10 January 2009

Top 10 Parenting Books

I'm a sucker for countdowns of this sort, and you tend to find all sorts of them with the end/beginning of the year. Plus, I've been a major slacker with this blog, so it is about time I posted. So, if you are shopping for yourself or another parent-to-be, here's my take on the best of the overwhelming glut of parenting books on the market. (Not that I've read them all, and my biases are clearly evident.)

#10--The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears
I almost took this one off the list. For one, this article makes some excellent points. Also, the idea of seeking advice from the dominant male doctor parenting "guru" (formerly Spock, now Sears) was deservedly scoffed by Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept. But this encyclopedic tome was co-authored with his wife Martha, and no one can deny that their parenting experience is impressive. With loads of information about infant development, this one's a reliable reference which I found myself turning to again and again when I found myself questioning, "Is this normal?"

#9--The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
Gotta have a sleep book, right? And this one has loads of gentle techniques for the Attachment-minded parent to get more sleep without resorting to the unsavory cry-it-out method. (Told you my biases would be clear.) I'm a firm believer that sleep is more a product of a child's unique temperament and physiology than anything else, and I have to admit that nothing I tried produced the holy grail of sleeping through the night. Frankly, I moved to a place of acceptance regarding my restless co-sleeper a long time ago, but if you're looking to feel in control and "do something" about your child's sleep, there's plenty in here to try, and a lot of solid information about sleep in general.

#8--Learning All the Time (or anything else) by John Holt
My plan is for unschoolers to take over the world. Seriously though, John Holt is a wonderful advocate for children's rights to respectful treatment and honoring their independent thinking. Whether or not we choose to homeschool, as parents we are our children's first and most influential teachers, and Holt's child-led approach is the best foundation for a vibrant and inspired life of learning.

#7--Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
This one's more for theory than practice, inspiration rather than action. Kohn makes a strong case against behaviorist models of parenting (think carrot/stick or gold stars/time outs), arguing that punishments and rewards lead children to focus on how their behavior affects themselves, versus others. He offers a framework for an alternative way to work with our children, rather than doing things to them. This one's already moved to "classic" status, influencing some of the more recent books out there.

#6--Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn
Parenting and family relationships in general have been for me the most powerful center for spiritual growth. Even if you aren't a Buddhist, you'll find here the motivation to slow down and take the time to be present and deeply engaged with your child, which is nourishing and rewarding in itself.

#5--The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by LLLI
This is the one book I wish I had read before my son was born. It's the standard introduction to breastfeeding and reference for solving basic, common nursing issues. As many families come to understand, breastfeeding is more than a feeding choice; it is easily a style of parenting in itself, encompassing sleep, discipline, nutrition, lifestyle and more, which you'll find expanded upon in this book.

#4--The Natural Child by Jan Hunt
The heart of Jan Hunt's parenting philosophy might well be her "Golden Rule" of parenting: "Treat your child as you would like to be treated if you were in the same position." I find her insightful essays to be a source of inspiration and reaffirmation of my parenting values. You can read a bunch of them and many others also here at The Natural Child Project.

#3--Naturally Healthy Babies and Children by Aviva Jill Romm
An essential tool to educate yourself and support your child's health and wellness, it is my go-to book for herbal recipes to battle congestion, alleviate the crankies, etc. Aviva Romm's books are a huge help in learning to trust the body's wisdom and healing process.

#2--How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
A classic for good reason, this book was an enormous help to me when I was teaching young people of various ages. Drawing upon principles of nonviolent communication and active listening techniques, the book is full of specific strategies for engaging cooperation, resolving conflicts and fostering healthy and loving family relationships based on mutual respect. The cartoon examples throughout make it easy to glean and revisit the ideas when you are short on time and attention span (as many parents so often are!).

#1--Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort
I have to admit that this is the most recent book of this sort that I've read, but it quickly became my favorite. Aldort's psychology shows a strong Buddhist influence, not in the religious sense, but in terms of stepping back from judging our children's behaviors as "good" or "bad" (there's an acknowledged anti-behaviorism solidarity with Kohn here) and granting our children space to experience life in their own terms and process their emotions with support from us if needed but certainly without our active "management." So many parenting books offer philosophies that seem so simple, yet we find ourselves falling short of our parenting ideals again and again. Aldort's S.A.L.V.E. formula is a useful tool in understanding and changing our patterns of reacting to behaviors we find bothersome. The first step she advises is for us to stop and be mindful of the initial script that starts running--a script which is heavily influenced by our culture, our own childhood experiences and (mostly irrational) fears. Once we let go of that and give ourselves a little reality check, we can connect with our child in the present moment and respond with mindfulness and intention, often employing that good stuff from book #2 above. At first glance, one might think she advocates a lax, child-centered approach veering on permissiveness, but in fact she's clear on the point that we aren't here to tailor circumstances and our responses so that our children feel or act "good" all the time. Rather, by learning to accept and "be with" our children's anger and sadness, they are more likely to move through their feelings and let them go instead of escalating into more socially unacceptable behaviors. When children are respected as individuals instead of coerced or manipulated so that their behavior meets our (and society's) expectations, they are more likely to respect others in turn. Makes perfect sense to me.