Jessica’s Three Books on Thursday post today is about parenting books, so I decided to post my top three recommendations, even though they’re already included in the longer list of Books That Blew My Mind. To prevent faithful Earthling’s Handbook readers from feeling gypped, though, I’ll first list three more books–actually, sort of categories of books–that weren’t quite mind-blowing but have been very helpful to me as a parent.
Like Jessica, I did a lot of reading about parenting long before becoming a mother. In fact, I started when I was about eight years old and my parents bought a set of World Book encyclopedias and the accompanying Childcraft books. Childcraft is a treasure trove for kids, but it also included The Childcraft Guide for Parents, which was both a guide to using the other books with your kids and a guide to parenting in general. (It seems they don’t publish this one anymore, but here is a link to the same edition we had.) It fascinated me with its clear explanations of each developmental stage and its mini-encyclopedia of health conditions. A handy table of symptoms became my go-to reference whenever I felt sick (although I never actually had any of the more exciting diseases listed!), and I also spent hours poring over the table of what infants can do at each age and the charming narration of a toddler’s typical day. The great thing about this book was that it gave me the feeling that I could be competent at learning to care for myself, then babysitting, then being a mother–and that whenever I encountered something baffling, I’d be able to look it up in a handy reference book!
Of course, reference books with medical information quickly become dated, so when I became a parent 23 years later, I bought a new book: The Baby Book by Bill & Martha Sears. It was just about everything we wanted in a comprehensive reference about infant health and development.
After practically memorizing the Childcraft Guide, I noticed that my parents had several other books about how to be parents. I flipped through all of those when I was still in elementary school, primarily curious about whether my parents were following the advice! After Nicholas was born, they gave me some of those books, and the one that’s been really helpful to us is Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon. (I’ve also read some newer sequels.) This system of communication helps you understand how your feelings and your child’s feelings affect what you each want in a situation, and it helps you communicate more clearly what you really mean and really need. (Like most sensible methods of communication, it only works when we remember to use it, and it can be very frustrating to realize how consistently we’ve been forgetting!)
Other great books about communication are Liberated Parents, Liberated Children and the more recent How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Similar to P.E.T., these books allow you to feel your feelings (instead of encouraging you to stuff them down to avoid harming your precious babykins with any hint that he’s not the center of the universe, like some parenting books) and help you to understand what’s motivating your child (instead of encouraging you to regard any objection on his part as a symptom of Satanic defiance that must be beaten out of him, like some other parenting books), and they give really great examples. I prefer Liberated Parents for reading to myself, but the great thing about How to Talk is that many of the examples are presented as comic strips, and Nicholas loves to have me read him these so that he can point out “the wrong way” and “the right way”; sometimes he thinks both options they present are wrong, and his explanation of that is highly informative to us as parents of this individual child.
Not entirely separate from communication books are discipline books, of which my favorite is Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower. It explains why to avoid spanking, yelling, and shame in favor of more positive and loving approaches, and the book itself is positive and loving (You’re a good person, and you can do this right) rather than critical and worrying. It lays out some basic principles that are very helpful. It is chock-full of real-life strategies, many of which she collected on the mothering.com discussion boards, including two quotes from me even though I was only gestating at the time! (One is about a strategy my mom used, and one is about the effects of hunger on my own emotions and behavior.) There’s also a section of longer stories from individual families. This is a great guide to discipline for kids up to about three years old; after that, the P.E.T. and Faber & Mazlish approaches become more useful.
And now, three books that blew my mind and have informed my parenting:
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff is an insightful explanation of how the mainstream modern way of life works against our health and happiness. The author spent some time living with primitive tribes in the South American jungle and developed this theory about how we civilized humans have come to misunderstand human nature. This interview with the author discusses many of the main ideas, but I really recommend reading the book! It’s not a parenting manual, but it offers lots of inspiration for raising a kid with his inborn skills intact. It also offers some ideas for adults struggling with work-pleasure balance or a vague dissatisfaction with life in general. I don’t agree with all of Liedloff’s conclusions, but this is a really cool book that makes you think!
How Children Learn by John Holt is about a teacher’s observations of young children, both in the classroom and in more casual settings. Much of the book is diary entries and other vignettes. It makes very clear that children are their own best teachers and can learn from all kinds of everyday objects and experiences, not just from formal lessons. It’s very inspiring and has been fun to reread as I watch my own child learn.
The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin explains why sleeping near the mother is good for babies. I’m so glad I read this book several years before becoming a mother, because it completely changed my mind about co-sleeping! I haven’t read the newer edition of the book (although I have read other recent reviews of research on co-sleeping) but the 1970s edition has a charming spirit of having been put together by an impassioned mother who really wanted to help people with her experiences, her library research, and the stories she collected from other families, so that we would not suffer even a moment of the self-doubt she felt when her instincts cried out that her baby should not be left alone. (Read here about our evolving sleep strategies as our child gets older.)
So . . . my list of three books has turned into seven (or nine, if you’re nostalgic). Hey, it’s important to be an informed parent! Oh, and you might also be interested in my mixed review of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.
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