For the last six years I've been reading parenting books. I've read
dozens of them, some good, some useless, but a handful stand out as
books I've reached for time and again when I had a question or
a problem, or just needed some reassuring company. These are
the books I would buy (if I were rich) for
every expecting mother I know.
Start At The Very Beginning
Well, not the very beginning—there are lots of books about
pregnancy and childbirth out there, but childbirth is such an
unpredictable and personal thing that you'd have to read a library's
worth of books just to learn the handful of things which will apply
to your situation. Your best bet is to find a good midwife and stay
off the Internet.
Once the baby comes you'll want to feed it, and the best nursing
advice I found (in book form—again, a trustworthy advisor
is your best bet but unless you were clever enough to marry
a lactation consultant you'll
need a source of midnight advice) is Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven
Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen
Kendall-Tackett. The title is an exaggeration, of course—no book
can make breastfeeding simple— but their advice is soothing,
practical, and research-based.
After a while your baby will be ready for, as we call it, people
food, and the best introduction to the subject is Better Baby Food:
Your Essential Guide to Nutrition, Feeding and Cooking for All
Babies and Toddlers by Daina Kalnins and Joanne Saab. Published
by Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, this book introduces you
to the nuts (actually no nuts) and bolts of feeding babies and
small children, from nutrition advice to guidelines on when to
introduce different foods. There are recipes for everything from
purees to delicious entrees the whole family
will enjoy. We love their hot and sour soup, and the chocolate
chip oatmeal cookies are divine. There is a good mixture of
healthy meals and homemade treats, plain food and sophisticated
flavours. All the recipes are clearly written and easy to follow,
with common ingredients.
My only caveat with Better Baby Food is that it was published
before the latest advice moved weaning age up to six months, so
their baby food recipes are suggested for four months and up.
Sleep, Gentle Sleep
The best sleep advice around is to be found in Dr. Marc Weissbluth's
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Weissbluth is pragmatic,
respectful of your child's need to sleep (and yours) and insistent
on the importance of a good night's sleep. I wish the book were
better edited, as it is sometimes hard to slog through his academic
pontificating to get to the actual advice, but once you've found it
it's gold. People keep borrowing my copy.
Dear God What Next?
Children change all the time; no sooner do you think you've figured
your little one out then they become someone slightly different.
I have often thought to myself, sometimes dispairingly, "Is this
just a phase, or is this what she's really like?" The Your
N-Year-Old series by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Lillian Ilg
can help answer that question. Each book comes with a subtitle which
is a teaser for what you can expect in that year of your child's
life; your three-year-old is "Friend or Enemy", your four-year-old
is, alarmingly, "Wild and Wonderful, but then you're rewarded with a
"Sunny and Serene" five-year-old.
These books have
given me perspective on what my children are going
through developmentally and what I can expect from them, both
good and bad. Now, when Cordelia throws a giant fit because I
cut her toast the wrong way, I can just wait it out with a
shrug—"She's four"—rather than dispairing that I've
borne a drama queen and she'll always be like this. These books make it
possible to untangle the influences of developmental stage from
my children's real personalities.
No less than four books (plus two) on this topic. They all cover
about the same territory but in slightly different ways, so I suppose you
could pick your favourite and just read that, but I find it's helpful to
reinforce this stuff periodically, and this way you don't have to do
it by rereading the same book over and over.
Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso, Positive Discipline
by Dr. Jane Nelsen, Unconditional Parenting by
Alfie Kohn, and Breaking The Good Mom Myth by Alyson Schäfer are
all books about positive parenting, or unconditional parenting, or
democratic parenting, or Adlerian parenting, which are
variations on a philosophy of parenting which regards children
as full and equal members of the family with equal rights to respect
and dignity. It's the style of parenting I have chosen because it
seems most right and effective to me, and the books listed are all excellent
guides to parenting in that style.
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is a light but effective guide to talking
to your kids (rather than at them). This book is thick with specific
ideas and techniques to help you communicate with your kids. The
same authors wrote Siblings Without Rivalry, which teaches how to
manage siblings, with plenty of examples, cartoons and summaries.
In between feeding, disciplining and putting your children to sleep
you might want to spend some time with them, and a great way to do that
is in the company of books. Babies Need Books: Sharing the Joy of
Books with Children from Birth to Six by Dorothy Butler is an
impassioned appeal to parents to read early and often. Butler tells
us not only why and how we should read, but what, with long lists of
great books for every stage from birth to six.
In the thick of all this advice you'll want some perspective. Having
a second child is a great way to get perspective, as well as a good dose
of humility (if you thought your child's awesomeness was to your
credit) or absolution (if you thought your child's horribleness was
your fault). If you're not ready for another child, though, these books
will put your parenting—and all the advice you're getting—into
its proper context.
The amply sub-titled The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: And Other
Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized
Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing by Bruce
Perry and Maia Szalavitz is a collection of case studies of children
who have gone though horrible trauma—abuse, cults,
neglect—and what they can teach us about childhood
development and resiliency. This book will help you because no
matter what you're doing "wrong" you can't do as much harm to your
child as has been done to these children, and because despite such
miserable childhoods many of these kids go on to be normal,
Perfect Parents: Baby-care Advice Past and Present by Christina Hardyment
is an overview of the crazy, yet earnest, advice given to parents
(usually mothers) over the last hundred and fifty years. Parents have
been admonished on topics from hugging (bad) to breastfeeding (bad)
to warm baths (bad), and some of the advice will leave you open-mouthed.
Following the advice is almost always presented as vital to the fabric of
society, and yet somehow, civilization has soldiered on
despite the failings of mothers everywhere.
How Not To Be The Perfect Mother by Libby Purves is a memoir
written by Purves while she was, as she puts it, at the
"coalface of practical early motherhood". Funny and pragmatic, Purves
offers advice and reassurance without judgement. "A good hungry dog
mooching around the high chair helps."
My children are six and four, and I expect I have at least ten years
of parenting books ahead of me, so I suppose this list will change,
but I've been through two babyhoods and two toddlerhoods and am
now firmly in the realm of parenting children. Books have been a
terrific help and comfort to me through this journey, and I hope this list
can help other parents find their path.