Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Favorite Parenting Books (Books. Lists. Love.)

My Favorite Parenting Books  
(Books. Lists. Love.)

** A post script that I'm writing pre script:  The best way to learn how to be a better parent is just to do it day to day and occasionally ask yourself, your spouse, and a good friend, "what's going well and what could I do better?"  All the advice in parenting books can't replace real-life experience.  And when you do decide to turn to a book for a new perspective, you should always read it with a filter - it's called common sense.

*   *   *   *   *   *

When I was pregnant with our first child, I read What To Expect When You're Expecting.  Then our baby was born and started to grow and achieve normal-baby-not-a-genius-child milestones, and I made sure he was on track by reading What to Expect the First Year... the Toddler Years... etc... A few years ago I threw those books out. They weren't at all instrumental in helping me become a better parent, and in fact, I think I may have even made a few mistakes by believing everything in them and following some of the "programs" laid out in those books.  Anyway, I read them all once and I never read them again.  Any questions that I have now - such as "are these bumps a normal baby rash or is it a rare flesh-eating disease?"  or "is it a sign of a high I.Q. if my three month points to horse when I said the word cow?" - any questions like that the creep up, I ignore and continue cooking, cleaning, teaching, or looking for lost shoes and sippy-cup valves, etc... And if it's something I can't ignore, I Google it.  Problem solved and bookshelf space saved.  

But there are some parenting books that I have referred to over and over again.  They are books that I turn to for wisdom instead of information.  They are books that I don't mind taking up my bookshelf space.  They are books that don't tell me when  my baby will get a tooth (it'll come when it'll come...) but instead have real advice and encouragement about how to be a better parent, and more importantly, how to SURVIVE PARENTHOOD bless my children with my best efforts, experience, knowledge, and... um... what's that other thing??  Oh, right - love!

But... just to throw you off a little bit, my very first recommendation is akin to a handbook.  It's the ONE BABY BOOK I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE.  It's that awesome and so I start my list with my favorite "parenting book" of all time:

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth 

This is the best book in the universe for convincing you that sleep is SO important for babies, and that all babies need "good" sleep.  NEVER think your baby is "not a napper." ALL babies (and toddlers, and kids!) need good, healthy sleep.  This book will tell you how to do it - using three different methods - YOU get to pick!! 1) Extinction 2) Minimal Crying 3) No Crying.  

Russ and I aren't the best parents on the planet, but we've always been very confident in, and happy with, the decisions we've made regarding our kids' sleep.  All because of this book.  Our three boys were taking regular naps and sleeping through the night around 5 months old, and our girls were sleeping through the night with regular naps around 3 1/2 months old.  And I know you're wondering if we let them "cry it out" - if there is interest expressed in specifics, I'll offer them some other time, but instead of writing it all out here, the basic gist of it is this: we used the "extinction method" which involves crying but is generally the quickest and most effective way to teach healthy sleep.  The amazing thing is, though, that since we were so tuned in to our babies' sleep needs early on, we never had to endure too much night crying (even though we were willing to.)  Between all of our five kids combined, we have had only about ten nights of intense middle-of-the-night crying.  None of them ever cried when we laid them down for a nap or in the evening because we had followed Dr. W's method of "catching" babies' sleep signals and putting them down at the optimal time before they were over tired and could not fall asleep on their own  So, they were all comfortable falling asleep on their own from a very early age and didn't suffer greatly having to cry for hours at a time, ever.  (Let me know if you need more deets.  I'm happy to share because I love talking about this stuff!)

Postpartum fatigue can be debilitating.  I know.  I can only handle that level of fatigue for a few months, so it's perfect that it's around 3 months that babies are ready to start organizing their sleep.  I NEVER would have known this, or known how to help my babies fall and stay asleep, if I hadn't read this book.  The book is not just about babies, but discusses healthy sleep strategies for children of every age.  If having a well-rested family is a priority for you, and you need some guidance in that regard, Dr. Weissbluth can help you achieve your goal :)  (That sounded like a scripted infomercial, but it's true!  I reeeeeeeeally recommend this book!)

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids, Art and Laraine Bennet

This book aids you in determining what type of temperament your children have and then helps you understand the ways to interact with, communicate with, influence, and love them, that will be the most effective.  

This book was instrumental is helping me appreciate strengths of my children in areas where I had previously imagined weaknesses or annoyances.  My temperament is so very different than my sons, and theirs is so very different from each other, there can be a lot of misunderstanding or unnecessary friction as a result. Knowing and understanding the differences in how we go about... well, everything, makes it less likely there will be disputes or frustrations.  I was so grateful to get a fresh perspective on our differences and have come to appreciate (if not totally understand) the quirky elements of their being that God gave them "on purpose"!  

Discipline that Last a Lifetime: the Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids, Dr. Ray Guarendi

Classic Dr. Ray.  Occasionally corny, often encouraging, always convicting.  Dr. Ray gives all kinds of great advice on how to effectively discipline children - he has 10, so he's got some experience :)  He really shines when he's giving parents tips on how to respond to kids' excuses and arguments  in the midst of disciplining.

Children: The Challenge : The Classic Work on Improving Parent-Child Relations--Intelligent, Humane & Eminently Practical, Rudolf Dreikurs and Viki Soltz

This book was laying around our house left over from my husband's days as a mental health counselor (often for children and families).  I picked it up during a particularly confusing time in our parenting journey and was glad I did.

I didn't agree with all of the methods/ideas in this book, but I appreciated enough of it to mention it here.  One of the best tips I took from it (and I should start doing this again!) is to avoid over-using "if you do this... then I will ...." statements with our children.  It's practically a challenge to a child to do the thing again.  It often ends badly.  For example:

At the dinner table, little Jimmy throws his food on the floor.  I say, "If you throw your food on the floor again, then you will leave the table."  Here's what can happen next:

a) Little Jimmy looks me in the face and throws more food on the floor.  I have to get up and take little Jimmy away from the table.  Little Jimmy learned that he can use his bad behavior to control my actions.  (this option isn't so bad because at least he suffered the consequence.)

or b) Some time goes by, little Jimmy throws his food on the floor again and I don't stick to my guns.  I may ignore it or warn him about the behavior again, saying something like, "Jimmy, what did I tell you about throwing food on the floor??" but do nothing.  I've lost.  I challenged him with an "if..then" statement and he came out the victor.  Little Jimmy learned I don't follow through and now knows that throwing food isn't really a punishable offense (and he probably thinks I'm a pushover...)

or c) (the most likely to happen in my experience...) Little Jimmy doesn't throw any more food on the floor, but a few minutes later starts blowing bubbles into his cup of water.  I haven't mentioned anything yet about the consequences for blowing bubbles, so I say, "If you blow bubbles in your water again, you will leave the table."  But little Jimmy doesn't blow bubbles again, instead he bangs his fork on his plate... and so on.  Using specific "If... then" statements never covers all the other possible questionable behaviors and consequences that might come up and forces the parent to address every. little. thing. that arises.  

The solution? Dreikurs' alternative to the "if...then" statement is to give consequences for behaviors when they happen, with more all-encompassing verbiage, not as a predetermined "threat."  So the dinner table situation would have played out like this:

Little Jimmy, who already well knows the rules of eating at the table, throws his food on the floor.  I say, "Throwing food is not table behavior, so you may not stay at the table.  In our family, you only stay at the table if you have the proper table behavior."  Jimmy is removed from the table, and is allowed to return to the table in a little while to try again with the understanding that he is only permitted to stay at the table if he has table behavior.  It's that simple.  It makes sense.  It covers all matter of poor behavior that Jimmy may choose to exhibit and makes clear what he needs to do to stay at the table.   It can be used for soooo many circumstances - I know from experience.  (I need to get back in the habit of this because it's worked very well for me in the past.)

Compass: a Handbook on Parent Leadership
Lifeline: the Religious Upbringing of Your Children
Anchor: God's Promise of Hope to Parents
by James Stenson

These books are wonderful resources for parents longing to instill lifelong virtues and  faith in their children.  Stenson's work is based on interviews that he conducted with parents who have raised children into adulthood and whose adult children are now living successful lives grounded in Christian teaching.  I really find these books very helpful, encouraging, and practical.  I should read them again :)  

And by way of a little lighter fare...

by, Paul Reiser

When you need a little bit of a break from taking it all too seriously, read these.  You will do the embarrassing laugh-out-loud-even-though-no-one-else-is-around thing.  Or you'll keep reading bits of it out loud to your spouse even though you can hardly breath for laughing so hard.  I was literally in tears a couple times reading Reiser's books. (Couplehood is good, too!)

And finally, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman, was an entertaining and insightful read.  It was just plain fun to read of Druckerman's insecurities and uncertainties about her American-style parenting (hovering, frantic, and paranoid) amidst the calm, cool, and collected chic Parisian mothers among whom she lived.  I indentified partly with Druckerman and partly with the French-style of parenting, so it was enjoyable to get a bit of all it in one book!  

Now I'd love to hear from you!  What are some of the must-read parenting books on your list??


  1. Oooh! Great choices. I think I'm going to pick up a few I haven't read yet. Wanna chat more about sleep with me?? Cuz I could use some support. I FAIL AT BABY SLEEP.

    1. Step 1 : get that book ;)

      I'd love to write more about it some time... just knowing me though, it will be long-winded and I'd love to be able to get it written succinctly. I think the significant things I got from the book were: watch for babies (3 -5 mos.) sleep signs (less active, glassy eyed, less social) and put them down then instead of waiting for rubbing eyes, yawning, and crying. By the time they get that tired, they are past the point of falling asleep un-aided easily. He says over and over that "sleep begets sleep" meaning that babies who go down awake and then take long, restful naps or go to bed early will actually sleep longer (despite the belief that keeping a baby up later/longer will make him more tired and then sleep in in the morning. It's actually the other way around, though it may take a few days to get into the pattern.) Babies newborn to 5 mos. should never be awake for more than 2 hours at a time. Kind of a sweet deal to have some much great napping going on when there's so much to be done with the bigger kids :)

      Scheduling baby sleep is so important for us, that other things often take a back seat while we're getting the new schedule going. We stay home a lot so the baby can be in his crib at the exact right time and not miss naps or get restless car sleep. It's a bit of a sacrifice for all of us, but in the end, it's worth it for us to be home bound for a couple weeks.

      The other "big" thing that made a huge difference for us was WHERE the baby slept. All our babies were in our room (and occasionally in our bed) for the first 3-5 months. AS SOON AS THEY MOVED TO THEIR OWN ROOM, they started sleeping WAY WAY better. The girls moved out at 3 1/2 mos. and never woke up again at night, and the boys were a little later and "trickier" but having a bed that was away from the smell of mom (that's what I think it was) made all the difference in helping get the rest of the schedule in place. I know for many moms, keeping the baby overnight until their older is more of a priority, but for us, it just worked really well to have a well-rested baby AND mom come morning time!

      Those are the big things I can think of right now. One of the things I really love about the book is that he DOES NOT advocate one style of parenting over another, he is just passionate about helping babies get healthy sleep. So he has tips for attachment-style parents, and for parents who encourage more independence and self-soothing (that's me) and (though it's not always the best scenario for a well-rested baby) he even offers plans for parents who won't compromise on a family bed, etc... So, you don't just have to do it one way to find advice and support in this book. It's a real winner. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it if you get to check it out!

    2. Oh my gosh! I had no idea I wrote that much until it published! Told you I was long-winded :)

  2. I would love to hear more about establishing good sleep patterns. Also, you make some good point I will need to think over. I use the "if - then" A LOT (Supernanny). But I see your point. I should be focused more on the overall "table manners" than the individual little nitpicky "no food on floor, no bubbles" or, in our house "no fork into the sippy cup straw." My girls are still pretty young. I'm not sure when to make the transition from "if then" to overall behavior. Any thoughts?

    1. Ann-Marie, thanks for your comment! I wrote a few more things about sleep in the reply to the comment above, so I hope you get to check it out.
      I feel like we've got the sleep stuff down. As for behavioral stuff, we're always working on being better at that, hence the many books I need on that topic :) It's not my strong suit, though I know it's so important for raising kids to be pleasant, mature, and responsible adults. I can effectively use the "behavior" technique with my 4, 6, and 8 year-old. They usually get one opportunity to try again with the right behavior (on the play set, at the table, in the pool, etc... whatever the situation) and then after that, if they make another mistake, they'll have a longer break from the activity (like if you're rude in the pool two times, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to try again...) I have sort of started to use this with the two-year old, but she can't just be expected to stay out of the pool if I tell her to. I need to really supervise her "time out" time and that can get tiresome, especially with everything else going on. In the book "Children the Challenge" I vaguely recall him giving an example at a sand box - kids throws sand, mom buckles him into his stroller for a time out facing away from the sandbox until he calms down and is ready to try the sandbox again with the proper behavior. I don't know if I'd do that... I'd probably keep the younger kid on my lap to keep him out of the sandbox. But it's a way to make it "work" for younger kids. Now that I think about it though, I probably do use this method more on pre-school kids because my older kids are capable of more "creative" consequences like written work and one of my favorites, "if you're mean, you clean" (a superb way to get a few extra shores done for you around the house!) Hope that helps!

    2. that last line should say, "extra chores" :)

  3. Replies
    1. Neat! I saw your link to parenting books on your latest post this morning! I guess when something works it's no wonder it's popular :)

  4. Ugh, we are the worst with the "if, then lately" and I see how that's been working against us. Why do I feel like they need a warning every. single. time?? I'm going to think on this.

    Does that sleep book talk at all about having older children when you have a baby? So often I want to be one of those families that just lug the baby around everywhere and somehow the baby just learns to sleep wherever. But when we are home, which is a lot, I need the baby to take a real, in-crib nap...but then they get used to that. So then the times we DO want to go out or have a weekly afternoon thing or do some day trip, baby can't sleep, gets overtired and cranky and then that throws off all the night sleep, too. Does any of this make sense? I'd love to know how people get flexible sleepers and how people manage older children and activities without having perpetually overtired baby/toddler. Thoughts??

    1. We've been stuck in the if.. then trap also. It's tricky business b/c for me, at least, parenting through kids' disobedience and misbehaviors, etc... takes a very careful balance of foresight and planning and thinking on your feet - it's definitely more art than science ;)
      As for the world's best sleep book, it covers ALL manor of scenarios in the home - stuff like kids sharing a room, babies that only will sleep in car seats (which he says is ok as long as you eliminate motion - like it's ok for the baby to nap in a swing as long as it's stationary...) and how to help change the sleep patterns/behaviors of older kids who haven't been on a good schedule but need one. Janelle has my copy right now, but your welcome to borrow it when she's done her refresher read :)


Like the old song says, "comments are a girl's best friend." Or something like that... So... leave a comment! I love chatting here! Pretend you're on my back porch, kick the broken plastic sandbox toys aside, sip your iced coffee, or beer, or (__fill in the blank with your beverage of choice__) and let's talk about all the things, because back-porch blogging is what I do!

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