12 Parenting Books Worth Your Time

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I have curated a list of parenting related titles that have been informative and interesting to me. I have read probably close to a hundred books about parenting. The biggest shortfalls I have experienced are those books that are (a) impractical; (b) unnecessarily labor intensive; (c) contrary to my beliefs regarding best parenting practices (e.g. supremely authoritarian based); d) boring; (e) not research based; or (f) simply do not work in reality or for my children. This list does not include any of the titles that I picked up and finished reading, but were a failure, or books highly recommended to me but unrealistic, or books that recommended absolute results, but did not deliver. I also tried to exclude books that were strictly related to homeschooling, although one or two could be considered to straddle the line.

This are my favorite books, ranked roughly in the order of esteem in which they are held by me, personally.

I hope you enjoy!

1. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson

This is my absolute favorite parenting book ever. I have written before about one of the most profound takeaways for me as a parent from this book was the research-backed problems with the so called “color blind” based approach to teaching children about race. However, the book’s is not limited to those lessons. I read it towards the beginning of our homeschooling journey, and it was absolutely foundational in my thinking as not only a homeschooler but as a parent.

2. Choosing Home: 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World edited by Rachel Chaney & Kerry McDonald

I was delighted, during the course of preparing this list, to discover that Kerry McDonald was one of the editors of this absolutely fantastic anthology. Unlike a similar title, Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, which focuses on the ways in which women leave their professions to mother and therefore suffer as a result of having to “sacrifice” their professional ambitions, Choosing Home focuses on what women gain. It is also a masterful collection of narratives detailing how women are able to blend their professional ambitions with their personal convictions, leading to a more balanced result than the kind of life achieved through the obsession with “leaning in,” as it were.

This book validates the fact that there are many, many, different ways to homeschool/parent that do not place mothers in the position of martyrs. If you are looking for a book about empowering you to “choose home,” this is the book for you!

3. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough

Perseverance in the face of adversity and resilience of character are the two most important factors that drive how I raise my children. I vehemently believe that raising children of good character who can think creatively and find solutions to problems will be the best equipped to face the unknowns of the future. It draws on similar principals of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, but deals specifically with parenting. I read it originally in 2013, but I think I will have to revisit it because it remains an issue of critical importance as we raise the leaders of the next generation.

4. The Gardener and The Carpenter: What The New Science of Child Development Tells Us About The Relationship Between Parents and Children, by Alison Gopnik

This book was such an exciting revelation. My oldest child had participated in one of the research studies mentioned in the book, which was conducted by students from UC Berkeley. (She has also participated in research studies conducted by Stanford University. These opportunities abound within the children’s science museum venues of the Bay Area).

Anyhow, it is essentially the anathema to tiger mom based parenting, which I’ll address later. It discusses, based on research and personal anecdotes, the role parents think they play versus the role they actually play in the determination of their children’s development. Highly recommend, especially for research based addicts.

5. Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Toward Sanctification, by Cindy Rollins

This is probably the most honest book about homeschooling ever written. Rollins is a Christian mother who raised 9 children, 8 boys and 1 girl. She covers topics familiar to homeschooling parents, such as the guilt over being unable to afford big box curriculum versus the shallow education derived from primarily relying on workbooks–through times where they were a necessity for her family. I found the tales of the different homes they lived in to be particularly entertaining.

Despite swerving into Christian based rhetoric a small percentage of the time, her facility with the English language combined with her lightly self-deprecating humor over the adventures her boys got themselves into will leave you feeling (1) not alone; and (2) glad it wasn’t your boys stirring up all that trouble. This is a super sweet title.

6. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, by Ben Sasse (U.S. Senator)

This book follows on the coattails of Grit & NurtureShock, with a deep dive into the relevance of raising children who are capable and self-reliant. I can tell you that based on Early Childhood Educator reports, some children are being raised in a manner where they can’t even pour liquids on their own in second grade. Seriously.

Sasse does convey a sense of moral superiority, and in my opinion there is an over reliance on religious themes (from a Christian perspective), but the overall message is certainly worth the grain of salt necessary to persevere to the end. I have witnessed the devolution in not only ambition but basic competence to complete routine tasks in the rising generations, and it is quite disconcerting.

Sasse specifically addresses the myth that more funding leads to better educational outcomes through one particularly illustrative example.

In the first quarter of the book you’ll learn that Senator Sasse’s children are homeschooled, which seems to be a foregone conclusion if we are to believe that he practices what he preaches. Worth your time, with the recognition that this is a conservative politician with a staunchly Christian perspective.

7. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, by Meghan Cox Gurdon

I learned of this lovely book while listening to the author being interviewed on the Read Aloud Revival Podcast. It discusses the neurological based research behind the benefits of reading aloud to children. It is an inspirational text, and touches on the themes you would imagine the title implies.

8. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein

This is a must read for girl moms. It discusses the marketing agendas behind American Girl Dolls, Disney, and consumerism in general. It was further illuminating with regard to the over-sexualization of young girls in present times. TL;DR it’s all about the marketing. Is it ever not? It takes an anthropological perspective, and points to different areas of the author’s research which may be of interest to readers.

9. The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

Not parenting related, per se, but at the same time begs the question as to what the end goal of life and all that it entails should be. Another title I should probably re-read soon.

10. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

I can’t recall what it was that drove me to read this book, recently. It was sort of a joke to myself, as my husband and I are probably within the farthest category from Tiger parents as you can get, as far as lawyers with children are concerned.

This book was simultaneously cringe worthy (hello the opposite of basically everything modern education theorists recommend), humorous, and vindicating. It was worth the read to confirm that the way we parent is in full recognition that our children will likely never reach the same heights as Chua’s girls, but that we’re ok with that because of the quality of our relationship and our family life. Getting my two girls (who ironically play the same instruments in the same birth order as Chua’s girls: 1st piano, 2nd violin) to complete a mediocre practice session for just 30 minutes 6 days a week is strenuous enough to bear.

The ending of the book was further satisfaction of our beliefs with regard to this form of strong arming one’s child into success. That being said, I respect the author’s intentions and desire to set her children up for the sparkling futures that they are currently living (e.g. one is clerking for a Supreme Court Justice).

11. More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, by Serena B. Miller

This book falls within the nostalgic category of simpler times that lulls us into believing that it might be worth sacrificing the nature of our day to day lives in exchange for the deep friendships and tightly interconnected communities of Amish families who face similar struggles with things such as iphones and videogames, believe it or not. Another sweet read. (I wasn’t convinced to forego electricity or wifi, obviously.)

12. Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, by Martha Beck

I read this book while I was expecting my third child, a son. I can’t recall how I came across it. It may have been a featured title at Target. It’s about a mother negotiating a second pregnancy during the completion of graduate school, I believe, at Harvard University. (She holds a BA, MA & PhD from Harvard). She details the challenges she underwent upon learning that her son was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. You can imagine how a woman expecting a son would be treated in this scenario, and yet she persevered and wrote an inspirational tale of all that she endured.

The author maintains a strong social media presence dedicated to positive thinking and inspirational speaking. This title isn’t parenting related, per se, except that it does deal with a mother and her life. Definitely worth the read.

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