Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Finding the Right Parenting Books... For Us.

Good parenting advice, the kind that makes sense and achieves results, is absolutely amazing. Finding that advice can be hard. When we first had Will, we heard the inevitable joke "there's no instruction book" from plenty of chatty strangers and retailers. And they're right, there isn't one. There are thousands. And they contradict each other. I've picked up plenty of parenting books that were either outdated, had parenting philosophies that clearly clashed with my own, or that were great on paper but unworkable in reality and made me feel like a failure as a parent.

What I've gradually learned is to do my homework before I pick up parenting books. I ask for recommendations, from mothers I admire, particularly those with older children who have had more opportunities to read, and know what books might be useful to read in advance of their relevancy. I read reviews online, being careful to look behind the number of stars and check for clues on what type of parents like or don't like the book, and their reasoning. Two star rating, "too academic"? Sounds great. I ask child professionals for their favorites, from my pediatrician to the staff at Isis Parenting. I read booklists on other blogs. (soulemama.typepad.com) And then I take those recommendations and I do some reading about the author and what other parents have thought before I choose which ones to read.

I've also had to come to grips with what "type" of parent I am. In my quest for more reading I've come across some buzzwords. Attachment Parenting and Authoritative Parenting are the two that most come to mind. The stereotypes of attatchment parenting: nursing, co-sleeping, baby wearing, infant massage, no-cry sleep solutions. Dr. William Sears is the most well known proponent of Attachment Parenting. Stereotypes of Authoritative Parenting: crib sleeping, sleep training, limit setting. Authoritative Parenting is not the same as its negative extreme, Authoritative Parenting*, in which a parent is demanding and disciplinary without being responsive to the child.

So what type of parents are we? Neither and both. I've found principles and strategies from multiple types of parenting philosophies to be helpful in discovering who we are as parents, and what works for Will as our child. I double check new parenting advice against the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (their book, "Caring for your Baby and Young Child" which covers birth through age five, has been a reassuring reference point) and any serious parenting changes I run by my pediatrician.

What I've discovered is that there aren't any books out there that completely agree with my parenting philosophy, but that doesn't mean I can't learn a great deal from them to add to the store of knowledge that informs the decisions we make about raising Will.

Because so much of parenting philosophy is just that, philosophy, I've gotten pickier about the authors I'm willing to pick up off a bookshelf. Are they an expert in their field? How much experience do they have? Was it in a clinical setting, as parents, or both? Do they back their advice up with science or studies? Does it agree with my own common sense? Can I implement their advice confidently and consistently, and can my spouse? Does it contradict the majority of parenting advice out there, or is it a more detailed strategy for an already accepted parenting practice?

At first, reading so much contradictory advice was confusing, overwhelming, and frustrating. As I new parent, sometimes I just wanted THE answer. (There usually isn't one.) But now it's a bit freeing that instead I can look for the right answer for us. I pick up parenting books looking for ideas, and that has made my reading experience much more enjoyable. And the more I read, the more I realize that there often is one goal or solution, but many ways to implement it. It's accepted parenting practice to have a bedtime routine. There are tons of ways to do it. It's accepted practice to feed your baby solids "when they're interested". Some books explain how you know and how to encourage their interest better than others.

This post was originally supposed to be a book review of my latest parenting read, but maybe I'd better leave that for next week. Instead I'll just mention some of my favorites.

Books that I've enjoyed having on my parenting shelf:

The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland

Caring For Your Baby and Young Child (Birth - Age 5) by the Academy of Pediatrics

Your Baby and Child by Penelope Leach (My mother used an earlier edition raising us!)

Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (New Edition) by Richard Ferber

No Cry Sleep Solutions by Elizabeth Pantley

Child of Mine, Feeding With Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne

From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris

Happiest Baby On The Block by Harvey Karp (DVD preferred)

Happiest Toddler On The Block by Harvey Karp (DVD preferred)

Books on my Parenting "To Read" list:

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

Emotional Life of the Toddler by Alicia F. Lieberman

The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule

*Note: There is concern that the book "On Becoming Babywise" is an Authoritarian rather than Authoritative book on parenting, and it has raised some concern among the pediatric community: "http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/14/4/21.abstract". I picked it up without knowing anything about it, and felt uncomfortable reading it. Isis Parenting pulled the book from their shelves because they were concerned with its association with babies' failure to thrive because parents followed a feeding schedule instead of on-demand feeding.

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