Book review: ‘When the parents change, everything changes’
Book author: Paul Dix
‘When the Parents Change, Everything Changes’ is the first foray into the world of parenting books by Paul Dix. Paul is no stranger to the world of behaviour guides, and his reputation in the world of education and relational behaviour support proceeds him. He has had books on the shelves of Waterstones for close to 15 years and is a well-known figure in education circles for his no-nonsense practical guides to relational behaviour models. His best seller ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ has sold over 150,000 copies, and is a mainstay of teachers’ bookshelves. So popular was the opportunity to review his new book that I had to wait for more to be printed. A promising start.
The move into the sphere of parenting guides seems a sensible offshoot for Dix. His practical approach to relationship building for school staff is neatly transferable to the day-to-day of raising children. The approach comes tried and tested by his own family. Further, there is firm acknowledgement of the ‘good enough’ principle, the imperfection that characterises family life, and the high-stakes high-judgement atmosphere of modern parenting. None will relate to this more than those working in education. Those consummate of professionals who assumed that the move from parenting 30 children all day to just one should be a breeze, that they were used to keeping cool in a crisis, and that they had behaviour management nailed. No-one teaches parenting in school. There is an assumption that we will somehow innately be born with the knowledge and skills needed to get it right. It is perhaps the longest and most intense ‘job’ around and yet the only area I can think of where there are negative connotations to going on a course or learning more. The relentlessness of parenting requires a simple and accepting relational guide. A guide like this.
Dix’s central themes match that most effective of parenting styles – authoritative. With equal measures of warmth, sensitivity and limit setting, when you’re riding the authoritative parenting wave, you’re effectively bossing child-rearing. His tone throughout the book mirrors the approach which he hopes to instil in the reader: consistency, connection and warmth. Each chapter is structured around a central theme with golden ‘nuggets’ of information, ‘testing’ of new skills and most helpfully, ‘what to watch out for’ to avoid the bear pits and thought traps. With repetition of key messages abound, lively self-deprecating anecdotes are presented to avoid the preachiness that can be the downfall of any good guide. There is no pretence of an easy road and yet a promise of the kind of gradual results that satisfy. The mantra of good enough, rather than a quest for perfection, puts the reader at ease and humanises the relentless nature of keeping another human alive and thriving with a perceived audience watching and judging your every move.
There are elements of the writing style that cannot avoid romanticising the idea of winning parenting. One could argue that playing to that parental need to be seen as ‘having it all together’ is at odds with the concept of good enough parenting. It would be hard to argue that this isn’t what many parents are striving for though. The squashing of the guilt and second-guessing that descends upon parents from birth, that perception of omnipresent judgement we thought we’d seen the back of after our teens – who wouldn’t want to wash this away? Dix makes clear that thinking we’ve got it nailed is a false ending, but that the hard work is worth it.
There is no avoiding that this is an unapologetically white middle-class book. The cultural references and script examples are squarely aimed at a certain age and genre of parent that you might expect to have multiple books of this kind on their shelf already. Some of the phraseology used can feel unnatural to those outside of education, and the examples, while helpful and humanising, speak to a particular vernacular that would require many parents to guesstimate their own translation. Are there wider audiences these ideas could be of great help to that might not connect with this book? Resoundingly yes. But perhaps that’s because it’s another author’s story to spin. One who has a hybrid household, swapped Byker Grove for Bluey, and who would describe ‘the worst estate’ simply as their community. Now that’s a book I’d love to read. Until then, I’m re-reading Paul’s book on repeat to keep me on the parenting straight and narrow.
To find out more about Pauls work, or to order the book, you can visit ‘When the parents change‘