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Book Review: The Power of Showing Up

During the pandemic, I have talked to lots of parents about the impact of simply showing up for our kids. Reliably, repeatedly, just being there – a calm, safe haven for them in these troubled times. Because not feeling safe has been the theme of the past year. That’s one of the reasons I turned to The Power of Showing Up by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson for inspiration and ideas.

There is so much in this book that is insightful and useful especially at a time when parents need to prioritise what matters most and when helping children feel safe is top of the agenda. The key message of this book is the importance of showing up for your children, bringing your whole attention and awareness and being truly present for them – the same message that is at the core of my own book The Work/Parent Switch. And I love the emphasis on supporting children to overcome challenges rather than rushing to rescue them.

The Power of Showing Up firmly grounds itself in attachment theory. The authors advocate a brain-based parenting approach which examines how interactions between parents and young children directly influence the neural connections in children’s brains, determining how they think, feel and respond going forward.

Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson identify four ‘S’s that are their key goals in parenting: helping children to feel Safe, Seen, Soothed and Secure. There is a clear exposition of the importance of empathetic listening in supporting these four ‘S’s (again, something that is at the heart of my own book) and they offer some brilliant practical tools for helping children emotionally regulate that I will definitely be passing on to parents.

So why did I come away from reading this book feeling a bit uneasy? It’s a similar unease I felt reading Why Love Matters and other attachment parenting bibles. A nagging concern that the accidental message of attachment parenting is that if your child is struggling, it must be your fault, you must have done something wrong. I do worry that reading this book will make good parents feel guilty and scared. And that mixture of guilt and anxiety is not a conducive place to parent from.

The overwhelming impression I had coming away from The Power of Showing Up was of the terrible damage parents can do to children. And, although I don’t disagree with that (I have worked in child protection), the book offers very few concrete routes forward from the possible self-recrimination it induces. It talks about understanding our own histories (how we were parented as children) and healing ourselves (though the examples given for this often seem to involve therapy). But it makes virtually no allowance for the real world pressure on parents, the day to day stuff that we juggle and that overwhelms us and renders us less than perfect. The underlying message is it is possible to get parenting catastrophically wrong unless you consistently remain calm and connected. Yet there are no concrete pathways offered about how to manage our stresses better so we can achieve that feat of remaining always calm and connected.

I know many parents have read this book and found it invaluable. And no-one can disagree with the argument that frightening children is bad for them. Some children definitely do experience trauma in their early years and this can have long term impacts on their interpersonal relationships and the way they respond to stressors. And we need to take that into account in the way we interact with those children as parents and educators. But universalising trauma isn’t helpful.

It’s not so much the theory I take issue with, as the usefulness to real parents in the real world. I don’t think we help parents just by telling them “Be better, do this hard thing,” without giving the practical support as to how to do it. And all in the face of the threat “If you don’t do this right, your kids are screwed.”

If you are a confident parent who is generally calm and supportive with a child who is securely attached and relatively easy to parent, please do read this book. It will help you understand what you are doing and be a truly wonderful parent. And your kids will benefit hugely from it. But if you are a worrier, or have a child with a more difficult temperament, or a partner who is quick to anger, or if you sometimes struggle to manage the huge pressures of being a working parent, I’m not sure this book will really help you create change.

[This is my honest and personal opinion of this book – if you disagree, please do feel free to put your viewpoint in a comment.]

This is not a sponsored post, I have not been paid to write it. I did receive a free review copy of the book that they kindly let me keep. However, this post does contain affiliate links which means that if you click through and buy the book on Amazon UK, I will receive a small fee (see Disclosure Notice for more details).

Book cover of The Power of Showing Up in book review by parenting expert Anita Cleare

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By Anita Cleare

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