Anyone who owns a book collection and a garden wants for nothing. — Cicero
Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore? — Henry Ward Beecher
I have a problem. Two, actually. The first is that I completely identify with the Beecher quote. I cannot stop myself sometimes when it comes to books, especially certain subjects of non-fiction. If you look at my bookshelves around the house (and on my iPad), you will see several books that could easily fill a small run on a decent sized library shelf. Especially in the areas of gardening, food/agriculture, freethought/atheism, and nature-related books. I might not have the latest designer shoe or handbag in my closet (or one from the last 5 years, for that matter), but because of my books I can tell you how to make compost tea and why GMO seeds are a multi-faceted catastrophe already in the making. Sexy, right?
And, apparently, I also have a penchant for parenting and child development books. This is where the second problem comes in: my knee-jerk reaction to solve problems or understand things by reading a book about it. Given my enormous curiosity about children and how they develop—and, more to the (honest) point, my constant underlying self-doubt that I am “doing it wrong” and need assistance in some circumstances that might be tackled with good old common sense for others—it makes sense that I have seem to have started quite a collection of parenting/child related books.
But until I rearranged some clutter around the house a few weekends ago, I wasn’t even really conscious of just how much I’ve actually read over the past 5+ years since M was born. So, I took a good hard look at the evidence. Verdict: I’ve clearly got a problem.
Not including the books that I may have borrowed from the library, here’s the breakdown:
Here’s what’s presently on my bookshelf:
So, not counting the sewing book, that’s 24 books right there. TWENTY-FOUR! But wait…
Here’s what I just finished reading last week (not pictured above):
Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress and Anxiety, Donna B. Pincus, Ph.D. [more on this one down the road, but I must say it is, by far, one of the best parenting books—like top 3 best—I've ever read. Seriously...this book has saved our household and helped M move past some very, very challenging roadblocks. Parents of kids with anxious temperments, stay tuned for my thoughts on this one in a future post.]
Books that I own(ed) but have since loaned out/given away:
The Nursing Mother’s Companion, Kathleen Huggins
The Milk Memos: How Real Moms Learned How to Mix Business With Babies, Cate Colburn-Smith and Andrea Serrette
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (7th ed.), La Leche League International
What to Expect The First Year, Sandee Hathaway et al.
Touchpoints: Birth to Three, T. Berry Brazelton
Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare (8th ed.), Benjamin Spock and Robert Needlman
Above All, Be Kind, Zoe Weil
Buddhism for Mothers, Sarah Napthali
No-Cry Sleep Solution for Babies: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Elizabeth Pantley (*notice in the photo I also purchased the NCSS for toddlers/preschoolers later on…though that says more about me than the book’s worth)
The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure and Confident Child Using the Science of Attachment Theory, Ruth Newton, Ph.D. and Allan Schore, Ph.D.
Books on my iPad
Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief, Dale McGowan
It’s No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child’s Wetting, Constipation, UTIs and Other Potty Problems, Steve J. Hodges, M.D. (pediatric urologist)
The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, Elaine N. Aron
Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, Lenore Skenazy
Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
The Idle Parent: Why Laid-back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids, Tom Hodgkinson
Books that I’ve borrowed from close friends:
The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Harvey Karp
Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
In sum, that’s a whopping 43 books that I’ve purchased or borrowed (save for 2 or 3 that were gifts) since M was born. See? I told you that Beecher quote resonates for a reason! That’s an an average of 8 books a year since she was born. However, that figure does not count the probably half dozen I read from the library, or the hundreds of internet and magazine articles I’ve read.
It helps that I read pretty quickly. I’ve always been able to read fast, but it’s a skill I that I further finely tuned during law school where working during the day meant I had to really crank through voluminous material whenever I could…turns out these are circumstances that mirror raising a child! I also read multiple books at a time (my husband doesn’t understand this trait of mine…he’s a linear reader while I’m a multi-tasker). I say all this just to reassure everyone that I am actually a present parent despite all of this reading, that I’m not just some armchair bibliophile that tends to M only when she needs food or water.
So, these books. Have they helped me in any way? Generally speaking, yes. Some I read for reassurance that I really was doing the “right thing”, and by that I mean primarily the health/sickness related stuff when she was really little (2 and under). Before M was born, I did not have much exposure to young children (indeed I was almost afraid of them!) and so my confidence plummeted and anxiety skyrocketed anytime fever or a rash appeared. So the scene would play out like this: M had some symptoms, I read Dr. Spock, I called my mom, probably did a quick Internet search “just to be sure”, and then I called the pediatrician. But that was then, and I liked those books for that boost of confidence and knowledge. Now, I trust my instincts (without books) so much better and just go with my gut on when it’s something to ride out with TLC, some juice and too much TV, or when it’s time to head to the doctors’ office.
Some of them I read for a book club that focused on parenting-related books (which has since fizzled out), and there were some gems found among those reads. Some I read looking for well-researched support for our approach to certain aspects of child-rearing (like the decision not to use flashcards and the like, our approach to very limited TV watching, avoiding certain kinds of toxins around the house, etc.). Some I read when I needed fresh ideas for how to tackle long-standing roadblocks (sleep habits at night, gentle approaches to discipline that thought outside the box). In the past year, the books have primarily been related to some very specific issues that M has faced due to her anxious (but improving) temperment and, quite frankly, we needed serious help.
But why books? Why not ask around to more seasoned folks, like grandparents or parents of older kids who’ve already gone through the ringer? Sometimes I do that too (or instead), but I’ve found that I’m generally not finding the in-depth problem/solution analysis that I get from books. I like to know the why of the problem, and unless I ask hundreds of friends about their experiences, I am really only getting an anecdote based on one family’s experience. I like the perspective of someone who’s “seen it all” and can make it objective and rational rather than subjective. That’s not to say that I haven’t gotten good advice or ideas from friends, because I certainly have, but I just find that I am someone who likes, and needs, to know all sides of the problem and all the possibilities of how to solve it.
Books allow for that. They also allow me to come back to them, in the middle of the night or the middle of tears (M’s or mine) if I have to. I’m not sure if some of my friends want me calling them while I’m actually in the throes of a tearful school drop-off, but I can easily check back through my books for some reinforcement of ideas and advice I’ve since forgotten. Books add an element of objectivity–both from my end and from the author who does not know me from a hole in the wall and will speak frankly, not just what I want to hear. Sure, I can (and often do) commiserate with parent-friends of mine (and anyone else who will listen), but surely they have their own problems and daily struggles to deal with, often with more than one child, and they certainly are not going to have the time I need to flesh out my own. My books are like sentries lined up on my shelf, ready to be skimmed during battle and used as a tool or shield in unsavory circumstances. Or thrown, if need be. (Kidding!)
As time marches on, I find myself now being drawn to books about girls within our culture more so than “developmental milestone” and personality trait type of books that I have recently favored. I think it is because I have some hesitation and ignorance about the present-day realities of girls and the interplay between self-esteem, body image, confidence and societal roles and expectations. It’s why I picked up Packaging Girlhood not too long after M was born. In fact, I have not actually finished Packaging Girlhood yet. It’s one of those books that is almost too depressing to read, but now I am at a place, given M’s age, where I really want to understand the way marketing works toward girls in particular, and how to either stay out of the fray or at least speak out against it. I think I will re-start and finish this one next. (Incidentally, there is a counterpart book entitled Packaging Boyhood, for anyone who might be interested.)
It is these kinds of “food for thought” books that I imagine will start lining my shelves next, but with the following quote as guidance:
Keep reading books, but remember that a book is only a book, and you should learn to think for yourself. – Maxim Gorky
So, out of all these, which books would I recommend? I do have about a handful of these books listed here that I would highly recommend. That will be the next post, ideally later this week. But if there is a particular book photographed/listed above that you would like my thoughts on, let me know that too (on Facebook, leaving a comment on the blog, etc.). Also, let me know what books you’ve found to be interesting or helpful, particularly for the young school-aged child (I’m talking to you, more seasoned parents!)
In closing, I leave you with this wonderful quote that I recently stumbled upon:
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. – Haruki Murakami
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz