Review by Katherine

Breastfeeding your baby in bed or helping your toddler develop their autonomy may not seem like a political act, but according to Robin Grille, it may be one of the most important things you do to shape the future of society. In his Parenting for a Peaceful World, the Sydney psychologist argues that until we collectively parent children more empathically, war and unbridled consumption will continue to wreak havoc in our world.

The book starts off with a history of childhood which is hard to read as it recounts several hundreds of years of brutality and abuse. It’s not necessary to read these chapters in their entirety to get the message that up until about 50 years ago, it just plain sucked to be a kid. And still does in some parts of the world. If you managed to live to adulthood, you were deeply scarred by the experience, eager to brutalise others and ready to inflict the same torture on the next generation of children.

Grille uses this history to support his argument that the harsher children are treated the more violent and brutal the society they form as adults. He gives some specific examples such as Yugoslavia, Russia and Nazi Germany. While I’m open to this as being true, I think the evidence Grille provides would be unconvincing to those less open to the idea.

He extends this idea even further in the part of the book that I think some people would find challenging, where he describes the predominant style of parenting today as the socialising mode.

The socialising mode of parenting emphasises the need to train the child to behave in socially acceptable ways. Grille is critical of this approach because it ignores the needs of children in favour of the convenience and expectations of adults. Rewards and punishment are the mainstay of this parenting mode, and Grille is clearly against these techniques, including the good old star charts and ‘time out’. Another popular parenting technique he targets is controlled crying which he explains works because babies eventually become numb to the pain of not being responded to.

Perhaps his most provocative suggestion is that current common parenting methods such as these, which manipulate the child to behave in ways convenient to adults, create adults who are susceptible to manipulation and easy prey for the consumerist machinery of today’s society.

Grille’s alternative to the socialising mode is the helping mode of parenting which focusses, not on getting children to behave a certain way, but on empathy and open communication with them, responding appropriately to their needs, and having faith that they will grow into thoughtful, considerate human beings all of their own accord. In order to achieve this, however, he points out that it’s not only parents that need to have this focus, but all of us, extended family, child carers, teachers and politicians included.

As Grille himself warns, this is not a parenting book as such. It gives no detailed advice about sleeping, crying, feeding, playing etc which you would normally expect to find. In some ways, it’s more useful than a parenting book because it gives you some principles. Remember the principles, and you will intuitively know what’s best to do for your children.

Those looking for more practical parenting advice could try his second book, Heart to Heart Parenting. I haven’t read it – it’s on my list, and I’ll be interested to see how useful it is.

With a one-year old son, I have only started the parenting journey. My partner and I have implemented most of Grille’s suggestions so far and intend to continue to do so, because they appeal to us and they appear to be supported by evidence. I’ll get back to you in about 20 years time to let you know the outcome.

(Parenting for a Peaceful world is available from ABC shops and Mothersdirect)