I have to admit: I’m a fairly confident parent. Not confident that I do everything perfectly, or that every decision I make is Right, or that I couldn’t possibly be raising my children any better, but confident that I’m mostly doing the best that I can do and that my children are emotionally and physically healthy. I generally trust my mom instincts and feel that they’re leading me and my family in the right direction. But…
As my friend Mattias commented on a picture I posted on social media, “it’s not always easy to be a parent and advice is often both needed and appreciated.” Especially when it comes to baby sleep (and also eating, temper tantrums, sibling relations, etc.), I’ve often found myself consulting books, websites, friends, and parenting experts to get help. I remember trudging to the local library when August was a baby and checking out everything on baby sleep. I remember just as well sitting on my living room couch with a sinking feeling in my stomach, worried that I had theretofore done everything wrong and had ruined my son’s sleep for the rest of his life, and that I had a difficult path ahead of me using this or that particular method to get everything straightened out. (By the way, he’s a champion sleeper now, and I followed NONE of those methods!)
We’ve all been there, right? When you’re reading a book or website or watching an expert talk about parenting, and you suddenly just feel so shitty about yourself as a parent? And the method that’s being presented makes you anxious and uneasy and you can’t imagine implementing it, but since it’s supposedly the only way to fix your baby, you’ve reluctantly resolved to start tomorrow?
Fast forward to my third baby and I am having none of that. I’ve learned that any trick, technique, or expert who gives me that sinking feeling and undermines my intuition or my confidence as a mother gets zero more seconds of consideration. Sure, some of these techniques might be right for other parents, but if they make me feel that horrible about myself, they certainly aren’t for me.
But. As Mattias said, I still need advice sometimes. Also, I strive to be intentional in my life and parenting (rather than simply reactive), and I realize that I haven’t already thought through every aspect of parenting and come to the best solution in advance. I must admit that there are others who have gone this path before me who have thoughtful, insightful, and encouraging things to say. Every now and then I find a book by one of these kindly and wise souls, and I delve into it. Such books are few and far between, but I’d like to share them with you.
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury – I’m rereading the former now that there’s a newborn in the house, and the respectful approach to babies and children is inspiring and refreshing. It has helped me to calm down and handle the situation like an adult (er, usually) when the boys are fighting, and to be attentive and aware when I’m caring for Zoë’s needs and helping her sleep. The books are collections of posts from her website, so you if you spend some time poking around the site you’ll find all the content.
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn – I read this when August was a baby and intend to read it again as soon as I can find time. The paradox of being with little kids is that they—and by proximity, you—are so in the moment, every moment, but at the same time, it’s so easy to be reactive rather than intentional with them. The Kabat-Zinns help to find perspective and mindfulness on the parenting journey. This is more a philosophy of parenting (or simply philosophy of being) book than a practical how-to book.
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne – The subtitle says it all. Especially refreshing message in modern America when everything is about more, more, more.
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish – I don’t think I even have to introduce these two classics of parenting literature. I remember seeing the latter on my parents’ shelves as a kid, and now I have it on my own. I’ll give you a hint to the key of both books: actually pay attention to what your children are saying, feeling, and experiencing. So obvious, right? Yet so hard to do!
The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler – This book is an easy read that draws on research to make suggestions about how to thrive as a family. After reading this book we started to have family meetings and worked on a family mission statement (which we finished but now, ahem, can’t find), both of which we loved but have let drop off. Read this book if you are willing to work to consciously cultivate a deeper family bond and create more meaning in your life as a family.
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – I thought I was going to hate this book, expecting it to follow the current trend of dishing about how terrible parenting is, but instead I loved it. I thought it was so insightful about both the joys and difficulties of parenting, and also just a fascinating sociological look at how contemporary Americans are raising kids.
These are books that actually make me calmer as I read them. They don’t make me feel guilty or ashamed about mistakes I’ve made, but gently steer me toward kinder and wiser decisions in the future. Another thing most of them have in common is that they help me to empathize with my children, to recognize the struggles they endure as they grow and develop, and to feel compassion for them even in the toughest moments. They are all respectful to both children and parents.
I’m not saying that I follow all of the advice in each of these books every day, or even that I attempt to do so. But having read these words has undoubtedly made me a more thoughtful, intentional, compassionate, and confident mother. At least when all the kids are asleep. 😉
What are your favorite parenting resources? Any books that have been game-changers for you?
Photos by me.