Who’s in Charge? A much awaited book from Eddie Gallagher


Many of us have been waiting a long time for this book to appear. Whether you prefer to think about it as a bible or a brain is up to you, but the 500+ pages represent the outpouring of Eddie Gallagher’s understanding and thinking over nearly 25 years in the field of children’s violence and abuse towards parents, drawing on both available literature and his own significant practice experience, working with families individually and in developing the Who’s in Charge? model of work with parents.

Written primarily with parents in mind, the material is very practical; the style is conversational; chapters are broken down into clearly titled sections; and case studies, exercises and illustrations are scattered throughout. Following opening chapters which look at defining child to parent violence, and the profile of families affected, the reader is led first though some background understanding of parenting, parenting style, and parent blaming, before addressing our growing understanding of why children can act in this way, and offering practical steps that can be taken to bring about change. In each instance the subsections delve deeper, offer a counter argument, occasionally mock, and generally bring colour and the author’s distinctive voice to what might otherwise feel a rather daunting exercise. Eddie wants to break the taboo around this issue, to help parents understand that they are not alone, and to open up the conversation more widely.

The book is structured with chapters leading on from one another, and developing ideas further in subsequent sections. Eddie has a particular focus on personality types of children affected, as an outworking of his own practice. His experience has shown that this is an issue for many families where there is experience of domestic violence, or a parenting style that leaves children feeling entitled and inappropriately powerful in the home. Particular issues, such as girls who abuse their parents, warrant a separate chapter to themselves. The thorny question of reward and punishment, or ‘consequences’, is developed over a number of chapters. ‘Optional’ chapters at the end include a look at substance use, social media, mental health diagnoses, and the sometimes tricky or turbulent relationships with ex-partners. Eddie feels very strongly about some of these and you can sense his passion in the way he writes. You may feel that some of these may offer more understanding of the issues than actual responses.  I found the section on diagnoses particularly interesting. This is always a contentious issue, but also one that we need to seriously consider as practitioners and thinkers in this area of work or study, leaking as it does into the discussions on definition and intent.

Eddie urges realism about the prospects for the future, acknowledging that some families will continue to experience violence. At the same time, he offers advice to parents, which has proved useful and successful in restoring harmony over the quarter-century that he has been in practice.

Those familiar with Eddie’s work, through reading his website or through facilitating or attending groups, may recognise some of the material, but there is plenty more here to develop the themes and extend the discussion and learning.

What do I think?

  • This is a book to dip in and out of, whether as a parent or a professional – difficult to face in one sitting – although in doing so you may miss other linked ideas.
  • A mine of amazing resources for work with families experiencing this problem.
  • Some families, for instance those with adopted children, may feel that the material is less directly relevant to their family circumstances and parenting style.
  • Some slightly annoying editorial glitches, which I would hope might be addressed in future editions.
  • With so little information available for parents, this is an important and timely book, offering tried and tested understanding and responses.

Eddie Gallagher, 2018, Who’s in Charge? Why children abuse parents, and what you can do about it,    Austin Macauley Publishers, £17.99 (30% off at the moment!)

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