Friday Free-For-All: Best Mom Advice Books

My name has gotten on some publisher's mailing list, so in the past three months I've received the following deluge of motherhood self-help books: Motherstyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths; How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Home Moms; The Working Gal's Guide to Babyville; and Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids.

Clearly, the book industry has caught on to moms' angst. I'm just not sure if reading self-help books will actually help.

My all-time favorites -- although not technically self-help or parenting books -- are Anne Lamott's diary of her son's first year, Operating Instructions, because she showed me how joyful, difficult and hilarious motherhood can be; and Dr. Anna Fels' Necessary Dreams, because it elightened me about how normal it is for women, myself included, to be conflicted about our ambitions.

What do you think? Can books help us become better (and happier) parents? What are your favorite parenting books?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 26, 2006; 6:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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Absolutely loved "Operating Instructions". Also, Vickie Iovine's "Girlfriend's Guides". I am reading "How To Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too!" I also highly recommend "The Read-Aloud Handbook" and in fact I give it to mothers-to-be at their baby showers. But one of my all-time favorites has to be Lucy McCormick Calkins "Raising Lifelong Learners". A must for every parent who wants to raise curious children who love to learn.

Posted by: MomNC | May 26, 2006 8:12 AM

The Bible

Posted by: June | May 26, 2006 8:15 AM

The only parenting book I read was "What to Expect When You're Expecting" when my first child was due. I have relied on the advice of my mother and grandmother "Use common sense and patience". It's the best advice I've ever had in dealing with my children and other children.

Posted by: mom of two | May 26, 2006 8:37 AM

I started to read "what to expect when you are expecting," but some of the information made me too nervous. I don't really read a lot of books anymore, but I do read parenting magazine. They have some really good articles.

Posted by: scarry | May 26, 2006 8:48 AM

"Necessary Dreams" was a fascinating book--for all smart SAHMs and WMs. If you want to be filled with Righteous Outrage, there is "The Price of Motherhood" and "The Mask of Motherhood." For a lyrical portrait of the first year of life, Louise Erdrich's "The Blue Jay's Dance" is a lovely book.

Posted by: Kelli | May 26, 2006 8:50 AM

The Baby Whisperer is an excellent book for new moms, and contains practical tips on just what you are supposed to do with a newborn.

Posted by: VirginiaMom | May 26, 2006 8:53 AM

I'll confess. I used to be addicted to parenting books and magazines. I read every single one available in our local library over the course or three or four years.

And at some point, I stopped reading them. I feel that sometimes they give us a false illusion of control:
"If only I can establish a certain set of rules, I can control the outcome. Children are basically little machines and input X = output Y." Like a cookbook, for baking better children.

I think that for years, I fought accepting my children on their own terms. I truly believed that with the right flashcards and tutoring and diet and reading to them, I could ultimately make them 'smarter' or 'more socially acceptable' and so forth.

It took me years to become a thoughtful reader, to examine the premises of some of these books and to begin undoing the harm they had done in my home.

You can't "make" your child gifted. You can't "make" your child into a star athlete -- or musician (as we unhappily learned) -- or linguist, etc. etc. etc. They are their own people -- and they come with their own gifts and abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Our job as parents is to help them discover their gifts and support them in developing them.

(A caveat here -- My kids, whom I adore, are seriously eccentric. At different times, they've had labels applied to them -- Sensory Integration Disorder, etc. At various times, we medicated our daughter, took her to tutors, and so on and so forth. At some point, we started to realize that the problem wasn't her -- it was us. We needed to love her as she was and stop comparing her to the books and magazines. "What to Expect" in particular leads parents to think that somehow making good choices (having the yogurt rather than the bagel) means you get to hold all the cards on the outcome. That's hubris.)

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Another Mom | May 26, 2006 8:53 AM

"You can't "make" your child gifted. You can't "make" your child into a star athlete -- or musician (as we unhappily learned) -- or linguist, etc. etc. etc....."

This is one of the best things I've seen on this blog. I totally agree!

Posted by: scarry | May 26, 2006 9:04 AM

While I do think outside expert help can sometimes be extremely helpful, I also found myself going mostly cold turkey on "parenting advice" books. One book that did help us early on was healthy sleep, happy child. Forget the author. But a nice in-between style of sleeping help for babies.

Posted by: LDB | May 26, 2006 9:05 AM

i find the "what to expect" books a decent resourse for looking things up like "is this color poop normal?" and such. i do NOT use it as a difinitive guide for raising her week to week and expecting her to live up to what they she should or shouldn't be doing at a certain age.

another mom - well said!!

as an evangelical christian, i was of course gifted a number of christian mothering books by some wise, older women i respect and love (friends of my mother mostly). these books have left me feeling like a HORRIBLE mother that i have yet to finish one and don't even plan on starting the rest. i don't know what it is, but for me these books just heep on the treacle about what it means to be a christian mother without giving any sane advice for surving the day to day. as it stands, i think i'm doing pretty well on the "common sense and patience" plan.

Posted by: nat | May 26, 2006 9:16 AM

Since our families discovered we're trying to get pregnant, I've been given a truckload of parenting and pregnancy books and advice (won't make that mistake again!). I'm happy to see my feelings about "What to Expect..." validated here...I opened it randomly to the page about how to deliver the baby yourself, at home, alone, and totally freaked out! I prefer the Mayo Clinic's guide to pregnancy- it's organized better, for starters.

Another Mom: I second Scarry. I love your advice. I'm going to print it out!

Posted by: Ingrid | May 26, 2006 9:16 AM

I second the recommendation for "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child." (Dr. Weisbluth? I think is his name). Our kiddo has gone to bed at 6 p.m. every night since he was 2 months old -- at that time he still woke up to eat -- but now he's year old and still sleeping from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. It stinks because I have very little time with him before & after work but it's great for his temperament and growth. I also liked Baby 411 (by the Baby Bargains lady) for answers to "Is this normal?"

Posted by: Mpls Mama | May 26, 2006 9:21 AM

I loved 'I don't know how she does it'. A fictional story that teaches many 'don't do's'.
Leslie - the author of that book would be a great guest writer to this blog and give us a perspective of a mother in England.

Posted by: MidwesternMom | May 26, 2006 9:22 AM

Hands down my favorite books are Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth and Child of Mine by Ellen Satter. My daughter is only 18 months, but I have read A LOT and these two are the best for the baby/toddler years as far as I have read. Child of Mine is a nutrition book but it is also so much more, because the focus is on the division of responsibility between parent and child and how to support your child in developing into an independent being.

Sleeping and eating may seem so basic, but doing well in these two areas sets the stage for so much else.

Posted by: Another DC mom | May 26, 2006 9:23 AM

thank you Another Mom. It took me a while to stop reading those books that weren't doing anything for me or my children. I think parents can learn more about themselves and their children by reading to their children, whatever the child wants to read. Reading anything with children can spark the conversations that strengthen the relationship and teach eachother.

Posted by: motherof4 | May 26, 2006 9:25 AM

Nothing for us guys today....unless one of the ladies answers, "Popular Mechanics."

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 9:31 AM

I found What to Expect pretty good for answers to basic questions, although sometimes it induced panic in me. I found almost all other books ultimately more trouble than they were worth, including Dr. Weissbluth's book. Too many provide what amount to recipes for raising children, as if kids were extremely elaborate dishes to be prepared just so. I've been at this mom thing for less than half a year now, but the more books I read, the more I think it's better to use common sense and intuition than some recipe.

Posted by: chicagomom | May 26, 2006 9:47 AM

I always liked "The Mother's Almanac" by the WaPo's own Marguerite Kelly, and passed it on to my daughter when she was expecting her first. I also passed on a baby guide my mother received as part of an encylopedia set when I was baby--that was a real hoot to read.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 9:48 AM

The Father's Almanac: From Pregnancy to Pre-school, Baby Care to Behavior, the Complete and Indispensable Book of Practical Advice and Ideas for Every Man Discovering the Fun and Challenge of Fatherhood
by S. Adams Sullivan

The "What to Expect..." counterweight and

Raising Cain : Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon

I did read the WtEwY Expecting in bites as my wife and future mom and found it a good reference. Thrush - yeauch!

How did the bible help in parenting? Church helps, faith helps, but I was wondering if you found practical advice...?

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 26, 2006 9:54 AM

The Indispensable Calvin And Hobbes -- by Bill Watterson


Posted by: Father of 3 | May 26, 2006 9:58 AM

I love Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman--no actual advice, maybe, but plenty of empathy and a different perspective.
For parenting advice, I like "Playful Parenting."
For one-off questions, I like the blog "Ask Moxie," even though I don't always agree with her.
My days are spent trying to be authoritative but empathetic, which seems to leave me trying not to lose my mind.

Posted by: JobMom | May 26, 2006 10:01 AM

Thanks Another Mom, it is so true in this area children are pushed to excel at everything. When we moved to the area in Fairfax County were we now live, another mother told me right off the bat that the kids (she meant parents) are really ambitious in the neighborhood. And she was so right. You really have to make a concerted effort not to get sucked into it. My kids both play an instrument at school and each participate in one sports activity, but my husband and I don't expect to have produced the next Albert Pulos, Kat Osterman or Hilary Hahn. Its great that the kids are happy and healthy and I think many publications subject parents to endless hours of worry and guilt. Sometimes your gut instincts are right.

Posted by: mom of two | May 26, 2006 10:02 AM

None. I stopped at what to expect when your expecting...My child was and is not a textbook child. I became more frustrated with their advice and what to's, what not to do's. So feedback from other moms and "common sense and patience" has worked the best for me.

Posted by: August | May 26, 2006 10:04 AM

Family Almanac and Mother's Almanac are seemingly common-sense based, informative, and often funny. With my oldest child I got laughed at by experienced mothers when I produced the huge "What to Expect...Toddler" book - which I now have learned that what to expect in toddlerhood is the totally joyfully unexpected, no matter how thick the instruction book is and that, as others have said here, practicality, common sense, and of course a healthy sense of humor are really the best tools for moms.

Posted by: Monica | May 26, 2006 10:04 AM

Read every single book on sleep -- the only one that remotely helped was the one by the Sleep Lady -- Good Night Sleep Tight. Also on discipline -- 1 2 3 Magic really helped me to understand why my kids behave they do. I think a lot of these books are enjoyable read but, like diet books, you think you have a solution until you start implementing it. Kids are very resourceful -- mine can wreck a havoc in any discipline stragegy. Incidentally, one of the books we got as a gift was Dr. Spock. I re-read it sometimes and, surprise, surprise, it still makes sense.

Posted by: bethesdamom | May 26, 2006 10:05 AM

Penelope Leach, Your Baby and Child, from birth to age five This book is wonderful. It was a great resource for nurturing and loving your child. I reached for it so many times durring my childrens early years.I especially loved her wisdom about temper tantrums. she says love them when the are the most unlovable, hold them gently and get them back in control of themselves.Love them at this moment and they will feel safe. The book is filled with pearls of wisdom like this.

Posted by: em | May 26, 2006 10:10 AM

"The Three Martini Playdate"
and the indispensible "Healthy Sleep habits, Happy Child," by Marc Weisbluth.

Posted by: Julia | May 26, 2006 10:17 AM

I didn't get much out of the "typical" parenting books. Here's a mixed bag I did find helpful. 1-2-3 Magic was very good for learning to discipline a strongminded but sensitive kid. Dolores Curran's Traits of a Healthy Family really helped me shape my priorities about the way I wanted our family to be. And Martha Beck's Expecting Adam, about her journey from overachieving Harvard graduate student to mother of a son with Down Syndrome, was immensely helpful as I was coming to terms with my younger daughter's special needs.

Posted by: otterb | May 26, 2006 10:35 AM

I'll second the recommendation for the Penelope Leach book. Her approach is reasonable, balanced, loving, and non-prescriptive. She's basically advocating that you watch, listen, and learn what your baby/child needs, and respond with your own most humane & best behavior. I am rereading the baby section since we once again have an infant in the house. We often give this book to new parents.

Posted by: DC | May 26, 2006 10:38 AM

Operating Instructions is the best - should be required reading for all single moms because it helps to point out how human we all are.

Another bedside reference book I have is "How to talk so your kids will listen and listen so they'll talk". It gives easy, digestable, practical advice that actually WORKS, even on the most difficult kids.

Also "Raising your spirited child" is a good book for parents with children who they describe as "too much."

Posted by: Mom in SS | May 26, 2006 10:42 AM

I third Penelope Leach. Also found "The blessing of the skinned knee" made me realize I didn't need to make my child's life perfect. In the same vein was "Loving your child is not enough". For teenagers, the best book, bar none, is "uncommon sense for parents of teenagers" by Michael Riera. Thanks to another mom, great post! I have many of the same issues with eccentric kids, but I find my own discomfort at not fitting in with parents of "normal" kids kind of shakes my sense of self and is behind all my attempts at making my own kids conform. It's really a struggle for me because my self confidence as a parent is poor and having kids who are unusual makes me feel even less confident. It's something I'm really trying to work on.

Posted by: mom of teens | May 26, 2006 10:53 AM

Jobmom mentioned "Waiting for Birdy" by Catherine Newman. Catherine also does a weekly journal on (and has for the past 4 years). Not exactly parenting advice, but such a refreshing "keep it real" description of the ups and downs of raising her children -- her successes and shortcomings. I have read it for years and just love it. She started when she had a 3 year old son and was pregnant with "Birdy." Now the children are 3 and 6. You can pretty much find anything and everything you can relate to in those journals!


Posted by: FS Mom | May 26, 2006 11:00 AM

Healthy sleep, healthy child is good but I find that it is only good for infancy to about pre-school/kindergarten. There is no way my 9 year old can get to bed as early as is recommended. Love it if it could happen, but not gonna happen.

As for the rest, I stopped reading them because they aren't usually practical.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 11:10 AM

Probably the only one I read was the venerable on by Benjamnin Spock, which I think has good advice on a lot of things, is very common sense, and is not all about permissiveness (I think people who gave it that label never read it!). I avoided all the more modern ones. Well I probably read some of the material about non-sexist childrearing in the early 80s because that has always been important to me, but I forget the titles. When I was actually in the process of raising my kids when they were babies, I was far too busy to read books anyway. They worked out fine.

Posted by: Catherine | May 26, 2006 11:30 AM

I also recommend Marguerite Kelley's Almanac. Because my own mother does not give advice, I've turned to this book many times for a gentle and respectful answer to things like lying, age appropriateness of chores, allowance etc.

Posted by: Towson mom | May 26, 2006 11:40 AM

After my first daughter outgrew the bassinet and graduated to the crib, my wife and I would occasionally bring her into bed at night. To me, she felt like a nice warm teddy bear and her rhythmitic breathing made for a great night's sleep. for my wife, who was breast feeding at the time, the family bed made for an easy night time routine. All was good, that was until my daughter became about 9 months old. The baby in bed routine became habit and began interfering with my relations with my wife. I discussed it with my wife and mentioned that I had spent an entire week on how to handle this issue in a psychology class I took at George Mason University. Basically this is how it goes: Kiss the baby goodnight, put her in the crib, turn out the light, walk out the door. By all means , DO Not, and I repeat, Do Not go back in. Normally your child will cry from 15 to 30 minutes. The professor assured us, through personal experience, that anything over 45 minutes is abnormal, and if that were the case, "You would be raising one tough cookie!" Our class was also taught that it is very, very painful for a parent to listen to their child cry, even for 5 minutes, but, after 2 weeks, you're done.
So then came the day and hour we agreed on, 9:00 exactly. I was to do the honors. My wife sat on the couch in the living room. I took the baby, kissed her, put her in the crib, turned out the lights, headed for the door, and before I could even shut the door, I got blasted by a bloodcurdling scream that sent an ice cold shiver right down my spine which landed right smack dab in the bottom of my heart. OUCH! That hurt me, real bad.
"suck it up dude", I told myself. As bad as I felt, I knew this night would hurt my poor wife tenfold. Just don't cave in... that was by far the most important rule to remember. So what did I do? I sat next to my wife, tapped my fingers on my knee, watched the clock and listened to our baby scream.
At 5 minutes, my wife wanted to check on her. "No", i said, "We will be lucky if she quits crying in 15 minutes."
At 10 minutes, she said, "Maybe something is wrong." "No!", I had to say it a little bit firmer.
At 12 minutes, her milk leeked out and soaked her shirt.
At 15 minutes.. Wel, no easy baby here.
At 22 minutes, silence, finally. Shew! I'll be darned, the professor was right.
At 25 minutes, bring on round #2. First the windup, then the wail.
At 30 minutes, no sign of stopping. We've got a tough one here.
At 35 minutes, My wife start bawling, too.
At 40 minutes, my wife starts calling me names. I grit my teeth, stand firm.
At 45 minutes, crying continues, no sign of stopping. Why me? Why do I get the "abnormal" baby.
At 50 minutes, wife and I are arguing, she's sobbing uncontrolably. I'm saying, "No! No! If you go in there, it will make it worse. I learned in psychology class. The book can't be wrong, I paid $75 for it!"
At 55 minutes, things get a little more quiet as the sobs turn to the sniviling. "sniff, sniff, hic... sniff, sniff, hic"
At 60 minutes, Oh my! Round #3. This is impossible. I start cussing. My wife is laying on the couch, she looks like she had her finger stuck in a light socket for the last hour.
At 10:08, the moaning and sobbing still continue. I had enough! "Stay here honey, something must be seriously wrong. I'm going in."
So I opened the door. My baby pulled herself up on the rail, stretched her arms out to reach me, and cries "Daddy!" Tears rolled out of the corners of her eyes, her cheeks were soaked, her neck was soaked, the collar of her sleeper was soaked, all tears. When I reached out to hug her, she handed me her favorite teddy bear. That was it! I caved! Melted right there on the spot! Nuked!
I pulled her out of the crib and brought her over to my exhausted wife. Two more minutes with the "Sniff, sniff, hic" and she was out. What a terrible person I was for doing that. What on earth would have me do such a thing? From then on, as with the rest of my kids, I've let them sleep pretty much where ever they wanted. It gets annoying sometimes. Like this morning, I couldn't find a place in the living room to sit down and drink my coffee. The kids occupied the couch and Master's chair. but that's a small sacrifice for never having to fight the bedtime battle.
Oh, and those how-to psycho-babble parenting books, especially the ones that have you analyse 16 personality types... If one of those things ever crosses the threshhold of my house, I will march it right out the back door, throw it in the dirt, pour gasoline on it and light it on fire. Those things can do serious damage to a child!
This blog has been my best resource on how to improve myself as a parent. I communicate with real people, who have real lives with real problems. Thanks you all! See you next week!

Posted by: Father of 4 | May 26, 2006 11:40 AM

Like a lot of people have said, I also loved Happy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child for practical advice on getting babies and young kids to sleep.

Also, Toilet Training in 24 Hours was incredibly helpful and effective. It worked!

Raising Your Spirited Child was a good one, too -- thanks for that reminder.

Posted by: Leslie | May 26, 2006 11:58 AM

Toilet Training in 24 Hours? Who wrote that? I'm in toilet training HELL at the moment and could use all the help I can get.

Posted by: FS Mom | May 26, 2006 12:12 PM

FS Mom, have I got a book for you then! It's called "Toilet Training in Less than a Day" (

Believe me, I was VERY sceptical when a colleague recommended it to me, thinking something like this could never work. But from the day I did the suggested procedure, my daughter (2 yrs 7 months) has been diaper free - including naps and nights, and she was refusing to even sit on the potty before (even fully dressed), despite all the potty books we read with her, etc. Now, every child is different and yours might not react quite as well as mine, but I think it's definitely worth a try. One warning, though. The book was written in the 70s, and it sometimes seems a bit outdated, but I do think that the underlying principle is sound. It is a very intense experience, but once you're done, both you and your kid will be very proud of each other.

Good luck!

Posted by: vj | May 26, 2006 12:20 PM

Ok, so righteous indignation turns out to be no match for procrastination and the isolation of working from home. I'm back.

Father of 4, that was an awesome post. I've never been able to try the "cry it out" route, having heard so many stories like yours, but we did go through all sorts of "gentle" attempts to get our son to go to sleep at a regular time and place, based on all sorts of different books, and to no avail. Now we have a philosophy much like yours. He goes to sleep when he's tired and in the place that works best, our bed, his bed, whatever. We're all a lot happier. I just ignore all the books.

Also, in response to the woman who posted about christian parenting books, I wanted to note two religious books that are very controversial. They are written by religious men with no medical training and are not endorsed by doctors; many women have followed the advice to their babies' detriment and said later that they hated doing it but felt like they had to to be good christian moms. The first is "On Becoming Babywise;" babies whose parents follow this regimen have often been found to have low weight gain, health problems, and there have even been some deaths associate with it. The second is "How to Train Up A Child," which advises a great deal of corporal punishment, and is associated with a recent case where a woman is accused of suffocating her youngest child in keeping with the book's advice. I know these are aberrations in the world of christian parenting books, but I just wanted to put the information out there.

Posted by: Megan | May 26, 2006 12:30 PM

As the mother of 2 amazing kids, 13yo girl and 10yo boy, I have found that there is a lot to be said for a mother's intuition. I only really used a medical-type reference book that helped me figure out if I really needed to take them to the doctor or not. That's how my mother did it and she was the best that any kid could have wanted! Just relax and don't get hung up in all the self-help stuff!

Posted by: MarylandMom | May 26, 2006 12:51 PM

I'm also trying to potty train, it's rough. My daughter goes good at school, but has accidents at home with me. I'll have to go buy the book.


Posted by: scarry | May 26, 2006 12:51 PM


I knew you'd miss us to much to stay away.

Posted by: scarry | May 26, 2006 1:10 PM

Can anyone in DC please give us an update on the Capitol (beyond what is appearing in the mass media)?

Posted by: June | May 26, 2006 1:24 PM

Too right, Scarry! I was feeling a little lost without you all. Who knew I'd be so hooked?

Posted by: Megan | May 26, 2006 1:25 PM

With our daughter, I read everything out there -- Spock, Brazleton, Rosemund, What to Expect, Week-by-Week, Girlfriend's Guide, you name it. I'm a lawyer, so there must be some answer out there, and if I just look hard enough, I'll find it, right? Right?

With our son, I haven't read a thing. Well, ok, picked up the week-by-week once, glanced through to remind myself when they generally roll over, sit up, etc.

Overall, I'd say the Girlfriends' Guide was the most useful overall. She pretty much tells you that no matter what you do, things will not be what you expect, so get used to it. Which strikes me as pretty much the only thing you really need to know!

I also appreciated "Raising your Spirited Child" and another book that I can't recall now (something like "The Difficult Child" -- it had several categories, one of which was "the Defiant Child" -- mine!). My daughter is definitely out of the norm and extremely challenging. These books helped me understand what causes her behavior (i.e., even though her defiance makes her seem strong and confident, it's really her response to feeling insecure and powerless, being overstimulated, etc.) and thus figure out better ways to manage her. That light bulb moment made all the difference in our family.

Posted by: Laura | May 26, 2006 1:26 PM

I read tons of books on childrearing. Some of them were helpful, but none of them were completely correct. I grew up in the late 70's/early 80's and know all about the dearth of parenting then. Benign neglect, we call it. But I wanted to chime in on the sleep issue. When my baby was nearly one, or maybe just past, we decided to try the cry-it-out thing. I lasted twenty minutes then checked on her. She was covered in puke. I doused her in the tub, changed her jammies and held her until she slept. We were trying to get her to fall asleep without nursing (I know--hush). The second night I stayed kissed her, put her in the crib, and stayed. Everytime she got up, I laid her down. I counted--33 times we did this before she slept. The next night was more like 15, the third, none. I was pleasant and loving for the duration. Sleeping issues suck. (the puke was from screaming--she wasn't sick)

Posted by: aa | May 26, 2006 1:32 PM

I've been talking with friends working on the Hill. Nothing. Just them, stuck in their offices, no lunch, no ducking out early for vacation, no news... No one seems concerned, either.

Posted by: washington | May 26, 2006 1:40 PM

Thanks for the DC update.

Posted by: June | May 26, 2006 1:46 PM

Good for you Father of 4, who is letting his child sleep whereever. Sometimes we look at what society wants us to do and think we are abnormal because our behavior is different. We do not trust our own intuition - that is to provide stability and love for our child in the way that suits our individuality, not instructions from a book. Every child is different, every parent different. You have to see what works for you and most of all trust your intuition. So many years ago, they told mothers that formula was just as good - these kids are now grown ups with a ton of allergies (they even used to put msg in formula). Then, Ferber said crying it out was the only way and your baby should be trained to sleep. Just the other day I read an article that says Ferber is now saying co-sleeping is not bad, and everyone has to do what works for them.... In Asian cultures, co-sleeping is common and so is a strong sense of love and family... here in America people think that it is all about them... Books are silly in that they dictate what would work in your situation. Again - a mother's love and intuition is more important.

In my personal situation, I am a mother of a 1 1/2 year old who sleeps with my husband and I. Yes, at times we talk about getting her out (;-)) She has a strong personality and I'm sure would cry all night, something I'm too tired to deal with (since we both work full time), and in either case don't want to put her through. I love her more than anything, and would never put her through that much emotional discouragement. Having her sleep with us also gives us some special cuddle time with her that is priceless.

Posted by: DD | May 26, 2006 1:56 PM

Ann Hulbert's book "raising America" reviews all the "mom advice" over the past hundred years. Shows you should take it all with a grain of salt! Loved it!

Review from

Ultimately, Hulbert's story is as much about the parents (mostly mothers) who digested the experts' advice as it is about the experts themselves. She concludes that, in the face of so much contradictory information, parents can't, and shouldn't, attempt to follow experts' advice to the letter. Instead, she writes, "no fine-tuned scheme for shaping futures lies in the experts' manuals, much less in their own homes." Experience, not expertise, is usually a parent's best teacher, and the readers of RAISING AMERICA, whether their own parenthood is fresh or seasoned, will be reassured by that message.

Posted by: LRS | May 26, 2006 2:04 PM

I'm going to have to add to the previous posters' endorsements of Catherine Newman's Waiting for Birdy and her weekly column. My son is 6 months than Birdy and I don't have any "parent" friends that I am close to, so her weekly column gives me advice, a good belly laugh, and the occassional sniffles.
I hated "What to Expect..." and gave it away a month into my pregnancy. So much guilt in one little book.
I could use a good potty training book as my son is completely resistant to potty training.
Finally, I'd like to add th at I read various child rearing books, but have pretty much made it up as I've gone along and I've done a good job of raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted 21/2 year old. Now if I could get my husband to be more patient with his son and improve their adversarial relationship, we'd be in great shape.

Posted by: WI Lurker Mom | May 26, 2006 2:04 PM

Hands down, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth is the most helpful book I've ever read. I followed his advice, and both of my kids sleep from 7pm to 7:30am every night (and the little guy still naps as well). I believe the children are healthier and happier for it.

Posted by: JM | May 26, 2006 2:04 PM

I don't read mothering/parenting books and haven't for a long time. When the first of my 3 children was a baby, I had a shelf full of books that I would regularly turn to whenever I had a question. Each time I did, I was convinced that I was about to do, or worse, had already done, something wrong.

Finally, my wise mother, who raised 5 of her own, said "If your baby has a rash and you have no idea why, check the books. Otherwise, go with your instinct when it comes to your children." For me, that was the best advice I've gotten as a parent.

Like Father of 4, I gave up on the Ferber approach and followed my instinct and let my little breastfeeding babies sleep with me and my husband. Everyone slept well that way, and the children continue to be very close to us even though they long ago started sleeping on their own.

Posted by: MM | May 26, 2006 2:29 PM

My son sleeps in my bed also. We did it initially for the same reasons as Father of 4. It was convenient and comfortable to have the baby close when I was nursing. It is a hard habit to break, and we just have not done it yet. Frankly, it has not been important enough for us to get him out of our bed to make an issue out of it. We have a king sized bed. When we want alone time we just go to the spare bedroom instead. Our son pretty much thinks of the king sized bed as his bed, which he shares with us. On Saturday evenings when we are all tired, we rent family movies, make popcorn, and go upstairs to watch TV in our big bed. It is great family time. Sometimes, we argue about who gets the middle. My son always wants to be in the middle, but sometimes husband and I want to cuddle, but no biggie, he just cuddles with us. I think sleeping all together has bonded our family beautifully. Sometimes, late at night, when all is silent, I will just lay there and listen as my guys breathe as the sleep. It feels warm and safe, and we are all together. Can't beat that feeling for anything on earth.

Posted by: the family bed | May 26, 2006 2:33 PM

I don't have kids, but am currently trying to get pregnant. I bought What to Expect and some other books on pregnancy and how to prepare for pregnancy when we started trying in September. For 3 or 4 months I stayed away from blue cheese, caffeine, cookie dough (raw eggs), etc etc. We tried every recommended sexual position. I laid on my back with my legs up in the air for 30 minutes afterwards. I bought ovulation predictors and made sure we did on exactly the right day. I was so sure we were going to do it "Right" and I'd get pregnant on the first or second try with a perfect baby and a perfect pregnancy during which I would do everything right.

9 months later I have determined that all of this did nothing but stress me out, and we are back to just having frequent sex and I have stopped spending the last two weeks of my cycle hoping not to get my period.

I hope that all of this has prepared me to let go of trying to be perfect and follow all the advice. The books I bought were great when I had a specific question like "just how late do I have to be for that pregnancy test to work." But overall I think I have stopped obsessing and I am ready to just "be" a parent. I have come to realize that taking a little longer than I would have liked to get pregnant was preparing me to let go of perfection.

My mother told me something really insightful when I told her we were trying to have a baby. I'm the oldest, and she said she spent my childhood trying to do everything right, and I was pretty colicky and difficult to boot. She was a wreck. When my brother came along, he had serious heart problems and almost died. At that point, she says she decided just to be happy with every day she had with us. Now I'm a neurotic perfectionist and my brother is easy-going and well-adjusted. My mother blames herself, but she was just doing the best she could. ;-) But she told me the best thing to do as a parent is just to let go and "be."

I'm sure that's easier said than done. I hope I get to find out soon.

Posted by: waiting | May 26, 2006 2:39 PM

I do find it interesting how obsessed we are as a society with infants' sleep. My son sleeps with us most of the time, and as I said before, we've never been able to get him into a consistent bedtime for more than a few weeks at a time. We've finally just accepted that when he's teething, or sick, or experiencing a developmental milestone, or some other stress, his sleep habits will change, and we're pretty much ok with it.

But it really seems to bother other people (like grandparents, co-workers, strangers who stop you in the street) if your baby doesn't sleep through the night, it's like it's a sign of bad parenting or something. Which makes it much more stressful. I remember someone asking me if he was sleeping through the night 5 days after he was born, and they haven't stopped since. We have such high expectations of babies' sleep. And yet we totally accept that as adults we all have different sleeping patterns - some people are night owls, some are early birds, some sleep heavily, some lightly, some need 10 hours, some only 5, etc etc. Why can't we accept the same thing about our children? Obviously if they have to get up early in the morning for school or day care, it's our job as parents to make sure they get enough sleep to do that, but outside of that, who really cares how long my baby sleeps and at what hours?

Sorry to rant on like that, it's just something I think is so weird. I feel like sleep issues would be much less sucky, as aa so aptly put it, if we didn't assign so many other values to the issue.

Posted by: Megan | May 26, 2006 2:43 PM

To waiting --

I'm sorry it's been so difficult for you to get pregnant. We had problems ourselves, so I know how hard and frustrating and sad that is. I would encourage you to go see a reproductive endocrinologist, just for a checkup, if you can -- there is, in all likelihood, absolutely NOTHING wrong, but sometimes some fairly simple blood tests can identify some hidden problems that can be easily fixable. In retrospect, one of the best things that happened to us was when my Ob/gyn referred us to a specialist -- conventional wisdom says wait a year of trying or 3 miscarriages (3!!!) before seeing a specialist, but luckily for us, he thought that was outdated and sent us over early in the game. I was sure he was wrong (I'd done everything "right" my whole life, so how could I possibly have some sort of problem?), horrified at even the suggestion. But it turned out I did have some hormonal problems, and that they were definitely treatable. Now we have two kids that we never would have been able to have without that help.

From your post, it sounds like you'll be a great mom -- you've already got the big "secret" of parenthood figured out!

Posted by: Laura | May 26, 2006 3:03 PM

Sleep, sleeeep.

Every one of our three was different. After 6 months we got my son to sleep in his crib buy letting him yell for 5 mins, then 10mins. We would go into the room with him and lie down next to the crib and talk after putting him down, with blanky of course. Sometimes my wife would end up falling asleep on the guest bed in the baby's room. With daughter number one, she always wanted to be read to, rocked and sung to and was easy - as long as we had her bunny. She also had the advantage fo watch her brother go to bed. Then 6 years later we had daughter number two. She re-writes the book. She is the only binky baby we have had, no rocking, no singing, light sleeper - ie dont even THINK of going in there after she's down - - or she'll be UP. But she's finally getting batter now that she's three. Such a light sleeper that when I would have a cold - AAAACCHHOOO! at like 3AM, a little voice would come accross the monitor. "Hey Dad?! Is that you? Are you OK?" I would have to answer or she'd persist, "Yes Sweetie I'm fine. Thanks. Go back to Sleep." "ok." She's also the only one that when you call her name she answers from anywhere. Sometimes we still have to show her her brother and sister are in bed before she'll go down, doesnt want to miss out on anything ya know. What a trip. The moon is high, the sea is deep, they rock, and rock and rock to sleep.

Posted by: Father of 3 | May 26, 2006 3:19 PM

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day - Judith Viorst

The Runaway Bunny - Margaret Wise Brown

Where the Sidewalk Ends- Shell Siverstein

And - The Prophet - Omar Kayam

No, not for the kids --- for me. Reminded me on a daily basis - that my "... children were not my children, but life's longing for itself."

The kids are now 19 and 23. We all survived.

Posted by: Mom in Columbia, MO | May 26, 2006 3:27 PM

For "Waiting", if you haven't already read it, "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" is a good one and seems to have been a good luck charm for many of us.

A book I really liked if one is inclined to breastfeed is "So That's What They're For". It is not heavy handed and crunch granola like some of the others (not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I did read many of the others mentioned early on and there was lots of good stuff in them. However, now that I don't have a mysterious creature called a baby, but a 4 year old, I feel that common sense rules. Most of my reading now centers on Madeline, the Ingalls girls or that devilish Fox in Sox.

Posted by: Mom of a 4yo | May 26, 2006 4:27 PM

This huge genre of books owes its existence to the success of Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care. The irony is that Spock was not enthusiastic about writing a book for those he considered to be hyperconscientious mothers. As was pointed out earlier, his message was not one of permissiveness but rather of paying close attention to children and providing them "loving leadership" in terms that they could understand. He might well think that today's parents are spending too much time reading about parenting and not enough time actually oobserving and interacting with their children.

Posted by: amstphd | May 26, 2006 4:51 PM

My mom raised me by Spock and her instincts; she was 40 when she had me (almost unheard of in 1967!) She said she was terrified when she brought me home and couldn't imagine how she'd keep me alive. . . and three weeks later she couldn't imagine leaving me with anyone else, because by that time she knew what every little cry meant.

I'll bet people thought Spock was "permissive" because about the only childrearing advice up to that time was "Children are to be seen and not heard."

I do think it's interesting that Spock became THE baby and child-rearing expert; an awful lot of the book, if you've read it, is encouragement for mothers to figure out their own children and do what seems right for them!

Posted by: wenholdra | May 26, 2006 6:20 PM

Like Father of 4 and many others, our DS (now 3.5) has slept with us since early on. We tried Ferber and couldn't stomach it. Yesterday, we moved the twin bed that had been attached to our queen bed into his room to replace the old double (the "guest" bed) he had been sleeping on. For the first time since birth, he a) slept through the night and b) did so in his own bed! I barely slept; hubby got up a couple times to check on him. But sleep he did! We only did this because in the last few weeks he's started kicking us all night long (or so it seems) and none of us were sleeping well.

As far as books, Elizabeth's Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution is full of great advice, and if none of that works then there's a yahoo website full of parents dealing with same issues and also full of good advice.

Posted by: Mommy2aQT | May 26, 2006 7:58 PM

For Waiting,
If you are 30 or over, you should definitely consult a fertility specialist. It can be frustrating to try and try and not get pregnant. Both partners should get tested; it is actually easiest to find out if there is a male problem without any invasive medical procedures. I started trying at age 31 & ultimately got pregnant at 34 and a half. The trying to get pregnant part was definitely tough on our marriage & I even saw a counselor.
If you're younger, you have plenty of time, so you needn't worry too much.

Posted by: Been there | May 26, 2006 9:20 PM

Books.. yeah. Our son slept in our bed, in fact on my chest, until he got too heavy, and this was the happiest and most lovely thing one can imagine. Then Ms "Baby Whisperer" told me that this was a terrible, terrible thing to have done, so, at six months, it was time to graduate him to his crib. However, she said, it will be too late and he will have been completely ruined. We put him in the crib alongside our bed and he screamed and screamed. That's it: we've done it. Ruined for life. Then my husband had a brilliant idea: he turned him onto his tummy, and my son settled down and fell asleep. Great! Now we get to murder him with SIDS.

Penelope Leach is more fun-- less judgmental and prescriptive, more about understanding your child. However, she lacks practical advice: when you are in the airport and your child refuses to walk or get in his stroller and you are trying to get to the car with a suitcase and the kid is shrieking at the top of his voice, well, what exactly do you DO.

I concur with recommendations for "Waiting for Birdy", particularly while waiting for one's own birdy (vital questions answered, or at least also asked, such as how can you possibly love the second one as much as the first?).

In the end, while I like reading child-rearing books from time to time, particularly to do spot-checks on milestones, we have gone with intuition, consistency with our personal style and our family self-image and an attempt to understand our kid and how he works.

Posted by: luckymum | May 27, 2006 3:12 AM

WI lurker mum: sorry to use this blog for parenting advice, but just wanted to say that our son was completely resistant to potty training and never used the potty at all. At 3 and a bit, his daycare teacher proposed a plan to us in collaboration with her: set aside a weekend and go diaperfree, taking him to the toilet every half hour or so. She talked it up with him at school and we prepared him for it for a week or two in advance as well, going on a special trip to buy some underpants of his choice. We had some small treats to encourage him to keep going and at the end of the weekend there was a reward of a choice of a toy. He went along with it, although there was some frustration and an accident, but after the weekend was up, he was pretty much perfect. After a week we got rid of the night-time diaper as well. He had maybe 4 accidents altogether, mostly from having trouble with his pants once at the potty, and none since the first month or two. Other mom friends have found this as well-- wait til they are ready, then it's easy. Boys in particular may often not be ready til 3. It's fine.

Posted by: luckymum | May 27, 2006 3:38 AM

I found this entry when looking for more info for working moms. It's funny, because I last month I commented in my blog about how difficult it is to find information to relate to as a part-time working mom (who runs her own business full time when you tally the hours I work at night and when my daughter naps). I hope to find somethiing I can relate to in one of these books. Thanks for the info.

Posted by: Ami French | May 28, 2006 2:08 PM

Hi All,
I am one of the co-author's of "Mommy Guilt" and what does set our book apart from the run of the mill "self-help" genre is Mommy Guilt does not rely upon the expertise of the experts, but rather chooses to encourage PARENTS to be the experts, because like Dr. Spock said "Parents, you know more than you think you do". You are the one's living with your family, my guess would be none of the parenting experts are bunking at your house. In Mommy Guilt, we conducted a survey of over 1300 parnts, mainly moms, and found 96% felt guilt associated with parenting. Then we divided the book into chapters where we address what our survey respondents reported as the most guilt producing, such as Yelling, housework, time management.... Our book also includes actual stories from survey respondents and the book was purposefully constructed so that only the first three chapters are designed to "read thru" the rest of the book is reference and can be picked up and put down at will and as needed. After all, most of us moms have little time to sit down and consume a book from start to finish in one sitting! we hope you will visit and read an excerpt from our book at Our book isn't so much "self-help" as it is about figuring out what works for YOUR family and YOU. Tweaking, adjusting or ditching ideas as you move along thru your parenting years, but the bottom line is enjoying your parenting. After all, who goes into parenting seeking misery and torment? Parenting is a gift, meant to be opened and enjoyed! Thanks for pointing our book out Leslie!

Posted by: Devra Renner | May 29, 2006 9:01 PM

My two favorite books, hands down are
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. What I love about this book is that it is full of information about sleep and the importance of sleep and it has been invaluable to me.

The second book is Child of Mine: Original Essays on Becoming a Mother: by Christina Baker Kline. I absolutely love these essays. They helped me feel not as alone as a new mom. I highly recommend this book.

These two books are the books I buy every new mom I know.

Posted by: Soleil ( working mom of 2) | May 31, 2006 3:33 PM

The swell book - "Toilet Training in Less than a Day" by Nathan Azrin is available in many libraries and also still in print. I used it in 1978 to potty train my first son just after his 2nd birthday. The training actually took one weekend (so is do-able even for working parents.) I used tiny boxes of raisins as rewards. (We also had an anatomically-correct, wetting, baby boy doll for demonstration purposes but my son didn't like it.)

Important for success: read the entire book first, believe in the method, be very consistent and focus - don't plan on doing ANYTHING else that weekend, don't alter the method, and only ONE parent should do the training. After the training, show your child how to ask for/find/use the toilet in non-home situations (daycare,play group, grandma's house, etc).

I was more casual about training my second child at age 2 1/2 and so it took a few weeks. It was difficult to dedicate an entire weekend or set of days to the effort with the distractions of the other child.

I wish I had kept the book but am glad it's still in print for my grandkids.

What didn't work: My sister-in-law had a difficult time training her first son so when the second one was past two she started gradually introducing him to the "concept" of the potty, in a "fun" way. She bought colorful potties and placed them on all three levels of their home. She read him picture books about pottying, over and over again. She bought a video(Once Upon a Potty), which he loved watching and asked for every day. BUT, when she finally thought he was "ready" (months had gone by) - he had no personal interest in using the potty and became upset every time she suggested it. He still loved the books and video, however! After awhile, she hid the books and video. And, eventually, he used the potty.

Posted by: granny | June 1, 2006 9:44 AM

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