Do Parenting Books Help?

I didn’t read a single parenting book while I was pregnant. I read plenty of books about the stages of pregnancy and delivery, but I never spent a second thinking about what would happen once the baby was born. As far as I was concerned, that would be the easy part. I didn’t know what to expect from labor and delivery, but once my baby boy was in my hands, I was sure I’d be fine. After all, I was a parenting expert.

I had a Ph.D in clinical psychology and specialized in working with children.  I knew everything there was to know about kids from the processes taking place in the brain within the first few moments of conception to all of the various stages passed through in development. And I didn’t just have the formal education. I had the practical experience to go with it. I grew up surrounded by women were who professional child caregivers. My mother was the second oldest of nine children and being able to care for and connect with children was a badge of honor proudly passed on to me. I grew up around kids. My mom had a daycare and I started babysitting in fourth grade. During college, I worked as a nanny. I knew my way around kids. I was comfortable with kids. I was good with them. A natural trained by the greats so parenting didn’t scare me in the least.

And then Gus was born.

And I was terrified.

Gus came out of the womb angry and screaming. He didn’t just cry. He screamed endlessly and inconsolably. If the crying weren’t bad enough, he also didn’t sleep. I hadn’t studied this in any class I had taken.

I manically began reading every parenting book I could get my hands on. I devoured them like a starving child. I stacked them next to the chair I breastfed in and each time Gus was on a boob, my other hand was holding up a book. Most of the books I started out reading were filled with textbook accounts of childrearing that made it seem like child care practices were mathematical formulas. A + B = C. I liked it. My brain could grasp on to it. It seemed so manageable. Practical. Defined. However, each time I applied the equation prescribed, I never got the promised results. I would go back through the book, re-read, highlight the important parts that I may have missed the first time, and re-apply as if I was taking a test for the second time. Still missed the mark.

I switched from the prescriptive, how-to books to books that were memoirs or personal narratives regarding the first years of being a mother. These types of books proved to be even more disheartening. Most of them were written by rich, white women, or by celebrities. I couldn’t relate to either.

I never did find a parenting book that actually helped me. Don’t get me wrong, I learned some really valuable tools and information from all of the books I read. I learned all about the practical things of motherhood like breastfeeding and bathing.  I learned lots of helpful tricks of the trade. However, I’m pretty sure I could have learned these on my own.

So, I have a question for you ladies and gents. And I am really interested in the answer. Have you read any parenting books that you feel actually helped you and made a difference in your parenting ability? If so, what was the book?

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48 Responses to Do Parenting Books Help?

  1. I have probably read them all, but I don’t really use them to define my parenting style or philosophy or anything highfalutin’ like that. I guess I agree with Dr. Spock: we know more than we think we do. Mostly the parenting guides are kept around as reference books, for when I am wondering if that horrible 2am cough is the croup.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Dr. Spock’s book is the one that I still have. If I can’t find the answer that I’m looking for online, there’s a pretty good chance I can find it in his book. Mostly all medical stuff that I’m looking up these days.

  2. Alexis says:

    My good friends are postpartum doulas and they have observed that the greater number of baby parenting books on the shelf, generally, the less smoothly things are going. I had the same experience you did (screaming baby, nothing worked, researched copiously looking for magic answer) so I WAS the Mom with a whole room of baby books. Honestly my fav was Baby 411 – concise, direct, practical. HATED What to Expect series (which ironically the local OBs gave free to all pregnant moms so everybody within 100 miles has a copy). Funny parenting article had this to day about them:
    What to Expect Books are the worst. Every new parent will have a copy of What to Expect In Your First Year. You may have five copies, because every one will want to buy you one. Why? To scare you to death. Basically, they’re reference books. If your child gets a small rash, you go to the book to find out what it is. The book will say something along the lines of, “Your baby may be teetering on the edge of death. Consult your doctor immediately before it’s too late. If you don’t, your BABY WILL DIE. Or it could just be a small rash, so don’t worry about it. It’s definitely one or the other or something else all together.”

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Your last comment almost made me spit my coffee out on my computer!

      • sarah says:

        Hahahaha!!! That’s almost exactly what I thought! The Pregnancy book too. I peeked at them at the bookstore while I was pregnant and didn’t know whether to go into hysterics from fear or just laugh. … I laughed and have never picked them up again. My son is 5 months now. I do like the kellymom.com site, but I have honestly been wary of parenting books since I looked at the What to Expect books. I would love to read some of the books on brain develpoment … that does sound interesting, and doesn’t seem like it would induce fear or guilt. My best help has come from my mother and other mothers I know … even sometimes when they give me “bad” advice (as in it doesn’t work for my son … I’ve never actually gotten bad advice so far …). What they have to say at least gets me thinking and so far I have been able to figure out what to do. I do tell my baby son almost everyday: Momma really doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing. She’s just making it up as we go along. Hope you’re having fun, cuz Momma sure is! :) Uh … when she isn’t in tears from sleep deprivation and/or hormonal changes. Haha! :)

        PS … I just stumbled on this site this evening when my son fell asleep nice and early. :) I should probably take advantage of it and sleep too, but it’s so nice to sit and waste time for just a little while. But I’ve encouraged from reading your posts, so I haven’t really been wasting time! Thanks!

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Thanks, Sarah. My mom and I weren’t all that close prior to me having Gus, but ever since he’s been born she’s who I go to the most with my questions. She’s the second oldest of nine kids and had three of her own. So, she’s pretty much a veteran. And she finds our generation of parents hysterical. I can’t really say I blame her. Now go to bed girl! That baby is gonna wake up soon!

  3. Marisa says:

    Before I had my daughter, a friend gave me a parenting book as a gift. Although it was a nice gesture, after I had my daughter, I learned this was not my parenting style at all. Among other things, the author encouraged the cry it out method which I felt wasn’t appropriate for my daughter. I search the internet often when I feel alone or in need of help, but I do not have any other parenting books.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Marisa.

      • Marisa says:

        Oh wait! I do have the No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers. It helped me tremendously! I think I new what to do all along, it was nice to have “someone” encourage my instincts.

  4. Ericha says:

    I really enjoy the Happiest Baby on the Block and the Happiest Toddler on the Block. However, his swaddling technique didn’t work on my baby, she was able to squirm out of everything! Eventually discovered the Woombie and things were much easier. Disclaimer: (I have a very happy baby so I think the book search was not as extensive.) I also enjoyed a technical book called “Understanding Newborn Behavior & Early Relationships: The Newborn Behavioral Observations (Nbo) System Handbook” by J. Kevin Nugent, et al. It’s heavy reading though!

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Ericha. I read the Happiest Book series, but I haven’t heard of the Nugent book.

      • Ericha says:

        I caught onto the Nugent book through an article in Southwest Airlines Magazine. These books, however, I would not categorize them being parenting as much as “understanding infant/toddler stimulus and response” books. How you react is a different animal all together.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Thanks, Ericha. I’m going to have to look that one up. I don’t think I’ve heard of that one.

  5. Meagan says:

    Healthy sleep habits, Happy Child. Not really sure it counts as a parenting book, but my bub is so much more awesome when both of us have enough sleep.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      It counts. Thanks:)

      • Carolyn says:

        I picked that one up recently after my therapist commented it was the only one she found useful when she was desperate with a toddler who wouldn’t’ sleep. I read it and within 2 days my 18mth old is falling asleep on his own for bedtime AND naps (they were always the worst for us). I avoided most parenting oops because I felt self-conscious and didn’t want to made to feel like I was doing it all wrong. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child didn’t make me feel bad, had great information and really helped. Unfortunately it was really hard to read. The writing did not flow and REALLY needed a good edit. But otherwise, it’s great!

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Thanks, Carolyn. It is a pretty dense book. One of my closest mommy friend’s swears it’s her sleep bible.

  6. Deb says:

    Not really; the only book that got me through the first few years of motherhood was Miriam Stophards book on babycare and toddlerhood. Not even sure it is still available but I liked it because it was a guide to what to expect of your baby’s and toddler’s stages of development. By the time I had my second child I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book and by then I had a circle other mums to call on if I needed any advice. Now I go on the internet and read blogs by other mums. Debbie

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      The other question I wanted to ask was something you brought up. I felt like asking how many books were read with the first child and how many were read with the second. I’m willing to be that the answer for second time moms is zero. After awhile, you realize that you really do just do your best and figure out what works for you as you go along.

  7. Barnmaven says:

    A lot of the books I read left me with the feeling I was doing something wrong. Maybe the most helpful parenting book was Brazelton’s book on potty training, mostly because he consistently states that the “right time” for potty training – or anything else, really – is when your kid is ready. And as the parent, you’re probably the best person to know that.

    I like the idea of being the expert on my own kids.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I had similar feelings, especially during Gus’s infancy stage when he was so difficult. I followed the prescriptions perfectly and never got the desired results. I spent the first few months of motherhood feeling like a complete failure.

  8. Karen says:

    I liked books that give information, along with several possible solutions to whatever problem you had. I hated books that said “do it this way and it will work.” The latter never did.
    My favorite book, bar none, was “What’s Going On In There” — a neuropsychological description of the first five years of a child’s life. For example, it really helped to know that the auditory and visual parts of the prefrontal cortex go through a huge amount of development around month 4 or 5. When my up till then fairly calm baby started screaming every time I took him into a room with more than 4 people in it, I had an idea what was wrong. He was noticing all of this for the first time, and pretty overwhelmed. I just had to take him someplace quieter. And I was pretty sure he’d get over it in a month or two (when the bulk of the development was over). Sure enough, that was the case.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Karen. I still look up information in my neuropsych textbooks from college to see what is going on in the brain developmentally. It certainly is helpful.

  9. Betsy says:

    The best advice I ever got from my mother was “Stop reading baby books. They’re making you insecure.” I did, and she was right.

    However, there are two books that saved my life. One of them is Ferber, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. Controversial, yes, but it said to me “You deserve to sleep, too,” and told me how to get there. The other is Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions, which told me it was okay to be furious and upset and sometimes not love the little sonsagun one tiny bit. Nobody had said that to me. It was really liberating. If I could be angry, then it was safe to be angry without running the risk of damaging the baby or being A Bad Mother. (Note: “being angry” is very much not the same thing as “hitting the child”.) I exhaled in deep relief over and over reading that book. Motherhood can be an ambivalent thing, and we’re not allowed to acknowledge that.

  10. Rach says:

    I’ve only read one parenting book and I found it quite helpful. I read Tracy Hogg’s “The Baby Whisperer” right after Hannah was born. I’m a big proponent of routine and ritual in my daily life and found what she had to say mirrored that, complete with easy to remember acronyms.

    I was rigid with Hannah, following to the nth degree. With Lil, I read no books and just cruised along, checking with Baby Center once in a while for development milestones and whatnot. She really just slipped right into the routines we already had in place, and I was SO much more relaxed with her. Of course, she’s the baby that never cried and wanted to be left alone to sleep all the time. I thought it was me and my excellent and relaxed parenting. HA! Then, there was Ellie…

    Ellie was my worst sleeper and and eater. I found myself racing back to Tracy to see what she had to say–because I had had so much success with it with Han. It was at this point that I realized that there was no one right way to do things and that–gee whiz, who knew??–each baby was different and that it wasn’t ME, it was THEM and I just needed to take those parts that worked and not worry about the rest. Duh! Sometimes I can be a bit slow on the uptake. ;)

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I read Baby Whisperer too. It was one of the books I was referring to that taught me some of the tricks of the trade. Do you remember the quiz in her book about what kind of baby you have? Well, I took it and Gus was the grumpy one. I was so upset. It’s so funny to see him now because you would never know that he was such an unhappy infant.

  11. Betsy says:

    I read the Rie Manual by Magda Gerber when I was on bedrest with my first child. It helped in the sense of not becoming a helicopter parent and not always trying to entertain your child.

  12. I read/skimmed many of those books. I always ended up wanting to throw them out the window. Especially What to Expect. My problems just never fit, either in question or answer form.

    In the end, I just wished that 1) my mom lived closer and 2) that she had breastfed!

    P.S. Not really the place, but I love your blog!

  13. Meghan says:

    This is less about books and more about the concepts you talked about- I’m a pediatric psychology fellow and work in a Children’s hospital. I thought I had it all figured out- I mean with a doctorate in clinical psych, how could I not?

    I now have a 9 week old and realize how little I knew- especially about infants! And infant sleep and behavior- ironically I came across you blog because it was linked on another post somewhere else (where I was shoving info in my brain during baby nap time!)

    Thanks for the reality check- love a blog from a psychologist’s standpoint.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Meghan. I hope you come back. Infants are an entirely different ballgame and one that I was not prepared for at all! I feel like things are finally at a place now that my son is 3 that I had envisioned when I first thought about having children. There was a lot of growing up for both of us that had to happen first.

  14. pin says:

    the best book i’ve found so far is a turkish book for 0 to 12 months, written by a turkish pediatrician, and splitting the book by different developmental phases. i cant say enough about the book, and the best part of it is that i noticed in the sections of the book about illnesses or genetic conditions or what-not, the author kept saying “don’t worry about it, your baby is fine.”

    my parents (and relatives, and whomever i came into contact with) thought i was being neurotic until they realized that i was calmed by this book in particular, and they learned a thing or two about development as well.

    as far as english sources go, i found that kellymom.com and that babycenter.com were helpful websites. i found no book to be helpful though.

    i remember once my son hit age 1 i immediately felt alone without my turkish book to refer to. it’s called “modern bebek bakimi” (contemporary baby care) by dr erhan ates. i hear he has one for children (up to age 6) too but since i am no longer in that country i have no idea where i’d get that book.

    i think giving clear information, including diagrams or photographs, and talking about what generally happens (as well as mentioning the outliers) are a good way to enable a mother to feel informed AND comforted. all without being judged.

    so yes, parenting books help, especially for a single-first-time mother as myself with no previous experience with children (including babysitting—i had never even held a newborn or changed a diaper before my son) i believe that parenting books like the one i’ve described above are essential.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Pin. I appreciate your perspective. I’m familiar with Babycenter, but I haven’t heard of kellymom.com. I’ll have to check that website out.

  15. Hannah says:

    I thoroughly recommend the “Toddler Taming” book by paediatrician Dr Christopher Green http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Toddler-Taming-Parents-Guide/dp/0091875285. He also does one about babies unfortunately I didn’t get that one soon enough!

    He doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but he DOES help you see whatever the behaviour you are struggling with is probably normal and he is supportive not patronising , giving usually two or three coping strategies or suggestions. I love it (and it makes me laugh, the illustrations are great!)

  16. LG says:

    I have five little ones (all under age 6 — 2 sets of twins and a singleton), and the two most helpful books I’ve read are Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (as mentioned by someone else here — it teaches you the fundamentals of how sleep works in children so you can act accordingly depending on individual situations), and the other is “Making the Terrible Twos Terrific!” by John Rosemond. Rosemond presents toddlerhood in such simple, straightforward terms that truly helped me know how to react to my kids’ “two-ish” behavior, and how to diffuse a lot of situations that can easily escalate if you as a parent lose your schmidt out of frustration.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I’m sorry, I couldn’t even get past the first line. 2 sets of twins! Five under 6! Whew…You are the one who should write a book on parenting:)

  17. Kelly says:

    I love Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I grooved more with scheduling and independence.

    I am curious what you think about Babywise? I read the old version, and then the newest version (Ezzo definitely tempered his methods). I am a fan of the principle, but in general, I’m not as strict as he is with scheduling.

    My daughter is 13 months and has not been the greatest sleeper. I’ve looked to many different methods, and by trying everything, I learned that it was mostly HER (she’s a light sleeper, curious about the world, and loves people). I am thankful for Ezzo’s encouragement to set up independent playtime – has REALLY helped in my daughter’s independence! More than parenting books, I am a HUGE fan of Baby-Led-Weaning…not necessarily because of the parenting philosophy but because it is FUN AND EASY!

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Kelly. I think that there are certainly good parts in Babywise just like most of the books have parts that are valuable. For me, having Gus on a schedule worked really well. He did much better when he knew what was expected. He was a particularly difficult infant as well and knowing his schedule was just as important for me in keeping my own sanity. However, I think he is very rigid about breastfeeding. I think especially during the first four months that breastfeeding on demand is crucial even if it means a lack of sleep.

  18. Jamie says:

    The only book I liked was Dr Sears’ baby book as a decent medical (rashes, colds, etc) reference. Everything else I read was ridiculous – the idea that a baby should fit my schedule or I “deserved” 8 hours of sleep despite the fact that babies are designed to sleep much shorter stretches just makes no sense to me. Books explaining why me getting what I’m used to is more important than my baby’s needs aren’t helpful, they’re sad.

    • Meagan says:

      I don’t think many sleep training books promise a solid 8 hours sleep every night, and I haven’t read any that suggest sleep training is a matter of entitlement. It’s about health, both for the parents and baby. Of course you don’t have to agree that sleep training is best for the baby, but it’s not just out there because parents aren’t willing to change their lives for the new baby.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Jamie. I ended up doing the same thing. I keep on hand the ancient Dr. Spock baby book for medical stuff that I can’t find online. Other than that, my parenting books have been given away.

  19. Kimber says:

    I have relied on and will continue to rely on John Rosemond for parenting pickles. His philosophy is that of “the olden days,” when common sense and consequences were the norm. “New Parent Power” is hands-down the best child-rearing book I’ve read – and I’ve read a LOT.

  20. Stacey says:

    I was introduced to the book “Hold on to your kids: Why parents neet to matter more than peers” – by Gordon Neufeld, Gabor Mate M.D.

    This book changed me in a profound way, and influences how I talk to my children on a daily basis.

    Unfortunately, this book is not enough for me, and I would love to learn more from Dr. Gordon Neufeld. His courses are just out of my financial reach.

    I’ve found Alyson Schafer’s blog to be very helpful, and I intend to read her books.

  21. Joni says:

    Have you read anything by Ross W. Greene Ph. D.? He specializes in difficult behavior in older children, but I think you might appreciate his attitude. He has videos on you tube and has written a few books, which you can read more on at livesinthebalance.org.

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