Book review – The Work/Parent Switch by Anita Cleare – How to parent smarter, not harder

Before lockdown, my husband and I were both commuting to work in London most days (occasionally working from home) which meant we didn’t get to spend a great deal of time with our daughter on weekdays. So when I saw someone in a parenting group on Facebook recommend a book called The Work/Parent Switch, by Anita Cleare, about how to fit parenting “into modern working patterns”, I decided it was worth reading. If like me you don’t get a lot of time to read these days (I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough for us to spend afternoons each reading our own books together) you’ll want to know is it worth buying or reading this book. So I thought I’d share my thoughts and review The Work/Parent Switch.

This book does begin by saying it doesn’t intend to contribute to the debate around whether it’s better to work or be a stay at home parent but I found myself getting a bit rubbed up the wrong way by the comment ‘At best, working parents feel like we are keeping our heads above water. At worst, many of us feel like we’re failing.’

I think the author is trying to create a connection with working parents and show she understands how we feel, as I’m sure a lot of parents (working or not) feel this way – but I felt it was a little negative and as if the author and I had got off on the wrong foot. I sometimes feel like I’m only just keeping my head above water – but that’s when things are at their worst, not their best – and I’ve never felt like I’m failing.

Too much guilt, not enough energy?

I also found myself disagreeing with the assertion that while we buy children lots of toys (true) they aren’t getting enough of other things that help their development like outdoor play and risk taking. That’s also true, but the author attributes this to parents having ‘too much guilt and not enough energy’. Which is absolutely right but what she doesn’t mention here is the anxiety and caution that many parents have these days (compared to when I was a child) that it just isn’t safe to let your child go off exploring outdoors.

This book is about parenting ‘in a way that is good for your children but also good for you’ and the author encourages readers to focus on small do-able changes to create a happy family life. It covers topics like how to manage children’s tech time and avoid homework battles.

One of the main ideas that I found quite interesting is that parenting isn’t really about managing children’s behaviour; it’s about managing our own thoughts, feelings and actions. I think that is definitely an aspect that is sometimes overlooked and we need to reflect on why we respond to our children the way that we do – for instance why do we lose patience quickly (because we are worried about being late? Or because we are used to the people we manage in the workplace doing what we ask straight away?) and do we have an idealised image of a well-behaved child or worry that their behaviour reflects on us and how it makes us look?

Why we avoid conflict

This is again where the idea of this book being aimed at working parents comes in again, as the author suggests that parents who have less time with their children want it to be enjoyable so are more likely to give in to them to avoid conflict. I can see that as being quite true though I think it applies to any parent – we don’t want conflict with our children. But as I was reminded by a friend recently when I bemoaned my daughter’s willfulness meaning she came downstairs at 2am and went to sleep on the sofa – we sometimes need to go through the short-term pain of conflict for the long-term gain (in this case of a better night’s sleep!).

What’s more, the author points out that by letting children break our rules they are more likely to do it again – creating more conflict, and not less. Something to bear in mind!

Some of the other sections I particularly enjoyed or benefited from include the chapter on creating new routines when you get home from work, and one on making space for playfulness which can be hard to switch into from work mode. I got half way through the book before I got to the chapter I really wanted – avoiding stressful mornings. In other words, how to get children up and dressed and ready for school or nursery when you have a set time to get out the door to work, particularly if you have a train to catch. In the author’s case she had to leave at 7.45 which sounded like a positive luxury to me based on our pre- lockdown lifestyle!

There’s a good tip about changing your priorities in the morning – or rather, the order your priorities are met, which I will leave you to read about. My daughter is still very young and before lockdown wasn’t even having an opinion about what she wanted to wear but that has changed recently so when I do need to go back to commuting, I can see it taking rather longer to get up in the mornings!

I pretty much skipped the chapter on sibling conflict and have earmarked the section on homework battles to come back to – if needed – in several years time! There is also a really good explanation of why toddlers sometimes have a meltdown if their juice is in the wrong cup – it had never occurred to me to look at it from that perspective and if you only read one page in this book, read this!

Screen time – yes or no?

The chapter on the use of technology and how much time children spend on screens – often a source of conflict – did resonate with me already. I had been telling myself that we had more television than usual in the first three months of lockdown when my daughter’s nursery was shut and my husband and I were trying to both work full time from home – though we did also spent a lot of time away from the TV, playing in the garden and so on. But the earlier chapter on getting out the house in the mornings made me realise that perhaps having CBeebies on in the mornings isn’t going to be helpful in the long run. At the moment it keeps my daughter still long enough that she will sit down and eat breakfast and let me finish getting her dressed (socks and shoes and anything we didn’t manage to get on upstairs before she decided downstairs was more interesting and she wanted to go down!). She hardly ever actually asks for the television in the mornings so maybe we need to think of other ways to get her to stay still!

However, I disagree with the author’s statement that sitting your toddler in front of a tablet for 30 minutes is not going to support their development as we have found a particularly good educational app called Reading Eggs, which I will review separately, but highly recommend.

Would I recommend this book?

A lot of the book centres around improving relationships and having positive interactions with children which is useful advice for anyone – it isn’t specifically related to working parents – other than that what is often the ‘best’ option takes longer and to warn us to makes enough time for it. It is an interesting read, with many practical tips – each chapter ends with actions to do – and some very good insights, but what is also clear is that there is no quick way to become an ideal parent and that it takes work. This book is a fairly easy read where you can dip in and out of chapters so it’s worth a read, whether your children are toddlers or teenagers or somewhere in between.


Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The Amazon link to purchase the book is an affiliate link where I would receive a small payment if you were to purchase via this link.

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