When our first daughter was a week old, my husband and I knew we needed to find a way to get some sleep. Josh went online and found a book guaranteeing that within three months, our little bundle of sleeplessness would be snoozing soundly for 12 hours each night.
I devoured the book, and knew instantly that no matter how desperately we needed sleep, the method wasn’t for us. It suggested that we reorganize our entire lives–including feedings and outings–in the service of a rigid sleep schedule. I felt like there had to be another way. So I went in search of another book.
And so it has been for us; for every question or problem, we’ve turned to the bookshelves for assistance. (What do you want? We’re Jews. Books are kind of our thing.)
Without further ado, here are my top five books for new parents, on five different topics: sleep, feeding, general information, Jewish parenting, and the transition to motherhood. (Don’t worry Dads, Kveller has a list for you, too!)
Baby 411 by Denise Fields & Ari Brown, MD. This book covers everything from picking a parenting style and balancing family and work to poop and vaccines. The sections are short and readable (perfect for sleep-deprived parents to read!), and the information is generally objective and quite useful. The authors offer useful advice, and balanced options when there is no one right answer. My favorite piece of advice from this book (on how to get your child to stop sucking her thumb): “You can’t. The thumb goes everywhere your child does. This is another self-soothing activity. As your child gets to be around 18 months, you can reason with him about where it is appropriate to thumb suck… and where it is not.”
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, MD. This book not only covers techniques for getting your child to sleep, but also why sleep is important. Weissbluth doesn’t think of sleep as existing in a vacuum, rather he explores challenges such as sleep and feeding, or managing sleep when you have more than one child. Most importantly, Weissbluth doesn’t espouse one specific method of getting your child to sleep–he offers options ranging from “no cry” to “maybe cry” to “let cry”. I particularly appreciated it when Weissbluth noted that, “There is no instruction manual that applies to all families, and parenting is the hardest work there is.This is also true because once you figure out how to handle something, your children change and you have to start the learning process all over again.”
Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter. My daughters are pretty good sleepers, but meal times are a challenge. This book has kept me from going completely insane. Satter is a nutritionist and a social worker, so her approach acknowledges both the nutritional and developmental needs of babies and toddlers. The author believes that parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding, and the children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating. That division of labor takes a tremendous amount of pressure off the parents, which I, for one, really appreciate. I knew I loved this book when I read the following: “In my experience, the more trouble parents take to make special food for a toddler, the more inclined the toddler is to reject the food.” Amen, sister.
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, PhD. This book has become quite well-known for a reason: Mogel couches her practical, reasonable parenting advice in the context of Jewish teachings. Topics in the book range from understanding gender differences to worrying less to motivating and disciplining your children. I learned a tremendous amount of parenting and Judaism from this book. My favorite line in the book was in a section titled, “Don’t pressure yourself to be an extraordinary parent”. Mogel advises us to “tolerate some low-quality time. Have a little less ambition for yourself and your children. Plan nothing—disappoint your kids with your essential mediocrity… strive to be a ‘good enough’ parent, not a great one.” I love it. Read some excerpts here, here, and here.
I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile. This is the book that reminds me that I’m not alone in my experiences as a mother and wife. Between the over-eager mothers at the Mommy & Me classes, the smiling pictures on my Facebook wall, and the perfectly coiffed parents at my local park, it’s easy for me to think that I’m the only mother who has ever snapped at her kids, or fed them cheese and crackers for dinner, or daydreamed about moving to a retirement community in Florida. Ashworth & Nobile talked to mothers, who were willing to share their secrets, including one of my favorites: “Sometimes I secretly let the milk run out so that I have to make a late-night grocery run–all by myself. I drive slowly, put the windows down, and enjoy a tiny piece of solitude.” Fortunately for us, the book isn’t just full of complaints and concerns, it also offers practical advice for lessening our guilt, moving towards balance, and enjoying motherhood.
So those are my favorite books. What are yours?