Mothers Who Can’t Love by Susan Forward

Read: 18 January, 2016

I decided to read this book after seeing it recommended by one woman who had grown up with a narcissist mother to another. It was described as an amazing book that could really help with understanding those dynamics and learning to move forward in a healthy way. The person making the recommendation also added that it would be very helpful for people who’ve had dysfunctional relationships with their mothers for other reasons.

Forward begins by covering the different types of dysfunctional mothers – there are the narcissists, the overly enmeshed, the control freaks, the role reversals (who’ve expected their daughters to console and care for them from a young age), and those who neglect or abuse more directly.

While the examples Forward uses are fairly specific, and I found them to sort of skip over how complicated and variable these relationships can be, she did cover enough examples that I felt I could grasp her point and see the subtle individual shades between her archetypes.

Once the problem has been defined, Forward moves on to solutions. She begins with a process for identifying and coming to terms with the reader’s specific feelings, which can be far more difficult than it might initially seem! Most of the section, though, has to do with finding, establishing, and maintaining boundaries, despite a range of reactions of events.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent book. It can be hard to read, especially if the material has personal significance, and Forward herself recommends that her book be used in tandem with a therapist who can help to manage and guide. Still, though, the advice given is practical and thorough, and I think it’s applicable even when parental relationships aren’t quite as dire as the examples given in the book. In fact, I think that the sections on establishing and maintaining boundaries would be useful to anyone.

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The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Read: 27 January, 2012

It was hearing that Psychopath Test was coming out that got me interested in Jon Ronson. At the time, the only of his books my library carried was Men Who Stare At Goats, a book that had been sitting on my reading list for some time. So I read that, enjoyed it, and put Psychopath Test on hold as soon as it came out. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one and it took a really long time for my turn to get it.

Like Men Who Stare At Goats, the writing is a real trip. It’s not so much as exposé as it is a journey – a meandering journey that occasionally slips in time and subject. Rather than an argument of a thesis, it reads more like a discovery.

It straddles the line between non-fiction and fiction, between history and personal experience, and between the logical and the totally insane.  There were times when I couldn’t believe that what Ronson was reporting could be true, that people really said what he said they said in interviews, for example. But pull up the original articles and there it is, in all its glorious craziness.

It’s an interesting (and quick!) read with complicated conclusions. Ronson explores the Scientology-styled anti-psychiatry and he looks at those who believe in it so much that they diagnose and medicate 4-year-olds with bipolar. Never are the issues presented as simple or one-sided, and Ronson is very good at leading his readers down one path and then veering in a very different direction. It’s interesting and refreshing.

I can’t close without commenting on how perfect the cover design is for this book. I don’t often see a cover that is so memorable and perfectly suited for the subject!

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NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Read: 17 November, 2011

Common sense and instinct can tell us a lot of things. For example, it’s good to praise our kids, it’s good to leave the radio on because babies will learn language better the more words they hear,  and racial desegregation of schools will lead to less racism as kids grow up interacting with peers of different races.

Unfortunately, all of these are wrong.

“NurtureShock” is the feeling a new parent experiences when they discover that the Parental Instincts Fairy has missed their home. It turns out that while the instinct to protect our children is very real, the how of it is up to us to figure out.

NurtureShock is different from the other parenting books I’ve reviewed in that it isn’t an instruction manual. Instead, it simply summarizes some of the recent science in child development. Although the science itself is very interesting and I positively devoured the book, the lack of practical application was frustrating. As a parent, I don’t just want to know the science, I want to know how I can use it.

I think that NurtureShock would have done better if each chapter were divided in half. The first part would remain exactly as is, but the second part would provide examples to show how parents might apply the theory to their own parenting.

But that doesn’t mean that NurtureShock isn’t worth reading. Far from it, I think it should be required reading for every new parent because it fundamentally challenges so many of the assumptions we make about our kids and how they develop.

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