Thursday 29 February 2024

A Very Modern Family {Book Review}

There's been a lot going on for us lately but there has been one book at the top of my pile to read and review as soon as I could, and that is A Very Modern Family* by Carrie & David Grant.

Multicoloured book cover with text carrie & david grant a very modern family stories and guidance to nurture your relationships

(*Underlined text and the pictures in this post are affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases but it won't cost you any extra!)

I bought the audiobook as soon as it was released because I had heard that the audio was recorded by Carrie and David themselves. Several years ago, when my girls were little, we would regularly hear their lovely voices ringing out from our television set thanks to the CBeebies series Carrie and David's Popshop. It was a show where children could ask for them to sing a song relating to a particular situation (such as not wanting to go to bed!) and it was a big hit in our household. A little birdy had also told me that back in the 90s, Carrie and David were vocal coaches for my favourite ever boyband, Take That. So they, and their voices, have always held a special place in my heart!

I listened to the whole book in just a couple of walks, but then I realised I had ended up with a phone full of photos I had taken at certain times in the story so that I could remember to refer back and find the great quotes for this review. So I ended up buying the hardcover too! Definitely a book I am happy to have on my bookshelf, and one that I know I will re-read and point many other families in the direction of over the coming months and years. 

A Very Modern Family tells the story of the Grant family. Four children, one of whom is adopted, and a variety of different situations and challenges faced, from mental health issues and neurodivergence to trans non-binary identities, various sexualities and the added factor of being a mixed race family. 

The introduction shares the Grant's feelings about an autism diagnosis for two of their children initially, and then goes on to explain that although they knew then that things were about to change, they didn't see the fights and battles with inflexible systems that were to come - a sentiment that I am sure is shared by many SEND families. Their book goes on to discuss deeply personal aspects of their family life, such as school refusal, self-harm, hospital beds and suicide watch, child-on-parent violence and gender dysphoria - issues that we all know affect many families but are rarely talked about openly. This book is thoughtful and thought-provoking; the authors are searingly but also respectfully honest about how they have navigated parenting life with children who are not fitting into those widely accepted ideas of the 'norm'. And there's a real sense of having wanted to share this story in order to help other families facing difficult situations.

Chapter details

There are nine chapters following the introduction; Jumping off, Neurodivergence and Mental Health, Sexuality and Gender, Race and Culture, Communication and Strategy, Resilience, Failing, Conflict and Anger, and Purpose and Hope.

Mental Health.

Carrie writes about the importance of mental health issues and what in their family they have found they needed to be aware of. Regularly checking in and noticing self-care changes is important but Carrie also adds: "We try to be present with and ‘read’ our children. One child may withdraw at stressful times, another may present with behaviours that challenge us or their school community. It is normal for teens to want to spend time on their own in their bedrooms, so this is hard to look out for, but regular checking in can be helpful. They may tell us to go away, and sometimes we do, but, ultimately, the priority is that we are letting them know we are present and available."

Identity: Neurodivegence.

Carrie looks at overlapping traits and diagnoses while David reflects back on his own upbringing and cultural background. I am sure he summarises the thoughts of many parents with the following words:

When Olive was born, I tried to replicate what my mother had done with me. Carrie had also had quite a strict upbringing, so as far as I was concerned, it was going to be straightforward; we were on the same page. Our child was going to be uber–polite, seen and not heard, and a template for any subsequent children we might have. Each would be an impeccably behaved paragon of civility and respect. Before we had children, I knew some cast-iron facts about parenting.

They were all wrong!

What I did find out was that it’s so much easier to pontificate on parenting when you don’t have children. When no child has rudely declined to fit the pre-set mould you’ve carefully sculpted for them, it’s easy to imagine exactly what they are going to be, and the relationship that will ensue. It was hard to admit that my parenting style needed to change. I couldn’t imagine another way of parenting; it was all I knew.

Sexuality and gender.

Carrie and David's children gave permission for their thoughts and feelings and sometimes words to be shared in this book, and the following quote came from their oldest child, Olive, on the topic of sexuality and gender:

"One day, I found myself going over and over it in my head. I hadn’t even vocalised how I felt. I wasn’t sitting there, thinking, well, I’m non-binary. I wondered how I could tell somebody else I was feeling these feelings. I was confused and absolutely terrified. But there was one thing I was sure of, and it was that I could not go on not living as the person I was."

Communication and Strategy.

In chapter 5 Carrie recognises early on that "Parenting children who are different demands different ways of parenting. Initially, the biggest issue is that the rest of the world has a way of doing parenting and you are expected to follow suit. The pressure on parents to work in a particular, universally acceptable way is ever present. For those of us parenting children who are different in any way, it’s impossible to stick to the norms. We cannot do things in the usual way. When we are desperately trying to find our feet, it’s incredibly discouraging to face the judgement of family, friends, schools, communities, and even strangers! Sometimes, that judgement can be even closer to home, with you and your partner disagreeing over parenting styles. All too often, when a parent steps into a new style, it doesn’t work straightaway, and so the pressure to either go back to the old ways, or do something else that’s new and different in an effort to solve things quickly is overwhelming. We may relent and go back to our old, traditional ways of parenting, but we soon learn that, at best, it has no impact on our child, while at worst, it can actually damage them."

She then introduces topics such as Non-Violent Resistance, increasing presence, the Communication Model, broadening language, demand avoidance and anxiety, and more. There are plenty of suggestions of differeing strategies to try, and a particularly helpful section on school adjustments. This talks about solutions such as lunch passes and seating arrangements, homework, mentors, 'I need to leave the room' cards, safe people and spaces and dropping non-essential subjects - all of which may be helpful and even vital for some neurodivergent students. 


I'm going to have to be honest, resilience is not one of my favourite words. I think this has been driven by others telling me that our daughter needs to learn how to be resilient. Not for the first time it is as if all the pressure is being put onto her to do something that she finds infintely more difficult than other children. But Carrie explains this with reference to her own experience of being told she had Crohn's disease, and goes on to explain that hope is what is important, and how she changed in crisis. She describes what they faced, again words that I think will ring true for many:

As full-time carers, we shape-shifted into therapists. We became teachers. We mentored, and restructured life, and found strategies, and worked hard every day to make a worthwhile life for our children. The delays in the system were the hardest part. Trying to access mental health services took ages, and then accessing any meaningful therapy took even longer. We found that health and education services don’t really talk to one another, so there is no real collaborative leadership happening. In fact, we found, to our great dismay, that often we were actually the ones leading meetings; we were the ones asking the relevant questions, and holding people to account, making sure that everything was done, and that everyone understood the goals for each child.

The system is broken. School is often the place where the cracks start to appear. This is not to knock schools or teachers; we have experienced incredible examples of both. Some of the mental health workers we’ve met have been brilliant, and the local authorities can also do great work sometimes. But still, our children’s lives are at risk as we wait for services to show up – and tragically, in our community, some die in the waiting. When we look back and think about interventions and adjustments that could have been put in place when our children were younger, we see how different things could have been.


This is an important chapter because I think as parents we all have to accept that we don't get it right all the time; we can't. That's just impossible. David's thoughts on this are "Sometimes a failure is just a ‘sense’. A sense of failure doesn’t have to be attached to anything in particular; it’s just a nagging feeling that we should be doing more, we could have done this or that differently, we could have done better. ‘Did I do the wrong thing?’ The constant, nagging question that doesn’t always have an answer because, sometimes, there is no single right thing that would have helped."

Conflict and Anger.

This chapter delves into not only the difficulties with distressed behaviour from children but also the extra challenges that families like ours face, where couple relationships are put under even more stress than the average family. David talks with great self-awareness about how his relationship with Carrie was in the early days of parenting, and how he came to eventually accepting that things needed to change.

From constantly being on the same page, we weren't even in the same library. 

Carrie, with her mathematical, ordered brain, had audited, reviewed and analysed our parenting, and had identified several areas where we were clinging to practices and attitudes that weren’t the right fit for our children. She was correct – we did need to evolve to meet the changing needs of our young family and our own understanding of the children we had – but I was overwhelmed by the new, unfamiliar parenting terrain we were entering. I didn’t like the fact that, as a parent, I had to change. I wanted my children to change.

Purpose and Hope.

The book ends with a chapter on purpose and hope, and leaves us with a final thought from the Grants: "Be a rule-breaker. Break the rules for the better. Change only happens when someone steps outside of the normal way. Be the person who says, ‘we don’t normally do this, but…’ and change a person’s life in the process. Keep thinking outside the box. There is no end to our creativity when we begin to imagine a better future for our family and the world." 

Bonus Interview.

As part of the audiobook there is a bonus interview with Carrie and David that I also loved listening to. They chat about how their book writing process was different (sounds remarkably similar to what happened in our house when our book, PDA in the Family, was being produced!). They wrap it up by saying that they hope that the book will give other parents permission to look at other styles of parenting, in order to try and work out what’s going to work for them and their child. 

David sums his wishes up with the following words:

"Hopefully, what people will learn is that it’s never too late to say ‘oh I’m going down the wrong road’ and to take a different road.  That raising children, and in fact, raising yourself, evolving yourself, developing who you are yourself is not a science, it’s going to be different for each person. That actually it’s alright to not know and to discover, and that you know you can have principles and you can have basic outlines, it’s like a drawing, but the colours that you put within the lines are going to be entirely dependent on your circumstances and situations. If it’s parenting it’s going to be dependent on the child you have. Because a good parent isn’t somebody who might necessarily be a good parent to every child. A good parent, hopefully people will learn, is somebody who learns who their children are and what their children need and how their children need to be spoken to, listened to and inspired to become everything that they can be."

Absolutely one of my favourite ever books. So many more inspirational and thought-provoking comments that will sit with me for a long while. Grab your copy of A Very Modern Family from Amazon as soon as you can!

back cover of a very modern family book


  1. I ordered the book before even finishing your post. As a member of a very diverse family, I jumped at the chance to read about another family and their experience. Thanks for sharing - it looks like a great book. I am also enjoying your latest book. You speak so well for us PDA families x

    1. Ah that's great, thank you for reading ours and I am sure you will enjoy this too!


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