April 10, 2014

7 Parenting books for the mind, body and spirit

3 minutes
Advice for host families

Recently, there’s been a lot of mom-guilting in the media.  Between the reactions to Gwyneth Paltrow’s comment about how easy regular working moms have it compared to Hollywood moms, and the on-going debate over Tiger mom parenting versus attachment parenting, it seems hard to find any positive discourse about parenting.  Why do we spend so much time criticizing others instead of finding ways to support each other on this challenging journey of raising children and families?
Beyond what pops up in our news feeds, there are thousands of parenting books on the market.  Many of them also seem to take a critical tone.  Their “how to” titles can feel like thinly veiled critiques of our abilities as parents.  While I have a tendency to avoid books that veer towards the self-help genre, there are some great parenting books out there that have enlightened and inspired me to try new tactics and face daily challenges in a new way, or to re-examine some of my core beliefs about parenting.  Others have forced me to think about how society shapes parenting, and what can be done to help parents, and working moms, especially, find more balance.
For the mind:
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman:
A scientific look at how some of the ideas we tend to think of as common sense in parenting are actually wrong. I especially enjoyed the section on how to teach kids tolerance in the face of diversity. Hint: you have to talk a lot about similarities and differences between people rather than just exposing kids to diversity and saying that everyone is the same. It’s a great lesson that an au pair could help reinforce.
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough:
If you can’t afford top private schools and Ivy League college tuitions for your children, don’t despair.  Paul Tough reveals compelling evidence that education and intelligence are not the only or even perhaps the best predictors of success.  Instead, he argues that character traits like grit, determination and self-control are key to becoming successful in adulthood.
For the body:
The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen:
I’m not a risk taker.  I have never broken a bone, and when I learned I was having a son, I was immediately filled with mental images of future trips to the ER. So when my dad gave me this book when my son was 1, I was initially skeptical.  But the book makes a good case that kids learn trust, build confidence and form deep bonds with parents through physical play.  Most of the book is devoted to ideas for games to help you incorporate roughhousing into your children’s lives.
For the spirit:
Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman:
Bringing Up Bébé is a collection of observations an American mom makes while living in Paris—she sees and explains why French children are well-behaved in restaurants, (for real?) sleep through the night from the time they are very young, (yes please!) and play on their own so parents can have adult time with friends and family (what is “adult” time again?). Though some will argue that their parenting methods produce children who are under-stimulated and ignored by their parents, I think the information provides a good counter-argument for parents inclined to helicopter over their kids all day long.
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan:
A great book when you need a laugh at someone else’s expense.  Comedian Jim Gaffigan has five kids, and lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.  It’s likely that his stories will make you feel better about your own parenting challenges, unless you have six kids and live in a one-bedroom apartment.
Growing up Global by Homa Sabet Tavangar:
This book offers lots of practical activities to do with kids in order to talk about and incorporate a global mindset and encourage openness to other cultures.  This would be a great read if you are preparing for the arrival of your first au pair, or even a great reference book for your au pair to read for ideas of cultural activities to do with the kids.
Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh Ph.D: If you’ve seen the movie “Babies,” you’ll have an idea of how learning about how other cultures parent can change your own thoughts and preconceived notions about parenting.  Without being a how-to guide, this book will help deconstruct the ways in which our society’s norms shape how we raise our children. You may come away with some new ideas you’ll want to try once you see how “normal” they are around the world.