“All My Parents” by Nancy Henderson-James

ALL MY PARENTS: SEEKING A SENSE OF SELF IN FAMILY

Nancy Henderson-James
Plain View Press (2020)
ISBN 9781632100726
Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Reader Views (08/2020)

“All My Parents: Seeking a Sense of Self in Family,” by Nancy Henderson-James, is a book to examine and reaffirm families of all kinds. In this part-memoir, part-parenting book, the author describes how the parenting style and family life of her missionary parents shaped and affected her, and how other people in her life contributed to the person she came to be.

Her mother and father spent years in Africa helping children, while she spent years apart from them in dorms. This disconnection happens a lot in families where the parents are frequently moving about because of career, military, faith, or other obligations or pursuits. The lack of close parental bonds can lead to attachment disorders and insecurities, which can manifest themselves down through generations of children and grandchildren. As the experts say, “You can’t give what you don’t have”, meaning if you don’t have close, frequent contact with your own parents, you may not naturally have it to give to your own children. But this isn’t to say that you can’t find nurturing and support from others or learn how to give it to others. It just means that a void exists that is often hard to fill. Thankfully, Henderson-James found the care and nurturing she needed to fill that void, from alloparents (non-biological caregivers) and is able to help others in similar situations.

Henderson-James tells her moving and thought-provoking story in ways that are factual and precise, without being harsh. She explains that she was even proud of the fact that her parents selflessly gave to their missionary work. In other words, it is what it is. But she doesn’t back away from describing the chasm that those circumstances created in her life as she grew up, and the effect that it had on her own children. As you read, you will feel the sympathy she has for children who grow up in similar ways–whether refugees, foster children, or military families–but along with the sympathy comes support and understanding.

Like a lot of people in the author’s shoes, they find themselves in the lives of alloparents, which simply means caregiving that comes from non-biological parents. This could mean foster parents, adoptive parents, church family, extended family, or in-laws. Instead of bashing on family choices and consequences, the author shows how her ancestors and descendants helped shape the person she became, filled in the blanks, and provided a sense of family cohesion. The book comes across as honest, generous, and helpful. There are history lessons here, including family history lessons, and the family photos are a nice touch. I especially enjoyed her discussion on DNA and how some family personality  traits and tendencies seem to be encoded in the genes. 

“All My Parents: Seeking a Sense of Self in Family,” by Nancy Henderson-James, is the book to read if you’re searching for the meaning of family and your place in it.


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