I love books of all kinds, with one exception: parenting books. I don’t hide my contempt for a genre whose message could be summed up in two sentences: “You’re a bad parent. Here’s how to improve.” That’s why you will find no advice books on this list. I don’t know how to raise your kids. I don’t even know how to raise mine. And no, the experts have no idea either.
This list will also feature no books that sing praises of a certain parenting philosophy. Some parents find it helpful to follow a particular method of raising children. However, I think it’s important to question the very idea of parenting advice in the first place. Who is giving it and why? And where does this specific method come from?
Yet, there were still books I’ve read on the topic of parenting that I found enlightening and interesting. I enjoyed books that challenged mainstream thinking on parenting. Additionally, I enjoyed books that went deep into why raising children has become such a struggle.
You might be surprised that I put up this list on MKB rather than on a more “mainstream” site. But I also believe that the real benefit of raising children across cultures is the fact that it helps you realize that there is no one true way of raising children. Many of these books reinforce that point. While the majority specifically discuss the situation in the US or UK, I’ve found their message to be quite universal.
If you’re interested in parenting books for multicultural families, here’s a list.
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5 Parenting Books with Unique Perspectives
- The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings by David F. Lancy
Most parenting experts are either pediatricians or psychologists. But when anthropologists enter the field, their findings might be… interesting. This book captivated me from page one (yes, I am a bit of a geek). So, you think the stay-at-home mother is the norm? Think again. Most mothers, all over the world, worked in some capacity. In fact, when I interviewed Lancy for another article, he told me that the only thing that mothers around the world had in common was responding to their children’s need for food. That’s it. Everything else is culture. And providing food can take many forms – from actually gathering it to working for pay.
- Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of a Mutual Understanding by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
The popular idea is this: a baby in a sling, securely (in both metaphorical and literal sense) attached to their mother. And no one else. Right? Wrong. The primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy makes a compelling argument for what she calls cooperative breeding. That is, in almost all cultures, mothers had helpers in the form of female relatives, the baby’s younger siblings, or fathers. The idea that a baby should only be cared for by their mom is in fact a very Western idea that ends up harming mothers, fathers, and children.
- Do Parents Matter?: Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don’t Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax By Sarah and Robert LeVine
We’re told that we, as parents, are the most important influence in our children’s lives! That the way our children will develop is all up to us! Is it? No. If we look at immigrants, we’ll see that the children will take up and imitate the cultural traditions and ways of speaking of their host country, not the culture of their parents. The anthropologists Sarah and Robert LeVine make a similar argument, explaining that the wider culture matters more than parental influence. This might be hard for parents to hear but it can also be empowering.
- Motherhood: A Manifesto by Eliane Glaser
My main problem with parenting guides is that they target individual mothers. The message is this is how you can get better at being a parent. And if enough mothers and fathers could follow the advice described in the book, then we would have a generation of healthy children. This is not how things work. The well-being of children is just as much the responsibility of institutions, governments, and society as it is of mothers, if not more. Glaser does a good job of explaining where our current advice comes from. (Pro tip: this advice doesn’t appear to help mothers!). She also explains why we expect motherhood to remain pure while happily embracing technology in other areas of life.
- Love, Money and Parenting. How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids by Matthias Doepke and Fabricio Zillibotti
Change yourself, change the way you parent? No. At least, not according to economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Filibotti. They argue that the way parents behave has nothing to do with their personal decisions and everything to do with external issues such as culture, the economy, and education. For example, many North European mothers and fathers can be more relaxed with their children. This is not because they’re inherently better parents. Rather, it is because they live in a climate that’s much less competitive and more supportive than in other countries. If you look at countries such as the US where individualistic tendencies and economic inequality are high, you might realize that telling parents to stop helicoptering will not help. In fact, in such a situation, it’s a smart strategy that works.
6 More Recommended Parenting Books
Here are few other books I enjoyed:
The Motherhood Complex: The Story of Our Changing Selves by Melissa Hogeboom – discusses why becoming a mother is as big of an identity shift as adolescence.
Child Care Today: Getting It Right for Everyone by Penelope Leach – a radical book that acknowledges that childcare is a necessity, but it also asks important questions with the aim to improve its quality.
All Joy No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – No mother woke up one day and decided to make herself miserable by trying to get her children to after-school activities, or spending every single minute with them, and yet, here we are. This book explains how we got there.
The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik – I especially loved how Gopnik compared parenting to dieting. Both change with the times (is coffee good or bad now?). Both have been getting increasingly restrictive with time, and both totally ignore the larger cultural climate in which people operate. Oh, and they’re both aimed at women. Surprised? Well, I’m not.
I Can’t Even. How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen – while not exactly aimed at mothers, it does place motherhood in a context of impossible expectations women feel in all areas of life. It’s not just that we have to be perfect mothers. We also have to be perfect employees, perfect housewives, and perfect spouses while also looking great and not showing how much work all this is taking.
What books changed your perspectives on parenting? Tell us in the comments!