Book review: The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry. Reviewed by Lorena Jiménez Sánchez.

Book wish parents had read

Date published: December 2020

Paperback price: £7.95

Link to book on Waterstones website

Reviewer: Lorena Jiménez Sánchez, PhD Researcher in the Salvesen Mindroom Research Group

Reviewer expertise: Developmental Psychology and Behavioural Neuroscience

What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) explores links between how we were raised and how we raise our own children. It describes opportunities and threats that go along with a child’s environment, feelings, bonding and how we communicate with them in the early years of life. Although one could think this book is only aimed at parents-to-be, it provides interesting insights into all kinds of interpersonal relationships.

A brief description of the book.

The book starts by focusing on ‘the parenting legacy’, in other words, how the past of the parents can affect their parenting style. Parents may reproduce behaviours they were taught during their infancy, but here they are invited to investigate where the reactions to their infants’ behaviours come from. Identifying things parents may be doing wrong can lead to inner critics, so the author goes on to deconstruct the sometimes-judgemental ‘good parent/bad parent’ labels.

The second chapter explores the child’s environment and the benefits of good parent relationships that go beyond family structure. She discusses how to make pain bearable when parents are not together, how to argue when parents are together and how to recognise and turn towards bids for attention or connection. From the environment, the author expands on the child’s feelings: infants are described as ‘bundles of feelings’. They are still trying to understand and contain their emotions. Thus, validating all these feelings and accepting every mood are considered essential versus repressing or distracting infants away from their negative feelings.

The next section covers pregnancy and aspects of bonding and attachment: why it is important for babies to form bonds with others and how the nature of those bonds can shape whether babies feel safe to explore their surroundings and how they cope with stress in later life. There are also references to differences in wellbeing many parents experience after having a baby, like loneliness and postnatal depression, as some of the ‘hidden parts of parenting’. The author goes on to describe some conditions for good mental health, talking through ways for parents to engage with infants and to dialogue with them. Sleep and play habits are also discussed. Lastly, the author expands on parent-infant behaviour as the main form of communication, particularly important when infant language is still developing. From the ‘winning and losing game’ of tantrums to how strict a parent should be, the author ends up discussing how to set boundaries to foster a safe, loving, and accepting relationship with children. 

All these topics are accompanied by case studies, real-life examples that may seem anecdotal, but help to illustrate some of the author’s arguments. In addition, little exercises are presented as questions for the reader to stop and reflect on these topics.

Is the content in line with best practice or research evidence?

It is difficult to analyse this book in the context of best practice: what is best practice in the context of parenting? There is a vast literature on parenting and equally vast range of parents!

This book provides pieces of anecdotal evidence to support the arguments. However, from a research perspective, I would have personally enjoyed more discussion on how certain parenting habits may be more or less beneficial considering different populations e.g., from different ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds. Examples of different families are provided to illustrate how easy behavioural changes could operate and benefit the family. However, it would have been interesting to detail limitations or impracticalities of these approaches, or offer alternatives, when parents lack the time or resources to follow these recommendations and may feel unnecessarily guilty about their limitations. Thus, a multifactorial perspective of different family dynamics and situations is sometimes missing.

On the other hand, the book provides interesting insights about emotion regulation and communication strategies that may help parents relate to babies and their behaviours from their very early years.

Would this book be helpful for its target reader?

In general, this book can be helpful to parents or parents-to-be, highlighting the importance of building constant dialogue and open communication with children. Although practising some of the recommended habits can be worth it, and the author recognises that every child is different, it may be challenging for some parents to follow every piece of advice. Rather than following this book as a step-by-step parenting guide, we should come to our own conclusions about what feels right and may work better for us. Nevertheless, the overall message of fostering respect and empathy in interpersonal relationships is helpful.

What is your final, overall opinion on the book?

To sum up, this is an entertaining book about dynamics in parent-children relationships. Parenting habits are discussed and some are recommended to improve understanding and communication. Whereas not every recommendation may work for every child and parent, it is a worthwhile read to pause and dwell on the importance of listening and feeling listened to.