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Interviews

The Thriving Family by David Coleman

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Barbara Scully © 23 September 2012.
Posted in the Magazine ( · General Interest · Interviews · Non-Fiction ).

“For a clear, concise and coherent take on the world of family life, David Coleman is the first man we go to” says Ryan Tubridy on the cover of Coleman’s new book The Thriving Family.   And Tubridy’s words not only sum up the man’s approach to child psychology but also his book. ‘The Thriving Family’ is an easy to read, straight forward and very down to earth take on family life, much indeed like the man himself

Although originally from Dublin, David spent many of his formative years living in Kildare and now lives in an unprounancable village in Clare with his wife and three children ages 14, 11 and 8 years. “From aged four to 14 I lived in rural Kildare and it was a great life. We had great freedom and I’d love to be able to replicate some of that with my own children.” Do we all try to do that, I wonder – try to give our own children the good things we experienced as kids? “Intentionally we try to replicate the good stuff; invariably we replicate everything…. the good and the bad.”

Read MoreIndeed this is one of the striking themes of David’s book – how much parents need to stand back from their parenting and have a look at what patterns they may be repeating from their own childhoods. “Lots of parents will tell you they hated being slapped as a child and yet they will find even though they never intended to slap their own child, it still happens.”   David goes on to explain that when you live with something (such as being slapped) for 18 years, it becomes engrained and very deep. So it’s not really surprising that it resurfaces when we become parents ourselves and we may be the very last person to realise what we are doing. That’s where a good partner can help, by bringing our neurosis to our attention. It’s never too late to forge ourselves a new value system and thereby prevent a repeating pattern from running through generations of our family. Although clearly the converse is also true. Positive influences and experience of childhood make it much easier to be a successful parent.

According to David the idea behind the title of the book, ‘The Thriving Family’ is to outline how parents can create a steady and strong base from where our children can grow and develop to reach their full potential in life. So, I wondered, is it better for young children to have one parent in the home where possible? I was fully expecting a diplomatic answer so stared him straight in the eye, ready to read between the lines of his answer. I needn’t have bothered.

“I don’t mind being undiplomatic” he says “I think that it is way better for children to have a parent at home. I say that because, with the best will in the world no one is going to be able to care for your child with the same level of unconditionality as you do.” But David does go on to say that it is a difficult role and not one that suits everyone “it’s got to be fulfilling for whoever is staying at home and if it’s not, then don’t do it.”

Of course not everyone has the full of plethora of childcare choices available to them and David readily admits that. But in a perfect world where all things were equal the second best option, he says is having a childminder come to your home followed by your child going to their home. Creche and ‘leaving it all to an au pair’ complete the list in order of least ideal options. But David does stress that it’s all about the quality of care – you may have a great childminder or crèche leader which could work out very well for you and your child. And he reminds me “children are very resilient”.

‘The Thriving Family’ is not just a book for new parents, full of baby and toddler advice. There is some of that of course but there is also a meaty section entitled ‘Thriving in the Throes of Adolescence’ which addresses the need for parents to adapt their parenting when their children hit those rocky teenage years. Dealing with this age group brings a whole new set of challenges mainly due to the fact that teenagers will normally have developed a strong voice and therefore parents have less power in the relationship. As parents we can enforce our will on a younger child if necessary but we cannot do that with a 16 year old. “So we need a whole new set of skills. We need to bring out the skills of negotiation, compromise, discussion and decision making”, says David.

David also acknowledges that decisions that this age group have to make today are way more complicated than the ones we had at the same age. The world is very different place. Probably the best example of this is the access to hardcore pornography online which is a huge influence on our young people’s sexual education whether we like it or not. David says “the impact [of pornography] is so huge… The messages we had about sex and sexuality may not have been positive but they were very clear. It was ‘don’t do it’. It is frightening what children are exposed to now.”

The Thriving Family’ deals in a very down to earth way with social media, drinking, bullying and other traumatic events that children might have to deal with in their adolescence. Reading these sections I felt huge relief that these issues are issues for all families.   As parents we are much more willing to share information and problems with our friends when our children are babies and toddlers. But discussing our problems with teenagers is something many of us are much more reluctant to do.

“By the time we have teenagers we feel we kind of know the parenting thing so we are much slower to ask for help”, says David. He’s right. We often feel we have failed when we hit the bumps with our teenagers. We compound our isolation by the fact that we don’t generally buy books to assist or support us in parenting teenagers either.

David is a practicing clinical psychologist and The Thriving Family is his third book. He also has presented weekly TV programmes and contributes regularly to broadcast and print media. He has a weekly radio slot on the Tubridy programme on 2FM and writes a weekly column for the Irish Independent.

By his own admission he writes best when a deadline is fast approaching and then will write from three to six hours per day, aiming for a weekly word count in the region of 6,000 words. He also admits that he doesn’t like criticism. His wife, also a psychologist, reads everything he writes and clearly plays a huge role in helping him to edit and refine what he has produced.

He also needs a clear day in order to write “I can’t have other stuff on my agenda for that day. I need a whole day with nothing else going on.” I’m guessing that he also needs total peace and quiet then. “Yes, I’m such a procrastinator and so easily distracted. I have to shut myself away.” This must be difficult working as he does from a home office, albeit one in the attic. “The children just don’t come up, unless they really have to.” Sounds very familiar to me.

And like the rest of us David doesn’t always get it right first time. He struggled particularly with this book and pays warm tribute to his editor at Hachette, Ciara Considine who he says was great at knowing when something wasn’t working. He feels like he wrote The Thriving Family about four times. “But I really enjoy the craft of writing. I enjoy it when stuff does flow well,” he says.

Tubridy is spot on with his description of David’s advice being clear, concise and coherent. I could add another ‘c’ to that alliteration and that is calm. David Coleman is almost Zen like and thoughtful as we discuss children and the challenges of parenting…… which can often be anything but calm!

The Thriving Family by David Coleman is published by Hachette Books. Find out more about David Coleman at his website www.davidcoleman.ie


(c) Barbara Scully 2012