In Defense of Reading (Parenting Books)

by Danielle Veith

In defense of reading? Sounds weird, right? Because if it would seem absurd to defend reading, why should one need to defend reading parenting books? Why would almost every person who becomes a parent make a vow that they’ll never be one of THOSE parents who read parenting books? Why does nearly every ridiculous attack on parents contain an obligatory line dissing parenting books and parenting blogs? Why should it be embarrassing to read about something you care about?

“Don’t worry, you’ll do fine as a mom. You’re not a crack-head and you have the Internet.” So said some half-crazy guy I knew while I was pregnant with my first baby. Well, five years later, I’m still not a crack head and, yes, I have used the Internet quite a bit to learn more about this parenting gig. Of course, you may not have heard this already, but there’s occasionally some misinformation that works it’s way around cyberspace. Thankfully, we have these people called writers and editors who have worked hard to bring us some pretty wonderful books on the subject.

But, of course, you would never read any of them, would you? How uncool.

I don’t get it. It would be like saying, “I would never read history books. Just live your life, dude. Don’t think too much about it.” If those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, those who never read a word written by another parent (and who are probably also too embarrassed to talk about being a parent), are doomed to make mistakes they could avoid. I speak from experience: most of these mistakes involve yelling. Because, in isolation, you have no idea that what your kid is going through is normal and that how you are feeling is normal.

That said, I’m pretty sure I said I would never read parenting books before I had a baby. And then it changed to, I would only “use” baby books as a reference to look up things like how to cure diaper rash. Well, as new parents are destined to discover, we could pay for our kids’ college education with a dollar for every thing we said we’d never do.

Like others of my generation, I came into parenting already feeling very defensive. I was terrified of being one of those people who, god forbid, changes when they become a parent. Maybe it’s something about becoming a parent later in life when we’ve already established our own adult identity so firmly. Or maybe it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the whole women being allowed out of their home thing. If we can be more than “just a mom,” it’s hard not to feel as if we should be something else and that being a parent makes you less than, rather than more than, you were before.

Whatever the reason, there is an attitude toward reading parenting books that it would be hard to imagine being acceptable toward any other form of reading. Like any genre, there are plenty of parenting books not worth reading. But anything you care about—like say, your offspring—is worth learning more about, and reading is (believe it or not!) a long-standing, well-respected way to learn things.

Honestly, my problem with reading parenting books and parenting blogs is that actual parenting takes up a lot of the time that I used to spend reading. And being a mom is such a 24-7 affair that it can be hard to want to spend more time thinking about the kids once they’re finally asleep. I’m all for escaping with a good novel or curling up with a fun magazine, but every time I have spent time reading books or blogs about parenting, I have learned something. And it has always made me feel—like the best books do—less alone and less crazy.

From parenting books, I have learned that the horrible behavior my daughter has just picked up and that I’m screaming at her about is developmentally normal… and that it will pass. And I have stopped yelling about it and life became less exhausting for a little while. Louise Bates Ames’ Your <fill in the blacnk> Year Old series is widely-regarded as being especially great for that kind of perspective.

Other books have offered very practical help, with ideas I may have come to on my own, but just as possibly may not have. Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution was one, and whatever you think of Dr. Sears, his The Baby Book has lots of easy to read basic care info for babies.

I’ve also read some books that made me feel more connected to other mothers and that have given me a deeper understanding of my own self as a mother. Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety is one example. Another (although I confess I only read excerpts) is Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. I’m curious about but haven’t yet read Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings by Kenneth R. Ginsburg.

There’s this idea out there that if you read parenting books, you will lose the ability to trust your gut. It’s rubbish. Do we ignore non-fiction books completely because the ideas in them might supplant everything we knew before we opened the book? Of course not. We hope we learn something from them that will deepen our knowledge or open us to a different way of thinking. How are parenting books any different?

So, read on, my friends, and worry not about being judged for wanting to learn about this thing that, you must admit, matters to you.

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