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Parenting Book Club: Can you read your way to a happy family?

A few weeks ago on twitter, someone who'd just had a new baby asked us and our readers to recommend some good parenting books because they were feeling confused by the hundreds of different books all promising to offer you the path to perfect parenting.

As someone who has always been a voracious reader, I've read a great deal of parenting books - searching for the one that will make parenting that bit easier. Some have been instantly forgettable and some have truly helped me practically and/or emotionally. I'm not sure that books can solve all your problems but I think they can help to address them and these are my favourites so far....

For Parents of Babies

What Mother's Do, especially when it looks like nothing by Naomi Stadlen gets my vote for the one essential book you should read on becoming a parent. This is not a manual for how to feed, wash and change a baby (if that is what you want, see my next recommendation) but instead talks about the huge emotional changes that being a mother bring about and clarifies the huge importance of the role. I recommend this for anyone who has those days (weeks) with a newborn where they feel like they have accomplished nothing. Based on hundreds of discussions with new mothers, this book will show you how much you have done and make you feel proud of yourself for it. It's a bit like having coffee with a very lovely and understanding older woman who reassures you that everything you are feeling is normal. 

Birth And Beyond: The Definitive Guide to Your Pregnancy, Your Birth, Your Family - From Minus 9 to Plus 9 Months by Dr Yehudi Gordon is a wonderful, thorough, comforting and accesible guide to pregnancy, birth and the first few months. It deals sensitively with the changes you go through physically and emotionally during this time and appreciates how much this impacts on all members of the family (mum, dad, siblings, newborn). It is very practical with useful illustrations and easy to understand instructions for basic things like bathing a newborn that can seem very scary at first. A good book for giving you peace of mind and self-confidence as a new parent.

In a similar vein is Penelope Leach's Baby and Child. First published in 1977, my mum passed her battered copy on to me when I was pregnant myself (as you can see from the photo above). This is a book written with love and whilst some of the ideas in my original version may be dated, the child-centred approach is timeless. A very good read particularly as it takes you right up to five. This has now been re-written and updated but I can't tell you about the new version as I'm keeping my old school and hoping to pass on to my daughter one day...!

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg is one that divides people. One of our twitter followers said it made her cry, which is definitely bad, but I found it a very useful and calming book. In those first few months when everyone is asking you if you have a 'routine' or not, I found that this book walked a gentle line between those that recommend a rigid routine, and those that suggest you just wear your baby 24/7 and feed entirely on demand (I exaggerate). Baby Whisperer recommends following your baby's cues and building a routine around them, and gives you good tips on how to pick up on these cues. It helped me to get started on bringing order back to my chaotic life and I found her warm style quite engaging when at the time I could hardly read a sentence without going to sleep.

For Parents of Toddlers and Older Children

I heard about Playful Parenting by Lawrence J Cohen through the mighty Mumsnet, where lots of people were recommending it. More a way of life than a book, this fell into my hands at about the time that my perfect baby was becoming a truculent toddler. Cohen believes that the best way to relate to children is to play with them and advocates that in most situations where conflict arises between parent and child, we could actually solve the problem much more easily by being playful. If it sounds hippy dippy, it's not, there are some extremely useful strategies in here for dealing with difficult moments and although it is hard when tired and stressed to be playful, when I do remember to carry out his advice, I end up in a much better situation than when I shout and rant. This book reminded me a lot about how it felt to be a child and I think has made me a better and more relaxed parent, some of the time anyway!

Long ago in the mists of time, I organised a parenting course for parents of children with behvioural problems. As a non-parent at the time, I was pretty horrified to hear the stories of disobedient children and cowed parents, now of course this is my daily bread. How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish was the book that the parenting coach recommended to the parents on the course and is an absolute must read for parents of older children. The book gives excellent and easy to follow methods for improving communication with your child, gaining their cooperation without nagging and helping them to explore their feelings constructively. You will finish the book with some really useful strategies and a better understanding of how to avoid conflict and encourage postive communication.

Our twitter followers are a well read bunch. They recommended some other books that we haven't read - but will be reading soon. They are:

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: 7 Basic Skills to Turn Conflict into Cooperation by Dr Becky Bailey (@londonbabymum)
The Second Baby Survival Guide by Naja Edward (@MFM_Islington)
Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph (@RoobubCustard)
What Every Parent Needs to Know by Margot Sunderland (@RoobubCustard)
A Life's Work by Rachel Cusk (@amtstevents)
A Perfect Start by Christine Hill(@pennyliechti)
Divas and Dictators: The Secret to Having a Much Better Behaved Child by Charlie Taylor (@pennyliechti)
If you want to join the twitter conversation, follow us @northlondonmums

These are some of my favourite books that have helped me through the maze of parenting so far. I could have written a whole other post about the ones I've hated (and maybe I will another time....) or the fiction books about parenting I've loved and that have struck a chord with me. Do you have any other favourites - fiction as well? Do tell us what you think. We love getting your comments :)
amtstevens 27 September 2011 at 10:18 said...

For fictional books about becoming a parent, I recommend Sleepwalking by Julie Myerson, and The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell.

I also defy any parent (especially of little boys) not to be completely moved by Room by Emma Donoghue.

Finally, for non-fiction, check out the Mumsnet range of books. I have The Mumsnet Guide to Toddlers and the Mumsnet Rules. They're both full of sensible and practical advice but don't take themselves too seriously.

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