UPDATED: The Parents Yap about Parenting Books: What are YOU reading?
In a world overwhelmed by parenting books offering advice on everything from sleep, to diet, to tantrums, to fashion and everything in between, what book or books have you read that have had an influence on your parenting?
Have you read anything that has rocked your world - for better or for worse? Do you even read parenting books? Do you find parenting advice in other genres? Does what you read ever change you as a parent?
As parents, it’s possible to draw inspiration and energy to carry on with our responsibilities from many sources. Since wine and bedtime can’t cover all the bases, and since it would be a lie to say I take refuge in daily exercise, I’ll talk about a book that has made a fundamental impact on my approach to parenthood.
The book I chose to cover is technically a pre-parenting book called, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin. I discovered it before my third son was born. Just now, I was reading reviews on Amazon and, because I only remember the positive tips I culled, I was curious about the one-star reviews. These reviews cracked me up because I think they have a point about the book being essentially a one-sided, very crunchy, hippy, non-interventionist approach to natural childbirth that could make women who choose doctor-assisted hospital birth feel criticized. The pictures convey entirely too much information about their subjects. There are claims made about the possibility of “orgasmic childbirth,” and the suggestion that making out with your partner during contractions will distract you from the pain or lessen it. (*snort!*cackle!*howl!*)
And yet…The reason why I loved this book is that it gave some really, really good information about managing pain (aside from the questionable suggestion above) that did do wonders for me. After our newest baby was born a month ago, my other sons were obsessed with my rating them from best to worst:
“Which one of us was the best baby?”
“Who was the heaviest/lightest?”
“Which one was the best delivery?”
Hands down, my third son, Leo, rates the “Best Delivery” prize. (New Baby placed second in this category.) Aside from the fact that Leo was almost an accidental water birth into a whirlpool tub with the jets going full force, the pain management techniques I learned from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth made all the difference in making the delivery bearable (pun proudly intended).
I’ll spare the general readership detailed coverage of what I think this book gets very, very right, but if you ARE expecting and would like inside information on pain management ideas, check out this book. Or send me a private message. Or stop by my house for coffee and a peek at our shiny, new baby!
Tasha Schlake Festel
I've always seen the world of parenting as divided into two distinct groups: "book parents" and "gut parents." Until recently, I was firmly in the "gut parent" sector of parenting society. Sure, my kids gave me all kinds of trouble, but I always felt fairly well-equipped to deal with it. I never thought that anyone knew more about how to parent my children than I did. After all, I made them. Shouldn't I know best?
I still believe that to be true, but after years of using my gut to (poorly) deal with a situation, I decided I might need to look elsewhere for help. Nothing I instinctively knew to do was working. I was out of ideas, ready to give up. The tantrum "phase" was not passing. This wasn't resolving itself.
Finally, I read a book. And it was life-changing.
The book is The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. It took three separate recommendations for me to finally break down and read it. And now I kick myself for not reading it sooner.
Ross Greene is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He gives advice that is meant to help with tantrums in older children, or "explosions" as he calls them. Prior to reading his perspective, I was pretty sure I was the only person in the world dealing with what I was dealing with at home. I was positive my child was truly unique in the issues presenting themselves and that no one else would ever understand. After just a few sentences, I found myself thinking, "Yes! Yes! Yes! That's my kid! This guy really gets it!" While my issues are on a much smaller scale than those described by Greene, I could completely relate.
Not only did the book describe my child, it also described me and the feelings of frustration I felt as a mother unable to fix this. I was wracked with guilt for my emotional reaction to my situation, thinking myself to be a horrible mother. This book made me realize that what I was feeling was normal. Thank goodness! It also gave me guidance to make the changes in my life that would change my perspective.
Other than validation, most importantly, The Explosive Child gave me advice, real advice that I could immediately put to use. It wasn't all kinds of touchy-feely nonsense. It was a step-by-step instruction guide on what to do. I applied the advice immediately and could not believe the difference. Certainly our situation is a work-in-progress and there are no immediate cures for anything dealing with parenting, but this book saved what was left of my sanity and has allowed my family to begin to function healthily again.
Even if you don't deal with explosions in your home, Greene lays out a really healthy and productive way to deal with your children. It's all about communication and good compromise. Explosive or not, this book can help you and your children. Go get it. It's at the library, on iBooks, and at Amazon.
After experiencing such glowing success with my first-ever parenting book, I dove in to find a resource to help me with yet another issue I've been unable to solve myself. Guess what? That book is helping too! It's called The Unwritten Rules of Friendship by Natalie Madorsky Elman and Eileen Kennedy-Moore. While I've not finished it yet, like The Explosive Child, the author offers concrete advice and step-by-step instructions to help your child. Every kid struggles socially at times. This book breaks friendship issues down into nine "personality types," ranging from the Different Drummer to the Born Leader to the Shy Child and everything in between. No matter what your child's social status right now, this seems to be a great book to have in your back pocket (or on your eReader or iPhone) to refer to when something goes screwy. And chances are it will.
And last but not least, a few years ago, I took up reading a "self-help" magazine that helps me to be not just a better mother, but also a better woman. This magazine has also been life-changing. I look forward to its arrival every month and read it from cover-to-cover that evening. I am completely engrossed in its content and imagery and try to put some of the things I learn every month into practice as soon as I can. What is this monumental monthly periodical, you ask? Why, it's People StyleWatch, of course! Never again will I be doomed to wear "mom jeans" thinking they're stylish or show up at a PTO event in last year's trends. Oh, the horror! Thank you, People StyleWatch, for changing my life.
In all seriousness, I do think it's important to have non-parenting related things to read. They really do make you a better parent, because you are forced to remember that you are more than just a mom or dad. You are a real person too.
You are the only one that can decide when you need a book (or magazine). I still strongly believe that your gut is your best guide. But sometimes, that just ain't enough.
I have never been a big reader of parenting books. I was obsessed with pregnancy and natural childbirth books when I was pregnant, but once my babies were born, I rarely if ever read any books about parenting. I did have the big Dr. Sears Baby Book, but that was mainly a reference for ideas about when to switch to solid food or less Ferber-y ways to get my babies to sleep without me. The only series of pregnancy/parenting books that I read and really liked were Vicki Iovine’s Girlfriend’s Guide books. She wrote a book on pregnancy, a few about babies and toddlers and one on “getting your groove back” for once you emerge from the mommy fog that takes over the first few years of motherhood.
These books were in no way medically sound (and Iovine makes that very clear) but just real— and really funny—advice from the shared experiences of a woman who has had four babies and has lots and lots of opinionated friends. I guess this all means that in my approach to parenthood, I have never really looked for “expert” advice or the latest theory about why my children behave the way they do. If I had a medical question, I asked our pediatrician. I didn’t need experts or doctors; I needed other parents to share their stories of the trials and tribulations of parenting.
I would often check BabyCenter.com for information about developmental stages like “shouldn’t she be getting teeth by now?” or “is it weird that my baby talks but doesn’t walk yet?” and that is where I discovered the parenting blogging goddess that is Catherine Newman. She has written about her two kids, Ben & Birdy, since they were babies and I think I have read every word. She is hilarious, heartfelt, warm and most of all real. I feel like I know her personally, even though I have never actually met her. And like Vicki Iovine, (although not really like her at all) she dispenses wit and wisdom and real observations about parenting that no “expert” opinion could match. I actually teared up a little reading some of Catherine’s old posts from the BabyCenter website because her kids were so much like my own. I think that feeling of comfort and community, even if it comes from a virtual community, is more valuable than any expert’s theories about how to raise my children.
Aside from tormenting myself (and the kids’ pediatrician) as a nervous new father with the contents of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I haven’t read many parenting books. I look for the quick-hit solutions to parenting found on the Internet because I can target the precise conundrum I’m dealing with at the time and weigh several different expert sources in a short window. Still, there’s one book that’s influenced my parenting and how I try to live my life in general.
Nerd alert! I collect signed books. While most of them are first editions/first printings, the crown jewel of my modest library is a signed later printing of the 35th Anniversary Edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s masterpiece is my favorite book, in good part because of the simple moral lessons in the narrative. I’m able to apply these lessons in my role as a father, and I think my kids are better for it. Here are a few of them:
- Do the right thing, even if it isn’t popular. Depression-era Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch is appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson, an African-American man charged with sexually assaulting a white woman. In the time between Tom Robinson’s arrest and the trial, Atticus Finch isn’t the most popular man in town. Classmates harass his kids, Jem and Scout. The victim’s father spits in his face. He risks his life protecting his client from an angry lynch mob outside the jail. Still, even though it isn’t easy, Atticus Finch does the right thing.
- Don’t criticize people for being different and treat everyone with respect. When Walter Cunningham, a boy from a poor family, dines with the Finches, Scout is shocked when he drowns his meal in maple syrup and ridicules him. The family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia, drags Scout into the kitchen and scolds her.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover. The Finch kids and their friend, Dill, are fascinated with and terrified of their neighbor, the mysterious Boo Radley. In the end, the kids learn that Boo left them trinkets they found in a hole in a tree, and discover that he came to their rescue when a drunken man attacked them in the woods. Rumors made them believe Boo Radley was a monster, but he is really shy and gentle.
If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, or haven’t since an English teacher forced you to read it in high school, pick up a copy. The ethical and moral lessons jump out when you revisit it as a parent. If you share these basic ideals with your kids, they’ll never forget them. From the day he was born I made sure my older son, Sam, would remember the influence To Kill a Mockingbird has had on my life. His middle name is Atticus.