slightly differently.
Aspects I was especially helped by
There are a number of gems in the book – I found myself underlining and copying various things out (not just because they will become useful as illustrations one day!), especially since we are on the cusp of teenagerdom in our family. I especially found helpful:
- the HALT acronym (p189) for dealing with tantrums and anger (especially in us as parents as much as in our children). Before reacting, HALT, and ask yourself if you or they are Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired? So often the child simply needs some food – or to get some sleep – or to talk. So lay off them! Or we need to delay our response while we catch our breath if we can.
- the Alarm Clock gag: for teenagers going out to parties, set an alarm clock for the deadline when they must be in and place outside your bedroom door. That way you can go to sleep in peace knowing you’ll be woken up if they don’t come back – and they have an incentive to get home on time!
- Some really good suggestions for how to talk with your children about sex, drugs and rock and roll – well, the first two anyway.
So the book is pretty comprehensive on the whole. Which I suppose means that it really does warrant its title after all. I know that I will be returning to it again and again.