BOOK REVIEW / Naughty naughty Mummy and Daddy: The children we deserve - Rosalind Miles: HarperCollins, pounds 16.99

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The Independent Online
WHY IS this book so irritating? Dr Miles is humane and on the side of light. Who does not wish every child to be wanted, cherished and raised to fulfil its potential? Who is not horrified by infanticide, malnutrition and famine? What monster lacks concern about the sufferings of young children without education, self-respect or hope, seeking oblivion in alcohol or drugs, street-cred in joyriding, or a purpose to their lives through an adolescent pregnancy? Who is not horrified by infanticide, malnutrition and famine?

What is more, many of Miles's suggestions for how children should be brought up are sensible. No one could object to unreserved love, respect for the individual, the encouragement of self-esteem and other good things. And yes of course government and society in general should be giving a higher priority to their weakest citizens.

The irritation arises for two reasons. First, Miles is so damn sanctimonious. 'Children are born innocent, both harmless and powerless,' she says: do as she does and your kids will develop into excellent adults. She and her husband apparently are doing a splendid job with their two - no divorce, putting work before family life or giving vent to bad temper or irrationality. She is typical of those women with flexible and well-paid jobs who cluck-cluck at mothers who work full-time in offices or factories.

Well, certainly many children are wrecked by bad and neglectful parents. But genes do matter, and sibling rivalry and other aspects of life can do damage that parents are powerless to control. Some of my best friends are parents, so although I never went in for procreation myself, I object to decent people, who are doing their best, being informed that if anything goes wrong with their children it will be their fault.

Miles's superiority is made most obvious through her admittedly entertaining device of salting the book with lots of finger-wagging at all sorts of celebrity sinners: fathers who leave - A N Wilson; people who have excessively large families - Mia Farrow; practitioners of physical punishment - Joan Crawford. Why couldn't they behave like the Mileses?

Even more irritating is her narrowness; when she looks round the globe, hers is the vision of an English provincial. Naughty Asians, valuing girls above boys. Silly old Pope, objecting to contraception and abortion. All these untidy notions must be rooted out and dealt with. Inter alia, 'we' - yes, 'we' - must ensure that free contraception 'becomes as much a human right as life, liberty and the pursuit of whatever we choose to pursue', and we must make abortion on demand 'an international right and imperative'.

I am no fan of His Holiness, and there are lots of nasty foreign habits I deplore, but I can at least recognise that the Pope is addressing great moral issues, and that the way of the English professional classes is not necessarily the only valid way.

The English are at their most annoying when they try briskly to tidy up worlds they do not understand. The image Miles conjured up to me was of Mary Poppins confidently setting out with a dustpan and brush to clear out the Augean stables.