Posted by: christinelaennec | January 18, 2012

Two very different self-help books

I recently was lucky enough to win a giveaway on Suzy’s blog Scraps of Starlight.  It arrived beautifully wrapped, and over the holidays I enjoyed reading it.  Kelly of In the Sheepfold asked if I would share my thoughts about the book, so here they are.  My overall reaction – besides being rather amazed by some of the glimpses of contemporary American society it seems to provide – is that it’s mostly a book for parents who are bringing up younger children than mine.  It’s also not intended to be a book for what I would call Extreme Parenting.  Michael and I have had our share of this with our eldest (and adopted) child, as I alluded to in this Father’s Day post.  However, there was a lot in it that I found interesting, and validating.

Much of what she advises are things I have found work for me as well:  “aim low, and go slow,” “have a plan” and “trust your gut” for example.  Beyond looking at strategies for coping with the specifics of parenting, I found it really interesting to contemplate the whole idea of happiness in relation to motherhood.  Parenting is hard work, and in our society I think that happiness is often considered to be the opposite of work, whereas in earlier times there was more of an acknowledgement that work can be intrinsically rewarding.  In my case, the work of raising my children has always been tempered by my profound thankfulness that I was ever able to become a mother, as for so long I’d believed it wouldn’t happen to me.

I found it interesting to read that “happy Moms raise happier kids” – it makes sense, and is why we parents do need to look after ourselves.  It amazed me to read that “almost 30 percent of moms remind themselves that they’re good mothers more than once a day”.  This is something that, in nearly 16 years of being a parent, I have rarely done.  I should remind myself, once in a while at least, that I’m a good enough mother and that I am exactly the right mother for my children.  I also agree with her that, for those of us lucky enough to be co-parenting, looking after that relationship is fundamental to being successful parents.

As I say, there were things in here that were a little bit of a culture shock to me.  One suggestion was that you never buy clothes that can’t go in the dryer or that need ironing.  Well, we don’t have a dryer!  So we (by which I mean Michael) do weekly ironing.  And:  “Almost 60 percent of moms pick up take-out once a week or more”.  Am I wrong, or would buying take-away food every week not bankrupt most British families?

But these things are superficial – the principles of keeping things in perspective and not trying to live up to an impossible ideal are very sound.  I also like her “Five ways to (nicely) blow off busybodies”!  (Only five?)

Below is another self-help book that I recently finished reading, this time a Scottish book:

The Friendship Book of Francis Gay 1943: "A thought a day for 1943"

I got it at the church Spring Fair, and I read it every day at breakfast during 2011.  It was very interesting to read something written in a time of national crisis, as our family was having its own struggles.  The anecdotes are full of references that reminded me how incredibly luxurious our life is now.  Women struggling to carry their shopping miles in the snow, crowded trams and buses during blackouts and pea-soupers, wounded veterans, lack of food, separation, great worry, night raids, being on fire-watching duty…  Woven into the “thoughts” are exhortations to be strong and brave, and to help one another.

Inside the Friendship Book

The above page begins:

“Monday – March 8th

Has it ever occurred to you to look twenty years ahead?  Suppose you survive these dangerous times, and live to see the new world men are going to build, what then?  … Here you are, alive in this hour of supreme endeavour.  Only be brave, and you shall remember it with pride till your dying day.”

It’s a great example of “Dunkirk spirit” rhetoric, but it did help me to put my own problems into perspective.  “Only be brave!”



  1. I am glad you found that book inspiring but took it with a pinch of salt. I think there is a lot to be said for going with your gut feeling. As mother’s I think we can trust that the most. But praising yourself for doing a great job (I know you do as I know the Dafter!)..that’s a must at least once every day.
    You are a wonderful person and doing a fantastic job, keep on going on this path. xx

  2. I raised my boys in the 70’s in a neighborhood with other stay-at-home moms so plenty of mothering support. I’m a little amazed at some of the angst and insecurity I see on the mommy-blogs. Perhaps this book is really a help for the lonely and insecure moms like the author was as a young mother of two. And yes, in America a clothes dryer is a given and our frenetic lifestyle encourages take-out and fast food meals. Also, I’ve discovered that a lot of young women don’t know how to cook, plan a weekly menu – umm, maybe just don’t know how to run a household. It was interesting to read the reviews on the US Amazon site.

  3. Thanks for the review!

    Happy mothers produce happy children – I like that thought, and it encourages me to think through the things that give me joy.

    Putting effort into your marriage – Another excellent point and one that I too often neglect.

    The dryer advice is funny. I think we can apply it to any number of things we do that take effort but don’t add value. Why complicate life? When I had children, I gradually got rid of any clothing (save one piece) that required dry cleaning.

  4. Sorry but I really get cross with these parenting books. Theres too much pressure on us all today. After giving birth to my fourth daughter I sat and listened to a midwife, had no children, pontificating to me about stuff she had got from a book. My blood is still boiling 26 years on.
    Your other book I would love to read. Perhaps its my age – tho I wasnt around in the early 40s! Late , well yes.

  5. It’s always amazing to me how much wisdom comes from really old books. So much of it is good old common sense and they used to write differently back then. my sister very thoughtfully picked me up H.V. Morton’s “In Search of Scotland” for Christmas. hooray for old books …. i still enjoy a book in my hand, not so much on my computer.

  6. I like your book reviews and your interesting perspective. Motherhood is so universal, yet so uniquely personal. It does help to read all that one can on the subject and choose what resonates. Only a Mother knows her own child and has the insight to that one particular personality.

    I love old books! It does give you a certain amount of gratitude towards how much easier life is now. I can’t imagine what life must have been like during the war in Europe. These people were so brave and I admire them so much.

    I am surprised about one thing. You don’t have clothes dryers? I do love the scent of fresh linens hung on the line. A clothes line is on my wish list this year! Mmmm, I can imagine the fresh scent now!

    I do think it is important to read as much as possible and to take inspiration from other’s viewpoints. xx

  7. Those “Friendship Books of Francis Gay” are still produced – my mother always has the latest one on her bedside table, alongside her Bible.
    They haven’t changed much!
    I don’t have a dryer and I don’t iron much either. Criteria for buying clothing: can be hung in an unheated room for two weeks without setting hard or getting smelly (doesn’t work for towels, as these go either mouldy or “crisp and dry” unless subjected to outdoor gales to beat them soft!)
    Alternative to ironing: hold by hems and “snap” into shape. Also resist any moves by schools to introduce “shirts and ties” instead of polo shirts. Be prepared to change school if resistance proves futile 😉

  8. Oooh, can we form a ‘no clothes dryer’ club? I marvel at the way it’s meant to be essential. We’ve been through the whole baby, toddler, school uniform (complete with white shirts requiring ironing…) bit for 2 children while both working full time, without a clothes dryer. There’s no way I would waste money and the world’s resources on one now. Tho I must admit when I was ironing daughter’s school shirts at the start of term that I was counting the weeks until the Last Ironing. At which point I’ll probably dissolve in tears at the prospect of no more school shirt ironing.

    Francis Gay – a familiar sight in the North East. Like the Bunty annuals but for grown ups

  9. It’s interesting to have a different perspective- thinking of the second book you refer to. It does really help to think about the context we are living in and feel so grateful. I’m sure we’d rise to the occasion, but you can’t help doubting can you?

  10. I like this blog Christine, very interesting hearing the contrast between the two different eras and cultures. Paul Mckenna was on TV last week promoting his ‘self help ‘ book and Matthew Wright suggested it should be called ‘make me rich book’ although I do think Paul McK writes from the heart and is a great help to many people. My children are grown now and have children of their own although you try to treat them both the same they have different needs I still feel I failed is some area. However they have both grown in to happy healthy young women with beautiful children, so I couldn’t have got it too badly wrong! I am sure you are a wonderful Mother the worries continue as they get older but so do the joys


  11. Long, long ago, we dried off cloth nappies over the radiators (and we thought central heating was a great luxury). Nowadays I’m very happy that my daughter uses real washable nappies, and she doesn’t use a dryer either. And our own current washing machine has a drying function, but we have never used it.

  12. Wow thank you for such interesting comments. So much in life is a matter of perspective, isn’t it? And I see I’m not the only one without a dryer in Britain. I’ve been astonished to hear that in some new developments in the US, use of a clothesline is forbidden because it “lowers the tone”!

    Heike, thank you so much for that vote of confidence. It means a lot to me, because I’ve seen your own mothering in action myself. I will keep on the path!

    Suze, I think our culture is so self-conscious, we do make a lot of angst for ourselves. And I agree that household planning is something of a lost art, although not in every home.

    Kelly, you’re very welcome. Yes indeed, let’s cut out the complications and focus on the joys – which are many.

    Jill, you can get the older books on eBay, and as Roobeedoo says they still are publishing them now!

    ajb, I’m with you on reading actual books.

    Karen, what you say about motherhood being universal and absolutely individual is so true. As for dryers, some people do have them, but many people don’t. (See Roobeedoo’s, Linda’s and Flora’s comments!) We dry our clothes outside in the summer and inside on racks in winter (and summer). We also have clotheslines strung in our utility room over the boiler (good drying place) and a pulley rack that hangs from the ceiling in my husband’s study. Some people have these over an Aga stove in the kitchen. Having things drying up near the ceiling takes advantage of rising heat and gets them out of the way.

    Roobeedoo: good luck with the school uniform campaign! As for Francis Gay, it seems “he” has for some time been a composite author at D.C. Thompson. As he started out writing columns for the Sunday Post in the 1920s, I was wondering how he could still be churning out his Friendship Books in 2012!

    Linda, you see we’re in good dryer-less company! Gosh I can’t believe you’re on that countdown to the Last Ironing. Yes, I imagine you will cry – and then she will come home with some more laundry to iron!

    Scruffybadger, I really do wonder if I would rise to the occasion! I am a terrible coward in many ways.

    Susan, I’m sure you were and are a fab mother. There are no perfect mothers, thankfully. Think how unevolved their children would be! You’re very right about the joys.

    Flora, we used cloth nappies as well – lots of washing but 14 years later we still have some as dustcloths! And I am VERY grateful for my central heating.

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