Book review ‘Vadervuur’ by Jeroen de Jong, Part 1

Once you get into circles of attachment parenting and responsive, sensitive parenting, there are some people you will meet again and again. One of those people is Jeroen de Jong. Since 2013 he has been active in an important part of the parenting field, namely with the young and the older, the mature and the fresh and green fathers, who are all in their own way looking for a form in which they can shape their role as the male parent of their child(ren). It is wonderful to see how Jeroen has found his place by organising all kinds of activities for ‘involved fatherhood’ and how he wants to keep the fire burning not only figuratively, but also literally in that adventure. Even better is it that he has now also written a book about this, so that everyone has easy access to his vision.

The official presentation of ‘Fatherfire – Follow your own parenting course and become the father you wish your child to have’ took place on 31st May 2023 in Theatre De Slinger in Houten and unlike most other parenting events, the hall was now filled mainly with men. Stacks of books were waiting in the corridor, which were handed out after the performance to those who had ordered a copy or decided to buy it on the spot. Just as the theatre evening was a party, so is the book.

Below the title on the ocher yellow cover is a drawn black and white image with two men and three children. The children hold a stick with a marshmallow in their hand, which they hold close to the flames of a campfire. The flames are red and the fire seems to be burning nicely. Under Jeroen’s name is ‘De Praktijkvader’, the name of his own company that he has been running together with his wife Wendy for quite some time now and which also indicates that he has a warm heart for drawing on daily practice. Not the rules are paramount, but everyday reality. And that reality is, among other things, that involved fathers play a very important role for a favourable development of well-being and health in their children and thus contribute to the prevention of ACEs.

‘Father fire’ has 53 short chapters, divided into seven thematic parts, namely Making space (9 chapters), Initiation (7), The place of your parents (8), Thinking, feeling, doing (7), From raising children to being a role model (11 ), Parents ánd lovers (6), and finally: Out into the world (5). That is a nice division: it gives the impression that the most important part of Jeroen’s message is that ‘raising children’ is a difficult concept and that parenting is more about ‘being a role model’. If you ask me, that is indeed what he means. And then it comes down to how we as parents approach life and how we deal with things. In doing so, it turns out to be of great importance to most of us how forced or how powerful our connection is to what our parents taught and showed us. What do we take with us and what do we let go of? What do our children need from us? Can we look openly, without judgement, childishly curious in what Jeroen calls the new world of parenthood? In the seven parts of the book, Jeroen looks for answers to those questions, among other things, and each part starts with a quote from an author who has said valuable things about it.

In his book Jeroen does not try to know better than those he addresses. What he does is to share with you the journey of discovery that he himself started with the birth of his eldest child. During that journey, which continues to this day, the (in the end three) children were his greatest mirror, in which he saw what he still had to learn: “My children grew up and I grew up with them” (p. 13). The book is in a way a reflection of what has happened in his family growing up over the past twenty years and he shares the insights he has gained.

One of the most important of these is that a child actually wants the same thing as you did back then: “someone who was there for you, completely, fully present and unconditional” (p. 31). This works better when parent and child do not worry too much. The more we think we have to do all kinds of things to get those children ‘right’ (raise them!), the more difficult it all becomes. Jeroen tells a nice story about a photo of his one and a half year old eldest son who was bursting with zest for life, to which a friend said: “So Jeroen, you can only ruin that boy” (p. 33). This sets the tone: no longer wanting to tinker with them, he says: “We can stop raising children, because that is where all the trouble starts” So: “How can you be that sparkling father your child is looking for?” (p. 34). That is a good starting point for a book that will probably end up somewhere in the ‘Parenting’ section in most bookstores after all.

I found the numerous questions in the book remarkable and refreshing. Many chapters are richly provided with questions that can be confrontational, but the answers to which can give direction as to how you as a father (and also as a mother) want to shape your parenting. “What are the needs of this child? What sacrifice do these needs demand from me? What did I miss most as a child myself? Am I still living in accordance with who and how I want to be?” The book explores these themes in many ways through personal stories and expert questions. The relevance of these kinds of questions is huge, because if we examine them honestly and deeply, we often come face to face with our own life history and with the pain that is stored there and influences our actions as a parent.

Part 2 of the book review will follow later this week.

Trauma, triggers, and protecting your boundaries, Part 3 (final)

Last week I shared the memories that surfaced in the CI-session and today I share the insight I gained.

My colleague continued her compassionate inquiry, asking what emotions arose from that disgust. I reviewed everything and grew sad about the heartache it had so often caused, about the emotional absence due to all the addiction, and suddenly I realised how furious I also was. I raised my voice: “I’m just really angry too! Always the lying about the drinking! I don’t want to smell that smell! I don’t want you to come close to me! Stay away from me! Fuck off!” I shook my head, narrowed my eyes and grunted open-mouthed, stretched my arms out in front of me in a defensive gesture, pulled them back in with clenched fists and cried as I screamed. My colleague remained present; her face on the screen slowly calmed me down and we were silent together. She kept her eyes on me all the time and gauged how I was doing. “What must that have been like for the girl you were back then?”

Of course I also knew that question and we dived into it together, how sad it is when you have to growup like that. There is little you can do as a child in such circumstances and with her questions she led me to the insight known to both of us: that the ‘freeze’ you experience as a child can be overwhelming and can catch you again if you later find yourself in similar circumstances. That was what had happened: I had gone into a freeze when the lady approached me while she was drunk and wanted things from me that I was totally unwilling to give: attention, acknowledgment, physical closeness. I was the young girl who couldn’t turn to her mother, but could also not bear to have her mother around her in a drunk state either.

“I understand you didn’t want to make a scene, even if it wasn’t you, but that woman who was wrong, but what could you have said?” I thought in shared silence. “Uh… I could have said something like: I think you are drunk and I think it is better that we don’t have this conversation right now.” I laughed at myself: that sentence was actually very simple, very ‘cool and collected’! I could have said that; it need not have led to ‘drama states’, states that in themselves might have reminded me of the past. That sentence had also been respectful towards her. And if she had made a situation after all, I would not have been responsible for it. That, too, was interesting, of course, my attempt to keep the peace and not create ‘states’, when what was happening definitely crossed boundaries. How afraid was I of ‘states’? How many of my own limits and desires was I willing to give up to avoid ‘states’? How responsible did I feel for preventing ‘states’ and, moreover, for ensuring the well-being of those around me, bypassing my own? Since when and with what consequences had I done that as a child and continued the behaviour into adulthood?

Then I became aware that I did not quite understand how these themes had been discussed in plenary for two days and that someone then approaches another conference attendee in this way. As I spoke I realised how much trauma there is and how not even the best teacher can get the student ready to hear and take in the full magnitude of the message. If we are not ready, we cannot learn the lesson. When we are still in survival mode, our neocortex, our intellectual brain, does not work properly. Then we fall back on primary instincts and defense mechanisms. In that sense, it was interesting that she had said that she was grateful to me for mirroring her. Was she not used to encountering boundaries? Had she needed her drunken state to recognise that…? I once read: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Recently I saw a sequel that goes with it: “When the student is really ready, the teacher will disappear.” She said she had learned something from me and with the help of my CI-colleague I had now also learned something from her. Even though I definitely prefer a sober teacher for my learning process – I had gained an insight again.

An important question that Gabor always asks is whether you have ever ignored your intuition and later regretted it. I probably did that regularly as a child, ignoring my intuition, possibly even continuously. A lot of things happened in our nuclear and in the extended family circle that was not okay, but it was not talked about and I did not learn (or unlearned) to say something about it myself. When my mother said she had not been drinking when she had, despite the intuitive signals, I still started to doubt myself: “Am I so wrong? Am I such a nasty daughter that I mistrust my mother, that I don’t believe what she says? Maybe I’m wrong after all…” In fact, I’ve only recently realised how deep the impact of all these dynamics is and how they led to my estrangement from myself.

Therein lies the core of trauma: the broken connection with the true Self, the denial of your authenticity because of (your attempts to maintain) the attachment relationship. There was no bonding relationship with the drunken lady, but nevertheless an effort on my part not to cause ‘states’, something that could happen if I guarded my boundaries with strength and healthy anger. I had felt them, those boundaries, and also that she was crossing them, but I was paralysed. I let myself be caught off guard in the belief that that would be the quickest way to get rid of her and never see her again. However, wanting to get rid of something does not have to be a reason to let others cross your boundaries. These kinds of incidents can, however, be a reason to take a closer look at your own triggers. What had it done to me that she arrived late and objected emphatically to the limited space? What made me decide to arrange a chair for my colleague? Why did the restlessness in our row make me vicariously uncomfortable for the speaker? What had bothered me so much about her attempt to get ahead in line with the book signing? What pain had been touched in me by her fire-spitting eyes and her averted head? With compassionate curiosity there would be much more to discover in my experiences – as a student I am ready and a teacher I already have.

Two days later I had a beautiful closing meeting; to my surprise the lady appeared there too. Again I saw and heard extraordinary things. However, when she arrived (too late…) I had resolved not to enter into a confrontation. I wanted to enjoy the meeting and put my energy into imbibing the richness of the evening to the maximum. Moreover, I felt no need or responsibility to work on the relationship with her or to contribute to her process. A Buddhist saying I once heard: “If you cannot make it better, it is already great progress if you don’t make it worse.” That sounds compassionate enough to me: that is what I had chosen to do.

Earlier in the day, with the help of my colleague, I had discovered that simple statements are possible with which you can indicate and guard your boundaries if necessary. Through the disgust the body had said ‘no’ and from now on the head through the mouth is also allowed to say ‘no’ in a friendly way. If the other person is triggered by this, there is work to be done for the other person, which involves a compassionate investigation into their own reaction, and if I feel the space to do so, I can be supportive there. Being articulate about your own boundaries is also respectful towards the other. “Clarity is kindness”, says my dear, wise Scottish ACE-aware colleague Suzanne Zeedyk.

All in all, I learned a valuable lesson. The incident and the session have helped me to better understand the old patterns that are hidden behind apparently new circumstances. Cognitively I had known that for a long time, but I now experienced it from the language of my body. And when the body says ‘no’… then you are welcome to listen to it and act on it – the wisdom of your body is huge!

Trauma, triggers, and protecting your boundaries, Part 2

Last week I shared an incident with a drunk woman and how I reacted to her. This week I will tell about how I explored that reaction further.

“Shall we do a grounding first or do you want to start right away?” My colleague asked me with a laugh. We had already completed two sessions and now it was her turn to be the therapist, this time with me as the client. I had not quite figured out my intention for the session yet and which difficult situation I wanted to explore further through Compassionate Inquiry (CI). A grounding seemed like a good idea; the stillness of it had led to beautiful insights before.
I closed my eyes and surrendered to her voice. It only took two or three of her sentences and then I knew: the situation with the drunk lady hugging and kissing me – that was what my session would be about today. Gaining more insight into what actually happened there – that was my intention.

With CI, the goal is to quickly descend into our bodily experiences, but I needed some time and text to explain the context to my colleague. I told the story and how I was disgusted by the idea of her hugging me. She was right to pick up on that word – disgust is a powerful emotional experience. She asked me how that felt, disgust. I scanned my body with my mind, thinking back to the night in question. ‘It made me sick. Even if I tell you now, I would want to puke’, I replied. ‘Can we stay with that feeling for a moment?’ We are both CI-students; I too know the questions, and I know roughly when to expect them, but still… when you are in the client role, it is different. For the client, the questions that you can best ask as a therapist or that you would like to see come up as an observer sometimes come as a surprise. And sometimes the question itself is no surprise, but the feeling associated with perceiving the bodily sensation is. That perception is sometimes really intense, confronting, shocking. That was also the case now: I felt almost more disgust now than at the time itself, when I was caught off guard, feeling overwhelmed, and only thought about how I could ‘manage’ the situation optimally without turning it into a scene, thus taking a responsibility on my shoulders that did not belong there. After all, she forced herself on me, not the other way around.

We stayed with the disgust for a while and soon I realised that this disgust was not about this woman, but about another woman – about my mother. For many years she was a kind of hidden alcoholic. She lied to me about whether she had been drinking. Peppermint and cheap perfumes were used in an attempt to cover up the smell of alcohol and nicotine. Combined with clothing drenched in the stench of stale cigarette smoke this resulted in a bouquet of scents that I could no longer tolerate after a while and that years later, when I noticed it somewhere, evoked the whole palette of misery through association. If I thought I smelled alcohol with my mother, she usually denied it. Then she said it was the medication she had to take or she made up some other excuse.

During our CI session I also remembered a situation where we came back in the middle of the night from visiting acquaintances of my parents. The four of them had spent the night downstairs playing cards, while my sister and I and the couple’s two sons watched movies and ate chips and ice cream upstairs. If we played and kept silent, they would probably forget about us and let us stay up extra late, we figured. One such evening it had become late again. My sister and I were installed in the backseat of the car, comfortably in a sleeping bag, so we could sleep through the half hour drive home. My mother did not have a driver’s license, so my father always drove and acted responsibly. Once home, my father parked in his usual spot in front of the building. We woke up and had to get out of the car with our sleepy faces and shivering bodies (we must have been about 7 and 9 or 8 and 10). My father pushed his seat forward and let us out so we could walk up the stairs from the porch of our apartment. My mother also got out of the car, but just before she stepped into the porch, she vomited on the sidewalk in front of our flat: everything came out that had gone into it that night – in addition to the snacks probably a lot of sherry or vermouth, the drinks in those days, with enough alcohol to make you sick if you keep consuming a long, long evening.

I was ashamed; who would witness this in the morning, such a dirty spot on the sidewalk, right next to the car, right in front of the front door? That was inappropriate, I felt. Puking can happen in case of an emergency; you can’t always help that, but on the sidewalk in front of the front door, after a night out?! I did not understand everything, but as a young child I certainly did not think this was right. Thinking back, I have a feeling that my father was also ashamed and that he was angry, even though he did not say anything. I don’t know what happened that night, whether one of them went down to throw a bucket of water over it, for example. However, my father had stomach problems for years later on: I guess he had been swallowing too much that in fact he found indigestible.

So my mother’s drinking was not just a thing when I was an adult, married, and a mother in my own family. That drinking was certainly older, although I am not sure if it was an incident that specific evening, or an event visible to us in what may already have been a pattern even then. In any case, it had meant that for decades I would avoid anything that could possibly lead to an uncontrolled state of being: no excess of alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs, no weed – more generally: no wild and crazy excesses. I would not let myself go free, go wild, and rash like an experimenting adolescent, but would restrain myself: no situations, no drama, no embarrassing displays.

Speaking of determination: I would not create a situation for myself and certainly later for the children in which, for example, shop staff in town would approach them with the remark: ‘Wow, I find it very embarrassing, but my staff members sometimes say to each other, look, here comes that drunk woman again, but that’s your mother…’ What could I do? Yes, she was my mother and no, I was not responsible for her behaviour and yes, I had tried to do something about it and no, that had totally failed and yes, I thought it totally sucked that I could not be proud of my mom, like other kids in my class. And ‘totally sucked’ was a complex concept: I was intensely sad, but I was also just very angry. Why did she make such a mess? Why was she not there for us? Why did she drink and smoke so much, even though it did not make her happy? There was a lot of confusion, sadness, disappointment, anger, and yes, in spite of everything, also a lot of determination and self-control, survival instinct and brave perseverance.

Next week I will share the further course of the session and my gained insight.

Trauma, triggers, and protecting your boundaries, Part 1

The delicious dessert was finished; the party was coming to an end when she came over and said to me in slurred speech: “You said a few things I didn’t like…” She hesitated, turned to the man next to me, asking him to turn their shared language to words that she could not find in English herself and continued: “I don’t think it was okay, buuuuttt…” She paused and made a wide gesture with her right arm: “I forgive you. Really, I forgive you!” She sought my eyes and waited for me to receive her words. She looked expectant and seemed to be counting on my gratitude. I was perplexed and said: “Okay…?” I had no idea how it would continue and what else was to come. “So!” Her voice strove for determination, but the twisted tongue and long slurs remained: “So! I love you and I want to give you a hug!” She grabbed me, more or less forcing me to get up and receive her hug. I was overwhelmed and thought it was strange what she was doing, very impertinent on top of that. I really did not want an inebriated hug from her, nor was I waiting for her forgiveness, but I did not say that. I smiled and stood transfixed to the floor.

In a flash I thought back to the day before. She had been in the same row as me in the audience, me in the third seat from the side, she in the fifth, and she had introduced herself forcefully. After the break she came back too late (the speaker had already started) and squeezed her way through our seats and the line in front of us. Space was limited, filled with handbags, backpacks and goodie bags. On the crossed legs rested notebooks in which notes were made about early childhood trauma, compassion, healing and self-reflection. She sat down and looked around with a frown. She took up ample space and, unlike in the first part of the morning, was a bit trapped. During the break, a chair had been added to the row. I had informed the organisation that my colleague was unfortunately late and would probably like to sit next to me on arrival. I asked how we could arrange that and the organisation lady walked to the front of the room with me. She looked, walked to the back, came back with an extra chair and rearranged the row a bit. For the sake of my colleague, I was grateful to her for this practical approach and hoped that my colleague would be able to join us soon.

However, this had brought the seats a little closer together and that was now avenging itself: the lady in my row felt that she had less room to move and became irritated. Restlessly she complained to the one and the other around her, including me. I whispered it was because of the extra chair. The look in her eyes grew more fierce, the energy she radiated became more intense. She twisted, wiggled, blew, gasped, sighed and moaned, then demanded a solution with more volume. It made me uncomfortable; everyone, like me, was listening attentively to the speaker and I experienced the situation as disruptive. In addition, since we were in the third row, I began to feel a little embarrassed towards the speaker. I looked sideways; the people next to me had their eyes on him. I didn’t want to distract them and saw no chance to ‘organise’ anything with the chairs. I looked at her: “If you had come in time, we might have been able to move things around a bit, but I don’t see a possibility to do that now…” That was not well received. Her mouth tightened; her eyes spouted fire and she turned her head away from me.

Later that day she was somewhere standing behind me in line for the author’s signing. Just before it was my turn, we were asked to return to our seats. We decided to remember the order of the line and wait our turn again at the next signing session. That turn came, but the angry lady pushed herself forward in the line to dismiss everyone who came in from the side for an autograph and explained to them that the idea was to join at the end of the queue. Now that she was already in the front, she tried to use that place to score her own autograph, although we and a few others were waiting quietly. I pointed out to her that she was no longer in the right place in the line. That also did not go well and at the end of the day she wanted to talk to me about a few things. I had already decided that I did not want to put any energy into it. Part of the day had been devoted to the importance of learning to say ‘no’ when you feel a ‘no’. This seemed like a good opportunity to practice again, so I kindly said: “I’d like to leave it at this.” Her face made clear to me that this came as a surprise, but my tone was ‘firm and gentle’, as someone else’s approach had recently been qualified.

All this went through my mind when she wanted to get me standing up for a hug after her declaration of love. I wanted to say ‘no’ again, but could not see how I could get out of her advances right now without creating a scene. Strictly speaking and viewed logically, the cause of the possible scene was of course not with me but with her; nevertheless, it felt complicated. My thoughts tumbled over each other: “I don’t want this! This disgusts me! I find this objectionable. What can I do to keep this at bay, to keep this totally unwanted intimacy at bay, in short… to keep her at bay?” I didn’t know, and before I knew it I was standing and she had put her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. I was shocked and quickly pulled myself out of the embrace. She laughed, babbled some more and walked away befuddled.

A little later she came back and made statements that, again, made no sense to me. Besides, she wanted to take a picture with me, and before I could resist and make a firm objection, before I could think of something to say in a kind but urgent way, it was already done. I did not look at the picture; I did not receive it and I also do not want it. She added something along the lines of how happy she was to have met me and how special I was. Tipsy she walked off, and while I was chatting with someone else, I saw her taking pictures of herself with almost everyone. My new conversation partner was the one next to whom I had sat at the table all evening and with whom I had had a pleasant exchange. She suggested a picture of us together. We wrapped our arms around and leaned against each other and while laughing and joking she took a number of selfies, which she sent to me the next day.

However, it was not over yet. The drunken lady came up to me a third time and once again praised me and how all of it was annoying, but that we need each other in the world and that she wanted to thank me for helping her and mirroring her behaviour and that she learned something from it that she was happy with. I was not sure that her cognitive brain was really capable of acquiring or reproducing solid learning experiences at this point, but again I decided to leave it at that. I had no responsibility here. I did have thoughts, though, about how what we had all been listening to during the day related to the behaviour she was now showing… and also to the behaviour I was now showing by not saying ‘no’, by being triggered and by not protecting my boundaries.

That last aspect stuck with me. When I had my weekly CI session a day and a half later, I decided to bring in this event and reflect with my ‘therapist’ on my response. You can read more about that next week!

Book review of ‘I already work (I just don’t get paid for it)’ by Lynn Berger, Part 2

As announced in Part 1, I will elaborate in this blog on my objections to an approach that argues that caring for very young children does not necessarily have to be done by women, because men can do it just as well. In other words, I will discuss the difference between equality and equity.

I talked to two people about the booklet ‘I already work (I just don’t get paid for it)’. One of them said this about it: “In all those social discussions about men and women, rich and poor, practically and academically trained, as far as I am concerned, the distinction between equality and equity falls seriously short. Equality is simply not an issue in many cases, and the pursuit of it in my view threatens to jeopardize the unique value of everyone. In this case it has to do with femininity, not the feminine qualities that men can just as well possess, but just the female body, which entails a certain role, in this case aimed at those little kiddies.”
The other said this: “What I do miss in her book is your question: what does the child want?” Put more specifically, my question usually is: “What does the child need?” That is an essential difference, but I know the questioner well and I know that is what is meant.

The content of these comments was exactly what I too had concerns about while reading: again it is about what men and women *want* and hardly about what the immature child *needs*. I wholeheartedly share Berger’s statement that ‘capitalism parasitizes on unpaid care labour’ (p. 65). In addition, however, as a society we are all parasitizing on the current and future well-being of children and on their health now and in the future, if once again we forget, in this welcome and important discussion, to speak about what their needs are, based on the biological blueprint and the evolutionary legacy. We really need to face those needs; the evidence is overwhelming.

I watched the aforementioned film ‘In Utero’ as part of the lunch webinar of ‘Alles is Gezondheid’ (‘All is Health’), which took place on 16th May 2023 and in which, based on the film, Tessa Roseboom and Anna Verwaal talked about the influence of prenatal conditions on adult life (see also here). It that conversation, it was again made clear how much the mother’s body plays an incomparable role and cannot simply be equated with what a father has to offer a newborn baby. If we want to guide a healthy new generation to adulthood, we will really have to take into account what our children need. They certainly ‘benefit from a rich variety of role models, parenting styles and caregivers’ (p. 71) and it is also sadly true that ‘many families are not a safe, warm, or loving place to grow up in at all’ (ibid.) . That is precisely why it is indeed ‘a collective responsibility’ (ibid.) to organise society in such a way that children do not grow up with toxic stress. However, the question is whether ‘childcare (…) as a basic provision’ is a place where ‘every child gets the chance to develop to the best of his ability’ (p. 74). For some children, daycare will indeed be a better place than home. If so, that is very sad. This requires, with great urgency, dedicated care for the parents, so that they can increase their skills. This often requires trauma healing. For many other children, especially in the early, vulnerable years when the child is still so small and immature, the very best place will be home, especially when parents are stable and well-regulated and don’t have to be constantly stressed about the most basic issues in life, such as a decently paid job, an affordable home, and utilities that don’t go at the expense of the weekly healthy groceries.

When we look at the division of labour from such a perspective, at the struggle between paid and unpaid work, at the call for financial and social recognition for care work in the home environment, we see that health and division of labour have a strong political character and are not only an individual responsibility. It is therefore time to no longer depoliticize health by pretending it is an exclusively personal responsibility. It is a pity that on the one hand this booklet so clearly and so rightly shows the link between policy influences and the division of labour, while on the other hand it seems to overlook the fact that not everything can be redistributed, that some tasks can really be better done by mothers and that it has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with equity. True emancipation and true resistance to exploitation by the capitalist system require us to recognise that not everything can be expressed in money. Moreover, true resistance to discrimination exists by the grace of recognising differences. After all, if everyone is equal, ‘discriminare’ (the Latin word for ‘to make a distinction’) is not possible.

To begin with, all this requires that we develop an awareness of the fact that something does not only have value if you can put a price tag on it. Moreover, true emancipation requires recognition of the value of inequality, without compromising equity. On the contrary, there is an intrinsic value in the diversity of tasks and skills, because it ensures that everything that is necessary for the proper functioning of a family, a local community or a nation, gets done. Can we see those unique contributions, without judgment, without jealousy of what the other can or does? Can we shift our appreciation from ‘ego’ to ‘eco’, from ‘what do I want?’ to ‘what does the child need?’ Certainly, that is a challenge, but if we succeed, then we will really see what ‘works’. And if that is a triggering thought, then there is personal inner ‘work’ to do. The fear we experience when someone else can possibly do something better than ourselves is not innate. That fear was learned in a social dynamic in which those differences were not warmly welcomed. That means we can also unlearn that.

In 3. Berger gives five suggestions for ‘a rich, full and caring existence’ (p. 64):

  1. Change the working week (and make it shorter or organise it differently).
  2. Improve leave for all parents (and not just mothers).
  3. Make childcare a basic provision for children (with free, high-quality care).
  4. Take better care of informal carers (so that they can also take good care of themselves and the value of their efforts becomes clear, literally and figuratively).
  5. Change your view on care (and speak up to relatives and colleagues about arrangements that contribute to this, since ‘performance’ is not only about ‘getting the best out of yourself’, but also about ‘contributing something for someone else’ ( p.80)).

All this is necessary, Berger argues, because ‘people, families, households, communities, entire societies are nowhere without the endless work that maintains, repairs, and sustains them’ (p. 82), without the ‘work that makes all other work possible’ (p. 14). That is a conclusion I drew decades ago. Also in my work I usually make a comment about it when mothers say that they ‘stopped working’ after the birth of a child. I then propose an alternative wording, namely that they have given up their paid job outside the home because they are working at home. In that context, I would like to add a sixth suggestion:

  1. Choose the child’s perspective and as you organise your daily life, ask yourself, ‘if I were my child, what would I need to feel safe and seen?’

That is where it starts, with self-reflection, with acknowledgment, too, of the pain that we as adults often still carry with us in our own inner child. As the awareness grows that much of what we do is linked to unmet needs from our own childhood, it becomes easier to see that many behaviours and the need for recognition from others stem from survival strategies. That may be an ‘uncomfortable truth’, as mentioned in ‘In Utero’, but growth is often accompanied by discomfort. However, let us not pass that discomfort on to our growing children, but let us face it in an adult way and take it on our adult shoulders. And if that load is too heavy for the carrying capacity, we can ask for help. That, too, is an extremely mature attitude, one that leads to us becoming better equipped for any job, paid or unpaid!