Book Review: The Smallest Things: Thoughts on Making a Happy Family, written by Angela Mollard

This book is available now in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_smallest_things

The Smallest Things is part-memoir part child-raising-guide from parenting columnist Angela Mollard.

I found this a hard book to review. The first half is a memoir, and jumps around different points in the author’s life. She discusses in depth her working life (if I ever wanted confirmation that women’s magazines make up stories about celebrities then hearing Angela’s accounts of ‘brainstorming’ ideas for stories dismally confirmed it) and creation of her family. Angela Mollard started her working life in New Zealand and lives in Australia with her family. This makes a lot of the references in the book familiar − particularly in her book list for children and mentions of Nigel Latta.

Angela is pretty honest about some of her toughest moments parenting. She gives an account of a screaming fit she launches at her young children after they mess up the bathroom while she is on the phone to her frequent traveller husband. She hadn’t hung up the phone and her husband heard her barrage of verbal abuse. He called back later and gently suggested that she needed to find a better way to manage stress. This is one of a few anecdotes told as background to her revelation that she needed a better way to manage her work/ parenting/ relationship balance.

There isn’t a lot in this book that is fresh for experienced parents. I have two young children and there was little advice that I hadn’t heard before. Some of it can be hard to stomach from someone who bemoans not being able to afford a new couch because they spend so much of their income on overseas trips. But one similarity between the author and myself anchored a connection − having an often absent partner. My husband’s long work hours means that he often isn’t around when the children are awake during the week. This leaves responsibility not just for the work of parenting (meals, car pooling etc) but also the culture of parenting (how we parent and what we value as a family) during the week to me. And I think this is what I think the author concludes. If she is responsible for most of the work of parenting then she can either continue to rail about how much work it is and who does what or she can just work out a way to make it fun.

For a long while I thought that I didn’t like the book. I gave it a couple of weeks then re-read it.  There are a couple of weaknesses − I’m not sure the memoir/ advice combo works in this format. I would have enjoyed more of the memoir and less of the advice. I suspect the advice could have come through in expanded memoir format. Regular readers of Angela’s columns will probably enjoy learning more about her. I liked how she gave non-de-plumes for her children (and not cutesy- blog esque names like ‘gummy bear’ or ‘mischief maker’) and didn’t name her former husband. I suspect she wrote reluctantly about her first marriage − the writing seems very self-edited. She is trying to demonstrate how she values her second marriage but her stated reluctance to delve into the first marriage in much detail − then giving a horrid scene from the relationship’s dying moments are discordant. Her advice section isn’t patronising (a common problem with parenting advice books) and is more about creating a fun family than dictating an exacting schedule or toilet training wisdom. I loved her passion for reading and books that comes through in the advice section. Her birthday party suggestions gently remind parents that a kid’s birthday party is more about having fun with their friends rather than competing for the fanciest food or fantastically decorated cake.

After my second reading I concluded that Angela Mollard sounds like the kind of Mum I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.  I cannot say that about the authors of many parenting books!  The book will not give you explicit instruction on how to change your work life balance − but sometimes, it is nice to know that it can be managed and learning how one family worked it out for themselves may help to guide your own way.

Review by Emma Wong-Ming.

The Smallest Things:  Thoughts on Making a Happy Family
by Angela Mollard
Published by HarperCollins Au
ISBN 9780732296896