How Not to Repeat Your Parents’ Mistakes

A popular new book argues that parenthood should come with a trigger warning

Joanna Scutts
Forge
Published in
5 min readMar 2, 2020

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Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

SSince its publication last March, the parenting guide The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) has proven that it deserves its ambitious title. Authored by an English psychotherapist and advice columnist, Philippa Perry, the little book with the bright-orange cover has become an enduring and widely praised bestseller in the U.K. But on the heels of its U.S. release, it remains to be seen whether Perry’s brand of warm and wise — but emotionally challenging — advice will find an audience with American parents.

In the crowded field of American parenting literature, breakout titles tend to be those that connect family life to broader cultural controversies. Books like Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) or Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun (2014) invite impassioned responses in the op-ed pages and around the dinner table. Alternatively, they frame child-rearing as baffling drudgery — in the vein of Adam Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep or the stand-up routine Perry quotes at the beginning of her book that hinges on the notion that all parenting boils down to a daily battle to get kids dressed, fed, washed, and put to bed.

Perry’s book, on the other hand, relies on neither cultural panic nor gallows humor. Instead, she demands something much harder from parents: that they first turn the light of analysis on themselves.

It’s rare that parenting books begin by asking readers to reflect seriously on their own upbringings and the ways that they, as adults, behave in their closest relationships. But these are the inquiries that form the first third of Perry’s book. How did our parents treat us, our siblings, and each other during our formative years? What did it feel like to be a young child with no real power over our lives? Many of us prefer to smooth over those memories, especially those that may be difficult. We come up with stories that explain or excuse our parents’ behavior, or we fall back on “I turned out okay” to reassure ourselves that our early treatment doesn’t matter all that much.

But when we become parents, this habit of rationalization makes us susceptible to…

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Joanna Scutts
Forge
Writer for

Writer, critic, curator, cultural historian. Author, THE EXTRA WOMAN (2017). Words at Slate, New Republic, Washington Post & more. www.joannascutts.com