the most important thing for parents to know

Philippa Perry:

When I was about 12, one of my parents’ friends asked me whether I was having a happy childhood. I replied that no, I wasn’t having a particularly happy time of it.

My father overheard and was furious. “You have an idyllic childhood. You are very happy. What nonsense!” And because he was my father, my beloved but scary father, I felt I was somehow wrong and bad.

Parents so want their children to be happy that sometimes they try to scold them into it. What my father missed back then, something we can often miss, was an opportunity to connect with his child. After our guest had gone, my father could have asked what I was feeling and decided not to take the answer, whatever it may have been, as an attack on him.

To understand and validate a child’s feelings is invaluable to them. I’m not saying he had to let go of his perspective; after living through the second world war and witnessing terrible things, he would have seen my childhood as idyllic. But that would not preclude his helping me to articulate what I felt and trying to see things from my point of view.