10 parenting books that made me feel less incompetent than other parenting books

This post could also be titled ‘The Parenting Books I Actually Read and Really Liked and Didn’t Make Me Feel Like I was Doing It All Wrong’. I have read a lot of parenting books this year. Not because I had any grand scheme to learn everything I could about raising a human, but because I was working on a parenting books post for Book Riot and managed to amass a lot of them. I have therefore read a lot of them now, and there are a few that stand out in my mind. These are the books that I genuinely would recommend to other parents, that I have read and loved, and that I feel like I have learnt from. Whether any of these actually make me a better parent is one that only time and a control will tell (so basically, who knows).

The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik

One of the world’s leading child psychologists shatters the myth of “good parenting.”

Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call “parenting” is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong–it’s not just based on bad science, it’s bad for kids and parents, too.

This is probably my favourite ‘parenting’ book ever even though it offers not one iota of advice. I found it to be a fascinating account of what ‘parenting’ means, and feel a lot better about my ‘good enough’ approach to parenting.

Act Natural by Jennifer Traig

This book is hilarious and wonderful and well-researched and well-written. It’s meaty and juicy and filled with interesting anecdotes about the cultural history of parenting and the well-meaning advice that has been passed down from generation to generation. I didn’t want this book to end, that’s how much I loved it.

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior

This is an excellent book about parenthood. And how actually a lot of the time, especially when you have small children, parenting is boring drudgery. The author asks what are the effects of children on their parents (instead of the other way around, as most parenting books do), and how children affect marriages, jobs, hobbies, and the happiness of their grown-ups. The title is apt: everyone talks about the joy of parenting but when pressed, they also admit that a lot of the day-to-day aspects is no fun. Thank you for validating my existence and experiences, Jennifer Senior.

To Have and To Hold by Molly Millwood

This is similar to All Joy and No Fun in that it focuses on the parent, but the focus here is even narrower. Millwood looks specifically at the effect of motherhood on women and their marriages, and like Jennifer Senior, finds that it isn’t all sunshine and roses. She uses research coupled with anecdotes to explore all the ways in which motherhood is hard and boring and awful (some days). This is the book that I feel gave me permission to think that you know what, being a stay-at-home mum is hard and boring and even though I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in and to have the help that I have, these feelings are still legitimate. Life was a million times easier when the only person I had to worry about was me.

The Happiest Kids in the World by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison

I liked this a lot more than I expected to! Two expats who moved to the Netherlands wrote about their experiences of parenting there, and showed how their experiences in the Netherlands contrasted with what their friends back home in the UK and US experienced, and with their own childhoods. I loved learning about the Dutch way and am convinced that this is the way I should parent. Partly because it also means less parental involvement and I’m lazy.

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk

Another book about how other countries are doing it better. This has similarities to The Happiest Kids in the World but the focus here is on the importance of being outside and playing outdoors. Both books stress the importance of having unstructured free time and letting children play, but this one adds the point that a lot of the free time and unstructured play should occur outdoors. This made me want to go on regular family hikes but those are yet to happen. Maybe this weekend.

The Emotional Life of a Toddler by Alicia F. Lieberman

This is an extremely useful book for helping parents understand why their toddlers can sometimes be whiny little bitches (incidentally, I was told this morning that this is something I should not be saying to my toddler. Hrmph). This book has great explanations from a child development perspective about why toddlers act the way they do, and also offers ideas on how to deal with various situations. I like having a script to follow, because otherwise I end up wishing I could tell Tilly to stop being a whiny little bitch. Natural mother I am not.

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina

Another great science-based book. I actually quite like learning about how the brain develops, and I’m constantly wondering what is going on in that little head of hers. This book has some insights on that. I don’t really remember any of the tips from it except for one thing: if you want your kid to be empathetic when they grow up, get them to learn music. I’m now trying to think of what quiet instruments there are for Tilly to learn.

The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber

We are raising Tilly in a bubble and she has no idea how lucky she is. This is a great book about teaching kids to be smart about money and saving but also about how to be generous. This is a book I think I will reread when Tilly is older; I think the concept of money is lost on her right now. Though she does know now that before we leave a shop with the things we want, we have to wait in a line and then Mummy and Daddy do something with those plastic cards that are so fun to play with, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

Reading Magic by Mem Fox

Mem Fox is basically my hero and I think every new parent or grandparent should read this book. Skip all the stupid literacy games and ‘teach your kid to read’ products you see sponsored posts for on Instagram and just read aloud to your kids. They don’t need flash cards, or for you to teach them the alphabet. Just read to them. And read this book.

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