By Oliver James, Vermillion, 2010
Oliver James, a clinical child psychologist of unashamedly psychoanalytic bent, categorises mothering styles into three types, and offers advice on how to make the best job of mothering within the constraints created by each style. There is the Hugger - who is most generous and loving towards her baby, the Organiser - who prefers older children and finds the early years a challenge, and the Flexi - who chops and changes between both. In a nutshell, the best way not to f*** them up is to be a Hugger, and if you're too damn selfish to manage that, then make sure you get a top of the range nanny!
You might guess that I wasn't the most sympathetic audience. I'm disappointed by this, since I like James' Guardian column (no wait, that's Oliver Burkeman!), and I'm generally a right sucker for self-help psychobabble.
But any book containing the words "studies done in the last 15 years have largely confirmed Freud's basic ideas" (p.93) is going to rankle me. All this 'You're inadequate but its not your fault, you can blame your difficult childhood' business will likely appeal to a certain sort of person, but it doesn't strike me as nearly as useful or practical as James pretends. Stop wallowing in pity about what your mum did or didn't do to you and concentrate on being the best mum you can be, I say.
This book is easily as biased as Gina Ford's. There is a continuous underlying insinuation that any mother who doesn't spend at least three years staring giddily into the eyes of her child is somewhat unfeminine. Sure, there is a facade of balance, but James' conviction that 'Huggers' are better women and mothers than 'Organisers' is clearly given away in the way that Huggers are encouraged to stand up for their way of doing things and try to ignore criticism while Organisers are told to just accept their faults and make sure they get someone else to raise their children for them (not to mention the number of pages dealing with problems arising from each approach, and even their names).
I can only suppose that the reviewers cited on the cover calling the book 'liberating' and 'a sane voice' view themselves as Huggers, for all this book really is is a pseudoscientific comfort blanket for traditionalist and clingy mothers. And yes, I do call it pseudoscientific. Yes I know you have your little asterisks dotted around everywhere Dr James, but lets have a look at them shall we. There is an asterisk by the outrageous claim made above about how Freud has been scientifically validated, where does that lead.....Oh! Che sorpreso, the citation is to one O.W James 2002. That's right, his other book.
For the record, James would probably call me a Flexi. In fact I think there needs to be another category: 'Borderline Neglecters' - too disorganised to be an Organiser and too distracted to be a Hugger - that's me, and not very embraced of it either, thanks very much, but I have a very happy little boy (though James would call his smiliness a strategy for securing attention borne of the desperate insecurity caused by my occasional (ok nightly) glass of wine and enjoyment of adult activities) and sometimes I string a whole sentence together at once, so fnah.
I realise I sound crazily defensive and I am. This book really upset me. I spent almost a week thinking, God, how do I tell if I'm responsive enough to Orson, and a few days playing a weird game of copying every facial expression he did until we both got thoroughly weirded out and I started being me again.
The tagline 'why embracing your own parenting style is best for you and your child' should really read 'why you must acknowledge your multifarious inadequacies and then impoverish yourself' but if James is going to make such serious and frightening accusations against the majority of modern mothers, I would demand that he back it up with something a lot more robust than I-just-made-it-up unfalsifiable bullshit. Otherwise, just f*** off! Sorry.