A guide to life started by a mother when her daughter was in elementary school and given to her on her first day of college.
Most parents admit that it would be much easier to raise children if they came with instruction manuals. Of course, there are thousands of parenting books, of varying degrees of help for prospective or new parents, and mothers and fathers have always put together more informal lists, essays, and stories to help their children and/or other parents. Communications executive Bergen began taking notes about her life and about the lives of her children when her daughter Charlotte turned 9. “Originally I wrote this as an act of desperation,” she writes, “in response to a series of dramas that visited our family: addiction, illness, depression, job loss, and death. It was a rearguard action, an attempt to sort out on paper how to cope with life’s more extreme circumstances.” The included topics hew closely to the sorts of subjects one would expect a parent to want their children to understand, and many are significant: seek nourishing friendships and relationships, “cede your moral judgment to no one,” “be kind,” “learning doesn’t stop when you graduate,” etc. The author uses her experiences to frame advice about valuing the success of others as much as one's own and the importance of safeguarding unstructured time as a regular occurrence, among other ideas. Unfortunately, Bergen shoehorns most of the more direct and universally applicable suggestions about ways to live well into the last chapter. What comes before are anecdotes that are likely to appeal mostly to the circle of the author’s family and friends, including instructions to always have your own headhunter, to manage the closing of large business deals with foreigners while drinking champagne, and so on.
Bergen’s more helpful suggestions about ways to live well would be better suited to a mother-to-daughter letter, with all of the straining to impress shorn away.