Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld, PH.D., and Gabor Maté, MD. Vintage Canada Edition 2005. Paperback, $22.95

Reviewed by the Rev. Margaret Marquardt, St. Margaret’s, Cedar Cottage, Vancouver

If you are tempted to pass over this article because you aren’t a parent of younger children or youth, stop! I would subtitle this book “Gather Our Children.”

This book is about the important role all adults play in a child’s life. If you are one of those people in a parish who thinks that it is up to the parents only – and only connect with children at “coffee time” after church - then this book is still for you.

In church circles, we all know that it is our responsibility to help support and guide children in their Christian formation. We promise this at their baptism. The baptism promise involves such practical things as asking a parent if they need help to hold books, so that young children can follow the service.

It might involve talking with the priest about being a mentor with a few of the older children who need something different than Sunday school. The church has a great opportunity to gather our children by greeting them each time we see them in church to know their names and to listen to them. Let them know that they are a valued part of the church community, by having conversations with them and sitting with them.

What has all of this got to do with this book?

Neufeld, a psychologist and Maté, a medical doctor, both from Vancouver, are focusing on the need to gather our children and keep the attachment strong, so that they choose the values that are part of our lives as adults and not the values of peers.

Of course the role of the parent is key, and the book pays primary attention to the specific role of parents and family. However, Neufeld is very specific about the importance of teachers and caring adults and the wider community in connecting with our younger children and youth and giving them security and the values of community that they might show respect and care for others.

Neufeld sees some of the disturbing trends beginning with very small children in which there is a mistaken understanding that children need to be with peers all the time to be able to learn to socialize. He stresses that a child will truly benefit from peer interaction when the child is strong enough not to lose him/herself.

Neufeld is not in anyway discouraging children from playing with each other! What he is saying is for parents or significant adults to be the primary mentors and role models for children. It is from these that the child will know the closeness of relationship and attachment and from there learn what it is to socialize.

This book gives strong guidance to parents to make solid contact with other adults in whose care we place our children (be it childcare or school). The child needs to see the other adult as the one to whom parents are passing the baton. It is this adult that the parent wants to child to attach to and see as a role model. These other adults have a powerful role in gathering our children that they know their place of safety and welcome there.

Neufeld and Maté see that parents have lost their way in understanding the younger child and youth’s need for attachment to them and to significant adults. He feels that children are turning to their peers and the resulting crisis is that some parents cannot reach their children. The book offers specific ways of rebuilding attachment and keeping it going.

The authors write:

“Who is to raise our kids? The resounding answer, the only answer compatible with nature, is that we–the parents and other adults concerned with the care of children–must be their mentors, their guides, their nurturers, and their models. We need to hold onto our children until our work is done. We need to hold on not for selfish purposes but so they can fulfill their developmental destinies. We need to hold onto them until they can hold on to themselves.” (page 264)

I have read a lot of books on parenting in recent years, being the parent of eight-year-old Thomas. If I had to recommend one parenting book, this would be it. The church has a very special role in gathering our children so they know that they have a home, and a community that knows them and cares for them.