• Welldoing's Book of the Month for March is Parenting for Humans by Dr Emma Svanberg

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Clinical psychologist Dr Emma Svanberg is keen to make it clear that her new book Parenting for Humans isn't a parenting guide of tips and tricks, rather it's a guide for you, as a parent: "What we often do when we talk about parenting, we talk about the things we should be doing as parents. We talk about strategies, tips or techniques and it's focused on the actions we are taking and the 'results' we should be seeing in our children. Our children then become our 'successful outcome', and if they aren't doing what they should be doing we can end up feeling either that there is something wrong with them, or that there is something wrong with us. Instead of looking outward for tips to help us feel in control, we need to look inwards to understand what is being stirred up within us so powerfully, in that moment."

With warmth and compassion, Svanberg acts as a guide for existing or parents-to-be, promoting self-reflection and self-awareness as the best tools you can hope to have as a parent. The first sections of the book are dedicated to helping you look into your own story, events from your childhood and adulthood, sociocultural forces, your present situation, to help you understand how you might be (often unconsciously) playing into certain scripts and repeating certain stories, even those you don't want to. Maybe you swore you never would!

At Welldoing we are empathetic to the enormously challenging shift that becoming a parent represents. Our content about motherhood is always popular, showing a real need for trustworthy, helpful content in this area. We also know that people reach out to us for help with post-natal depression, as well as for support with all the ups and downs of the fertility journey, which for a saddening number of people may include loss through miscarriage or other difficulties with becoming pregnant. 

We also see just how impactful people's childhoods are on their present day experience. For that reason, we felt Dr Svanberg's book was a great choice for our Welldoing Book of the Month. Her kind but straightforward guidance, much of which has been fine-tuned in her numerous hours working directly with clients, is something that we hope many of our Welldoing community will enjoy and benefit from.


When did you decide to become a parent? Was it a conscious decision, or something that happened unexpectedly? Do you feel that you were always destined to be a parent, that it was an inevitable part of your life? Or perhaps something that you grappled with, and maybe still are?

When do you think you became a parent? Was it when you knew a child was going to be coming into your life – or did you only start to identify with that role months or even years after you first met them?

Did you think about what being a parent meant? What it is to begin a lifelong relationship with another human? Perhaps you had some stories in your mind about what parents are, and what they do. Stories you’ve been told since you were a baby yourself. Stories that have, perhaps, set up certain expectations for you about what ‘good’ parents do, how they behave, even how they feel inside and what they think about.

Maybe you haven’t had much opportunity to think about those stories. Maybe you’d never really thought of them as stories. But they exist in all of us, in the form of ideals and assumptions. And they can lead to difficult feelings like loss, guilt and failure when our realities turn out to be quite different.

How about your child? If you haven’t met your child yet, how do you imagine they will be? Where have those ideas come from?

If you have a child in your life already, what ideas did you hold about them? Had you thought about what they’d be like before you met them? Did you assume that you would just ‘know’ them from the moment you met? Perhaps you had a baby already in your mind, one that had existed as a doll, or a stick, or a train when you were tiny and carrying around a precious imaginary baby. Or perhaps you didn’t think about what a child would be like at all, but more that it felt the right time to consider creating a family because, well, it just did and that’s what people do, right?

We hold a lot of stories in us, don’t we? Stories about what it means to be a parent, what babies and children are like, stories about the relationship between parents and children. Sometimes these are positive stories from our own childhood that we wish to repeat. Sometimes they are based on our painful experiences, those stories we wish to forget about or rewrite completely. Sometimes these stories are buried deep within us, sometimes they exist closer to the surface.

But at some point in our parenting, we will find ourselves face to face with these stories – and the assumptions they contain. We might challenge them, and create new stories.

Often, though, because we’re human and changing stories is a hard thing to do, we hold tighter to them and wonder what we need to do differently to make that story a reality.

There’s a good chance that one of those stories, or even many of them, are behind you picking up this book. A story like, ‘If I can just figure out the right strategy to manage my child’s behaviour, then life will feel easier again.’ Or, ‘Family life feels really hard and maybe this book will give me the answer to change that.’ Or even, ‘Maybe this is the book that will tell me what it is I’m meant to be doing because, frankly, I don’t have a clue and everyone else seems to have it together and will someone please just tell me what to do because I’m drowning over here.’

We pick up parenting books because they appear to sell us that fantasy – that if we just do the thing or say the words or follow the instructions, everything will be easier. And, often, we put them down after the first few pages because they don’t provide any easy answers.

But what if there aren’t any easy answers? What if the story isn’t just one story, but many – some of which contradict each other? What if we need to rip up the stories, and instead write our own? And keep coming back to them, editing them and adding new chapters as our children grow and our lives change?

Even in our adulthood, we might picture ourselves as heroes in our story – occasionally villains perhaps. Certainly we might wish for someone to come and rescue us (for parents, this may not be a knight in shining armour but a very kind fairy godmother).

Once we get to know ourselves better, unravel some of the stories we’ve brought along with us, challenge some ideals, consider a new story . . . then quite an amazing thing can happen. We start to see ourselves as we really are – good bits, bad bits and the many in-the-middle bits. Not heroes, just humans. And we start to see our children as they really are, too – the bits we love and the bits we find really annoying and all the bits we haven’t really noticed. We bring our whole selves to our relationship with them, and they are encouraged to bring their whole selves to their relationship with us. That can feel a bit scary, but it can also be profoundly wonderful and make not just our relationships, but our whole lives feel richer.

Dr Emma Svanberg is a clinical psychologist and author of Parenting for Humans

Further reading

See other Book of the Month winners here

7 self-care tips to manage the intensity of being a new mum

Tips to help your child manage big emotions

5 ways to encourage teamwork in your family

My mental health tips for other new mothers