In honor of Sephardi Lady’s excellent post on parenting, or lack thereof, in the Orthodox Jewish community, I present some of my favorite parenting books. All of them promote a close, loving connection with children based on respecting their individual personalities and legitimate needs. Some people can do this instinctively, but some people, like me, need a lot of help! I don’t pretend that this list is comprehensive; there are many excellent books I haven’t read.
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, published and updated regularly by La Leche League International. Breastfeeding is the best and easiest way to begin to form an emotional connection with children. The Womanly Art supplies technical information while describing what real babies are like. (Hint: they nurse at inconvenient times, cry for no apparent reason, and don’t sleep all day long.)
- Naomi Stadlen, What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. This is a unique and wonderful book for all mothers. Each chapter discusses feelings expressed by new mothers in groups the led by the author. In the chapter, “So tired I could die,” she discusses how mothers relate to the overwhelming fatigue of the early weeks. One mother pointed out that if she had more energy she might be out and about or doing housework instead of resting and caring for the baby, who can be easily cared for at that stage (minus the housework). Stadlen suggests that the current generation of mothers may have traumatic memories of being left to cry at night, making it difficult for them to wake and care for their own children. Perhaps true, perhaps not, but interesting, like just about everything she writes. When talking about the time involved in caring for a baby:
All this time, she is being with her baby. It is this invisible relationship which feels like doing nothing. She is refraining from busying herself with a long list of tasks, and instead is slowing down her life to match the pace of his. . . .Yet here is the source of the momentous relationship between the two of them. Far from doing nothing, she is doing everything.
- Lawrence Cohen, Playful Parenting. Cohen, a psychologist specializing in game therapy, explains the purpose of play and gives numerous examples of parents who used play to solve particular problems. He shows how to incorporate different types of play into our children’s lives. The book contains a wonderful analogy using a cup to represent a child’s emotional contentment. When a child’s emotional needs are met, his cup is full. When he is lonely or scared or frustrated, parents need to fill the cup by providing more closeness and attention. A child whose cup is constantly empty will be needy and demanding, but one whose is generally kept full will be able to deal with the normal travails of life. In more extreme situations the cup can be broken, and nearly impossible to fill.
- Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids. Describes the formation of a strong child-parent relationship. If nothing interferes, children, including teenagers, will naturally want to emulate their parents.
- Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, The series includes Liberated Parents, Liberated Children and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. These books, based on Haim Ginott’s teachings, explain how fostering positive communication with children can change the atmosphere in the home and give kids the tools to make their own decisions. They explain why punishment, praise, overprotectiveness, and labeling can undermine our educational goals. See Orthomom’s post on praise and its negative effect on future success.
- Sprit of Motherhood. Mothers and babies from a Jewish point of view.
- My Child, My Disciple, by Noach Orlowek. The key to good parenting: Work on your own middot (character traits).
- Gentle Discipline, by Hilary Flower. Excellent for parents new to positive parenting, containing dozens of real-life examples from struggling parents.
- No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley. This book is for parents suffering from a child’s frequent wakings (which are usually normal) and want an alternative to the conventional “let’s teach that baby a lesson” advice. I do disagree with the author about encouraging young babies not to fall asleep at the breast every time, because I found this to be one of the greatest mothering pleasures imaginable.
- Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, by Norma Jane Bumgarner. I loved this book for explaining why being lazy doesn’t always mean you are being a bad mother.
- Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, by Sheila Kippley. Another book combining technical information and a loving approach to mothering.
- The Ultimate Book of Breastfeeding Answers, by Dr. Jack Newman. This book is more about breastfeeding than mothering, unlike the Womanly Art, and contains both common-sense suggestions and accurate, up-to-date information. I especially like the sections on formula advertising, toddler nursing, and medications. Update: I see he has a newer book out: Dr. Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding