January 14, 2020
Part memoir and part guide, this book offers both insight and remedy to those parents who are unknowingly under the influence of their own childhood experiences, and unwittingly repeat their parents’ mistakes while believing they are doing the right thing.
How should we raise our children? It is an intimidating and complex question, and we often address it by deciding to do either exactly what our parents did or just the opposite. After that we rely on a cock- tail of love and instinct, hoping it will be enough to overcome the difficulties ahead.
Far from having perfect free will, however, we are all under the influence. The child still within us confuses, influences, or undermines all our aspirations as parents and prevents us from sticking to the philosophy we initially hoped to follow. These unresolved emotions drive us to reproduce the upbringing we received, including the patterns or behaviors that have hurt us the most.
In Parents Under the Influence, Cécile David-Weill draws on her own parenting blunders and successes as well as case studies and works of fiction to guide readers, helping us heal from the past and become effective, nurturing parents.
“Before I became a mother, I remember people saying, “You’ll see, having children will turn your life upside down,” and I thought I was ready for this change. Far from conforming to what many French people still believe, that “you’ll have to watch out so that motherhood does not take over your whole existence,” I could not wait to see my entire life upended. I was eager to change my habits and way of life so I could devote myself to my children, no matter what I might have to give up. It was this kind of motherhood that I longed for, given how strong I believed my maternal instincts were, and how much meaning I thought having children would give my life.
As we all would probably agree, knowing something intellectually and experiencing it are two utterly different things. When my children were actually born, neither the conversations I’d had nor the books I had read prepared me for the incredibly powerful and contradictory emotions that beset me—primarily love and fear, each on a scale I had never experienced before.
It started with the instant bond I felt with them: an age-old, primal, animal attachment. This bond was at once joyful and terrifying as it made me realize that I had just embarked on an adventure that would consume me for the rest of my life. Indeed, the intense love I felt for my children was accompanied by an extraordinarily potent, deep, and visceral fear of any harm that might come to them, and this fear radically transformed me because it tinged with anxiety everything I did and every move I made, and for a long while, this anxiety prevented me from finding joy in being with my children. So much so that, even when I understood that my fear was toxic, it took considerable time and effort for me to disentangle my emotions and break free of it.”
“With penetrating psychological insight, Cécile David-Weill traces the inborn and inherited errors of parenthood and explains how a raised consciousness can overcome those dangerous predispositions. Love is the prerequisite to good parenting but not its essence; parenting requires immense care and considerable self-knowledge. David-Weill draws on anecdote and scholarship to create a book that is gentle and often wise, a guide to parenting that is itself full of both affection and skill.”
Author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree
“This book is the beginning of a new oeuvre; not child psychology, moreparent psychology.It is a beautifully wrought study of how children and parents relate, inspiring for its radical blend of the personally felt and the clinically observed.”
Designer, cabaret performer, talk-show host, TV celebrity, and author of I.M.
“Cécile David-Weill brings to this insightful, engaging study all the qualities she identifies as crucial to good parenting: compassion, humor, wisdom born of rigorous self-questioning, and an unwavering focus on what our children need the most. Parents Under the Influence is indispensable reading for all parents and caregivers who in the face of difficult family dynamics seek to establish happier, healthier relationships with their children.”
Recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics
“In her at once encyclopedic and utterly unpretentious, beautifully written book, Parents Under the Influence, Cécile David-Weill describes how and why we parent, and when and why we are most likely to make mistakes. She is neither academic nor proscriptive as she provides a passionate, deeply felt case for why parenting should be, at its best, a joy. Our one task as parents is to reckon with our own ‘influence’: our parents, our childhoods. As a mother, I am in awe of her ability to explode clichés and illuminate the essence of that most complex thing: raising another human being.”
Author of Eleven Days and Red, White, Blue