Our favorite books that will change the way you think about parenthood

As parenting has become something we are thinking more and more about, it’s not surprising that we are continually seeking out more help to navigate its increasingly tricky terrain. Each of these books offers a unique insight—through the lens of culture or gender or child development—into what it is to be a mom or dad in our changing modern world.

All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior

alljoyandnofunThe quintessential commentary on the “paradox of modern parenting.” We are a generation of parents more invested in our children than ever before: we participate far more in their day-to-day lives, we attend to the details of their upbringing with far more intensiveness. Our kids, in other words, infuse our lives with an unprecedented existential meaning, and yet, and yet we aren’t particularly happy. This brilliant sociological study unpacks the apparent contradiction.

Baby Meets World, by Nicholas Day


Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle: Day infuses these otherwise mundane infant activities with fascinating brush strokes of color. Through a cocktail of personal reflection, scientific investigation and cross-cultural examination, we learn that many of the things we take for granted as set in stone when it comes to raising a baby are anything but. Wet nurses, early displays of emotion, bonding, the metrics of normality, this wonderfully engaging book gets to grips with the baby’s world…from the baby’s perspective.

Bringing up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman


As an American raising her children in Paris, Druckerman is able to shine a spotlight onto “French parenting,” and what makes it so damn appealing. The wee ones sit charmingly through meals that don’t include fish fingers or applesauce, while their parents carve out ample time to be full-fledged adults and not just chronic caretakers. Bringing up Bébé is a stylish, well-observed memoir, but it is also a vehicle through which to engage in some gentle—but necessary—cultural self-reflection.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein


For feminist parents of daughters everywhere, Orenstein’s book is required reading. Girlhood today is laden with an emphasis on looks and on being nice; premature sexualization abounds in the media. Your daughter’s obsession with pink and princesses in the early years may seem innocuous enough, but with wit and a deft hand Orenstein paints a more circumspect picture of our “girly-girl” culture—one that serves as both a guide and a warning.

On Immunity, by Eula Bliss


A nuanced, detailed exploration of immunizations—and also of parental fear. Bliss weaves personal anecdote and scientific analysis to bring to light the latest research on vaccines, immunity, hygiene, germs and our understanding of risk. This genre-bending book is a intriguing account of modern parenting as seen through the lens of the lengths we will go to protect our children.

Perfect Madness, by Judith Warner


This is a haunting, bold, and in-depth look at the dark side of intensive parenting: its structural and societal causes, and what it means for mothers in particular. The birth of children inevitably invites new stresses into a person’s life, but why are mothers today suffering from such an unprecedented degree of anxiety? Warner calls it the “mommy mystique”—the debilitating web of beliefs that we alone are responsible for our children’s success and happiness—and she unfurls the implications brilliantly, if not alarmingly, in this sociological study of “motherhood in the age of anxiety.”

Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot


Absolutely essential reading on gender differences in a child’s growing brain—the reality and, more importantly, the myths. A neuroscientist who works in the field of “plasticity,” Eliot is a breath of fresh air as she chronicles how the brain changes in response to its own experience and the role that this plays in gender development. Far from being innate, we come to see, the differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are exacerbated by our own stereotypical behavior as adults. This behavior creates “troublesome gaps” between our sons and our daughters, gaps which this book will help parents reduce.

Untangled, by Lisa Damour


A smart and systematic examination of the female transition from childhood to adolescence. As a clinical psychologist with a specialty in teenage girls, Damour sees predictable patterns in how they develop. Isolating seven distinct “strands” of growth, the book is full of sound, practical advice about how to parent through the “normal” issues tween and teen girls struggle with, such as harnessing their emotions and rejecting authority. But it also lets you know when it’s time to worry.

Child, Please, by Ylonda Gault Caviness


Caviness starts her parenting journey in the way of many modern mothers, sacrificially and intensively. And very differently from how she was raised herself. Over time, though, she realizes her own Mama had it right—a smart, strong, black woman full of “old-school” wisdom. This is the story of how those lessons helped Caviness “check herself” before she “wrecked herself.” You can read Motherwell’s excerpt of Child, Please here.

The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey


In an age where parents are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before, and more invested in their success, Lahey’s book is a breath of fresh air. A middle school teacher who has witnessed the worst of helicopter parenting, she shines a light on how crucial it is to step back and let our kids fail, in big ways and small, and offers pragmatic advice on how to encourage them to take responsibly for themselves. See Motherwell’s author Q&A with Jessica Lahey here.

Girls & Sex, by Peggy Orenstein


A bold and original cultural commentary on exactly what it says in the title. Orenstein has interviewed over 70 girls in this book to uncover what they think, feel and fear about sex in the twenty-first century. The results will make you cringe and they will make you livid, but the take-home is a crucial one. Open dialogue with your daughters—and sons—about sexual consent, pleasure, reciprocity and dignity is the only way forward. See Motherwell’s original series on Girls & Sex here and our review here.

Mamaleh Knows Best, by Marjorie Ingall


If the idea of a Jewish mother conjures up unsavory images plucked right out of Portnoy’s Complaint and Seinfeld—of nagging, overbearing, guilt-inducing women—Ingall’s book works to set the record straight. Not only does she turn the stereotype of the Jewish mother on its head, but she deftly paints a picture of the ways in which mamalehs through history—with their emphasis on independence, original thinking, discipline and education—have managed to raise exemplary children.

Unfinished Business, by Anne-Marie Slaughter


A very important book that lays bare the emotional, structural and cultural barriers to achieving true gender equality in the workplace—and the home. Slaughter, who is famous for interrogating the idea that women can “have it all” and finding it wanting, exposes the mantras that we have historically clung to about male and female roles as the half-truths they are. She then offers real avenues for change by encouraging a shift in the way we understand the concepts of breadwinning, caregiving, and the balance between them.

Under Pressure, by Lisa Damour


I now hear regularly about girls who are so fearful of disappointing their teachers that they skip sleep to do extra-credit work for points they don’t need.—Lisa Damour. Read an excerpt from Under Pressure here.

Fair Playby Eve Rodsky


Based on interviews with more than 500 couples, Eve Rodsky presents a hands-on, systematic solution to how to share the division of labor at home. Rodsky, a mother of three, proposes a simple game using task cards to divvy up household responsibilities. The four key rules to play are: all time is created equal, reclaim your right to be interesting, start where you are now, and establish your values and standards. Why we love it: It’s an easy to implement solution to domestic re-balance, and it makes addressing a difficult, and potentially entrenched, domestic situation easier and more fun than it could be. 

The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess, by Devorah Blanchor


I’m 45. When I refer to “princess movies,” I mean the trio I grew up with—Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. If Disney princesses have a reputation for being passive creampuffs, it’s because of these three dull, uninspiring icons. I dare you to call these characters “heroines” with a straight face. Two of the princesses literally sleep through parts of their story. Read an excerpt from The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess here.

Note: We share the books we love—and we may receive a small compensation if you choose to buy.

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