Conditions for Good Mental Health: Reflections and Inspirations from Philippa Perry’s Book

Barbara Isaacs, May 2021

Many of you already know that I am a huge fan of Philippa Perry’s writing. I turn to The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did) for its generous spirit, and recognition that being a parent is a life’s undertaking.  It can be a challenge but it also brings lots and lots of joy.  It is an ongoing journey – which twists and turns as our children grow older and as our roles gradually change and, as Perry reminds us, we are co-creating this relationship with our children.

I also like her book because she is deeply committed to the Child and the child’s right to be respected; she recognises the importance of the early years in establishing secure foundations, whilst giving us hope by reminding us that “it is never too late to take steps to attempt to repair any rupture that may have happened during the early years if your child is older” (Perry, 2019:129).

The nature of our relationship with our children is addressed in chapter 5 of the book, Conditions for good mental health; we have chosen it for our book club reading this month. Perry is very clear about the need for a strong bond between parent and child which is also an important indicator of their future mental health.  She acknowledges the strong evolutionary nature of our social relationships – she refers to human beings as “pack animals”.

We have seen during the recent pandemic what isolation can do, we have all felt the stress of being separated from family and friends. It has impacted us all; many babies and toddlers have only experienced the connections with their immediate family and they will feel the separation from their prime carers acutely as they start being introduced to their childminder, day-care or nursery.  Older children have witnessed far more family tensions during the past year as their parents juggled home, work and parenting.  Teenagers missed the company of their friends and found their families even more claustrophobic, irritating and embarrassing than before.  At the same time there were many moments when we have felt warmth, closeness and love within our families and have been grateful for being together. 

We have also experienced unexpected warmth and sense of belonging within our immediate communities and have been reminded of the importance of family, friends and all those who make our lives easier through their daily work. A smile and wave have brought joy to many and remind us of our tribal nature. The nature of our interconnectedness is so visible these days as we hear stories from our close and far away communities, countries and continents.

Perry’s reminder of the need to give and take, of the to and fro of our communications – is likened it to a collaborative dance.   I really love this analogy as the dance can take so many forms, directions and shapes – just like our relationships. 

She urges us to keep our babies, children and teenagers company – to be alongside them as they experience life.  In the same way in which Montessori invites us and reminds us to stand by and watch. It is so easy to do things for our children – irrespective of their age – and the result is that they feel “done to” rather than sharing the doing together.  Reading these words, I suddenly remembered one of my last meetings with my mother (she over 80, me over 50) as she asked me to comb my hair.  This was one of her most frequent reminders when I was a teenager, which I am sure, represented care and parental concern on her part, yet it had such a very different effect on me – it sparked a sense of criticism, and lack of acceptance.  And despite all these feeling I recently I caught myself almost saying the same thing to a friend.  Once again, I reflect on the complexities of human nature, on the entanglements which make us who we are as we grapple with them.

The chapter is filled with little case studies demonstrating our human relationships and the need to co-create our relationships.   They are pearls of wisdom.  Philippa touches not only on taking turns in conversations and actions but also on children’s various responses to our relationships – being clingy, defiant, not sleeping and on the importance of play in children’s and adult’s lives. 

She sees play as vitally important for our well-being:

“While playing, an infant learns to concentrate and gets in the habit of making discoveries, one of which is the joy of feeling absorbed by what they are doing. In addition, they learn how to connect ideas and feed their imagination. It’s also through play that children learn how to connect with their peers. Play is the foundation for creativity and and for work; for exploration and discovery.  All mammals play because play is practice for life.  Play is your baby’s and your child’s work – and needs to be respected as such.”

(Perry 2019:161)

Join us on Tuesday 4 May at 7pm to explore this chapter further. Register now.

Reference

Perry, P. (2019) The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad that you Did) London, Penguin Life Random House

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