This isn’t your typical top 10 parenting books list. Typical lists focus on the baby and toddler days even though habits set early will affect the tween and teen days. We should pay earlier attention to the longer trends, and so I do. I also take a wider view of parenthood’s scope.
This list contains a few books that are not strictly about, say, sleep training or transitioning to solid foods. This is because much of parenting is about providing a stable household. Stability comes in two categories: the parents’ relationship and the home itself. The relationship stuff clearly belongs to a top 10 list of books on parenting, but the domestic details—the life administration as my husband calls it—also occupy the parenthood category. So a few of my favorites cover the life admin. I also prefer humor to self-help, so I do not have a book nook full of earnest advice bestsellers.
Presented in general reading order:
1. Baby 411 by Dr. Ari Brown and Denise Fields
How much do babies eat and sleep? What is normal baby poop and what is “worrisome poop”? When do you call the doctor and when do you just watch, and for what? I have a first edition of Baby 411 by Austin pediatrician Ari Brown and Denise Fields. The spine is broken in two places: at the section on ear infections (because my eldest daughter loved the inner ear diagram), and at the Rash-O-Rama chart.
2. To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan
There are two basic models of motherhood today: at-work mom and at-home mom. But we’ve forgotten—or really, we’ve banished—the third: the housewife. The distinction is not smart, educated women vs. June Cleaver. It’s more that housewives recognize the life administration that comes with family life while at-work and at-home moms focus on parenting to avoid the life admin.
This is all very controversial, in public and in our own heads. Unbidden or not, recognized or not, the tension between these models comes up quickly when children come along. Caitlin Flanagan explains the tension well. She’s caught in it herself but didn’t get the ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ memo. All the right feminists loathe her for this.
Bonus: the housewife model is the most equitable. It’s the one that most easily translates to a househusband should that be the arrangement that best serves your family.
3. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson
This manual is the nuts and bolts of the fabled unintelligent drudgery that the savvy modern woman assumes must be so easy to handle cold. It isn’t.
Cheryl Mendelson got the idea for the book when she, a power lawyer in the early ’90s, had to consult law books to figure out the care instructions on clothing tags. (This was after her prodigal return to home care after she returned from a tough day to find her muddy dogs in her unmade bed.) Despite incredible advances in housekeeping tools since the end of WWII, there wasn’t a manual for the modern methods, so she wrote one. And her introduction full of stories of German vs. Italian grandmothers and of attending New York cocktail parties and explaining that she was writing a book on housekeeping—not the history of, or continued oppression in, but how to—is excellent.
4. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.
Current parenting fads make parents think that their job is to help their kids succeed without difficulty. They think they can give their children self-esteem when it actually must be earned. When parents can spare their children an ache of any sort, it is hard let them … well … fall and skin their knees. Witness the epidemic of helicopter parenting. This book by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. helps you resist that.
5. Parenting by the Book by John Rosemond
This book is a little more how-to than the blessing book above. The author, John Rosemond, is controversial, in part because he has had changes of heart. For example, when he first started writing parenting advice 30 years ago, he thought early day care was no big deal. A little research later and he changed his recommendation. Mostly he is controversial because he advocates a return to parents-in-charge, back-to-basics parenting. His books are collections of advice our grandparents would have given, published in an age when we resist listening to grandparents—if they are still around by the time we have children, that is.
Non-Christian parents can use The Six Point Plan for Raising Happy and Healthy Children or any assortment of his other books. He has about 20, all with cheesy titles save the scary, The Diseasing of America’s Children.
6. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast, Too Soon by David Elkind, Ph.D.
Written during the short-range heyday of the ’80s Power Woman, this book by child psychologist David Elkind probably started the pressured parenting backlash. I recommend the 25th Anniversary Edition as it has a new foreword and chapter material illustrating how bad things have gotten and how much work there is left to do. Elkind’s follow-up, The Power of Play, came out in 2007.
7. The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie Mellor
8. 101 Secrets a Cool Mom/Dad Knows by Sue Ellin Browder and Walter Browder
9. Tech Savvy Parenting by Brian Housman
I attended a seminar on this book. Apps, gaming, internet, phones—it all comes along quicker than parents expect. And that’s for the first child! The details change constantly, too. Tech needs advance preparation. Author Brian Housman has practical recommendations that not only don’t get bogged down in details, but also teach children to control their own behavior.
10. The Erma Bombeck Collection
Humor makes child rearing easier. And no one can make us laugh about family life more than the late Erma Bombeck, famous author of 4000 newspaper columns and about 10 bestsellers. “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.” Exactly.