At Motherwell, we LOVE to read; both of us always have at least one book on the go and we are always discussing them. This is why we curated this selection of books, we wanted to forge a space where we could collect our best reading recommendations for parents: a list that includes everything from the most relevant parenting analyses to the most compelling memoirs. Randi and Lauren
Mother of three, philanthropist, and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Melinda Gates weaves personal anecdotes, data, and powerful stories about the women she’s talked to worldwide in this honest and inspirational account. She touches upon family planning, education and gender bias, among many other topics. Why we love it: it’s a manifesto about the importance of empowering women in their search for equal partnerships, infused with vulnerability.
A gripping, genre-bending account of female desire and the trauma that can often intersect with it, Three Women is one of the summer’s hottest reads for a reason. The book chronicles the real lives of Maggie, Lina, and Sloane as they grapple with their identities as sexual beings against the backdrop of the current American cultural landscape. Why we love it: it’s non-fiction that’s just as gripping as a novel.
One woman’s experience both as a therapist and as somebody in therapy. It may not seem like a parenting book at first glance. But as psychologist, author, and mother, Lori Gottlieb acknowledges: “so much of who we are has to do with how we think about our own parents, and our own childhood, and then how we bring that to our own parenting and our own self-conception as parents.” Why we love it: Who doesn’t want an insider look into the world of psychology?
A rich and nuanced account of life as a financially struggling single parent and a recent Barack Obama summer selection. Why we love it: single motherhood is bloody hard, we need honest accounts of what it’s like, especially what it’s like without resources.
Read Motherwell’s Q&A with author Stephanie Land here.
Westover grew up amongst Mormon fundamentalists, in a family who didn’t believe in state school or medicine, who didn’t even register her birth. Her memoir is the story of a quest to re-invent herself through education, an account of having to sever ties from the people she was closest to in order to experience a truer, fuller life. Why we love it: reading about what it means to live off the grid is as engrossing as it is shocking.
A stunning, and often-times harrowing, read about the unimaginable: the loss of a child. The story traces Greene’s experience of watching his two-year-old daughter die from a freak accident to ultimately finding the strength again to bring another baby into the world. Why we love it: it pushes the boundaries of what’s comfortable to think about.
An intense journey through one woman’s transition to motherhood. Cusk’s prose is vibrant and erudite as she illuminates the psychological vagaries inherent in new motherhood. Studded with literary references and brimming with insight, this book uses the power of language to come to terms with the profound identity shift women often experience when they have a baby.
Part memoir, part exploration of the medical and psychological toll infertility can take on a woman, this book is for anybody who has waited for a baby in any capacity. Boggs delves into the history of IVF, but she also traces her own winding path to motherhood, with beauty and poise and self-awareness throughout.
Waldman is the poster child for the phenomenon of confessional motherhood writing. In this collection of 18 thoughtful essays, honesty is the name of the game. From her inability to breastfeed a fourth child with a malformed palate to the termination of a much-wanted fetus due to a genetic abnormality, there is no cobwebbed corner of the guilt and sense of failure that can accompany our parenting choices left un-scoured. An utterly refreshing read.
The Shape of the Eye, by George Estreich
A stunning meditation on raising and loving a child with Down syndrome. The beauty and lyricism of the prose, alongside Estreich’s careful attention to detail, will sink deep into your bones and pull you through the story of Laura’s diagnosis and early years, her medical challenges and successes. Never overly sentimental and always vitally honest, this memoir will stay with you long after you close the covers.
Witty, tender and informative in equal measures, Newman’s book is a window into life with a child with autism. Or, at least, one child with autism, as it is a deeply personal account of what it is like to be the mother of Gus—a twin, a trainspotter, a lover of repetition and, of course, Apple’s electronic assistant, Siri. Replete with gripping, granular details about the highs and lows of raising a non-neurotypical kid, by the last page you can’t help but feel a part of this delightfully quirky family.
Silverman’s daughter, Sophie, has Down Syndrome and this memoir tells the story that began unfolding the day she was born. It is an honest and touching look at the way life changes after such a diagnosis—the medical issues, the developmental stumbling blocks, the concerns for the future—but also the ways in which it doesn’t: a mother’s persistent support of her child. Read Motherwell’s excerpt of My Heart Can’t Even Believe It here.
I’m not saying MOTHERHOOD shouldn’t be praised. Motherhood should be praised. Motherhood is wonderful. I’m doing it. I think it’s great. There are all kinds of ways and reasons that mothers can and should be praised. But for cultivating a sense of invisibility, martyrdom and tirelessly working unnoticed and unsung? Those are not reasons. Read an excerpt from Year of Yes here.
Even though she’d never missed a single dose of her birth control pill, at age 28, Mira Ptacin got pregnant. (“I am that 0.01%,” she writes.) Despite knowing the father, Andrew, for only three months, the couple decides to keep the baby and marry. However, at the twenty-week ultrasound, she and Andrew discover that the baby, a girl whom they’ve decided to name Lilly, has a constellation of birth defects that will make it impossible for her to survive outside the womb. See Motherwell’s Q&A with author Mira Ptacin here.
A poignant and page-turning memoir about two families and the tender complexity of a mother-daughter relationship. With the reveal of the story up front, Brodeur vividly portrays how a daughter balances her love for her mother with the burden of being complicit in her mother’s secret. Why we love it: It’s a harrowing story that also feels like a beach read, and we can’t wait to see how it might translate on the big screen.
With introspection and touching honesty, Mimi Lemay weaves the story of growing up—and leaving behind—her Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community with her child’s transgender journey. Why we love it: When we read Lemay’s viral letter back in 2015 to her then five-year-old transgender son, we were captivated by Jacob’s story and heartwarmed by a mother’s acceptance. We have watched this family’s joy ever since. Read an excerpt.
A finely-rendered collection of essays, combining the personal and the topical, the sensibility of memoir with the critical eye of investigative journalism. From longing to looking to dwelling, Jamison turns much of her gaze on what it means to be an outsider. Why we love it: the pieces on step-motherhood and becoming a mother are wonderfully evocative.
The perfect read for anybody worried about the myriad of decisions that surround raising young kids. Oster, an economics professor whose work focuses on health, analyzes the data on issues such as breastfeeding, sleep training, allergies, and daycare to bust myths and, ultimately, dispel the guilt many new parents are prone to feeling. Why we love it: it offers the reassurance to parent in a way that suits *you* (and not the mom next door).
New parents face an onslaught of contradictory information these days about how best to raise their kids. As laypeople, it’s very difficult to sift through the evidence and figure out what’s hype and what’s fact—especially with the internet heralding one scientific study after another. Callahan’s book is invaluable for doing this work for us: illuminating the science behind the hard parenting questions, e.g. breastfeeding and sleep training, in a manner that is balanced, thoughtful and reassuring.
How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn
The title might be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but this book tackles a very serious phenomenon: the heavy toll kids can take on a relationship—especially for women who find they are doing, unexpectedly, the lion’s share of child-related tasks. Part memoir but part self-help guide, Dunn digs deep into how to broach these thorny issues effectively with your partner, seeking advice from therapists and FBI negotiators alike. Why we love it: The changes a romantic relationship might undergo after a baby arrives are shocking; forewarned is forearmed.
Make sure your children have time together without you. Encourage their collective independence. Send them in pairs on “missions” in the grocery store or as a pack to the movies. Drop them off at mini-golf or the library. On vacation or at an airport challenge them to try something with each other, but without you. Remind them to look out for each other, and not just older after younger, either. Make sure they’re all in this together and, as they grow up, support any effort they make to stay that way. Read an excerpt from How To Be A Happier Parent here.
A straightforward, hands-on
Imagine a warm and nurturing 30-year childcare veteran holding your hand through the first few months of new parenthood. This is Connie Simpson, the adored baby nurse and nanny to the stars who in her new book, The Nanny Connie Way, offers the kind of useful, straightforward guidance we wish we had when becoming a first-time mom. See Motherwell’s author Q&A with Connie Simpson here.
Your son is not lazy. His brain is still developing; he is searching for manhood, worried about his future, and in need of greater autonomy, more accountability, and the freedom to fail. In time, you will learn to ask different questions, listen more closely to his answers, and give him the trust he needs, so he can begin to believe in himself. Read an excerpt from He’s Not Lazy here.
When kids feel that they are deeply loved even when they’re struggling, it builds resilience. Battling your child about due dates and lost work sheets invites school stress to take root at home. So instead of nagging, arguing, and constant reminding, we recommend repeating the mantra, “I love you too much to fight with you about your homework.” Read an excerpt from The Self-Driven Child here.
The goal isn’t to lecture your children so that they never make a mistake, but to kick-start their critical thinking by asking them questions, drawing out information. The goal is to have a strong relationship and to encourage your children toward independence. That way, they’ll see you as a resource rather than an obstacle. Read an excerpt from The Good News About bad Behavior here.
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.
An honest, insightful, and ultimately uplifting exploration of the effects of the hormonal sea-changes that surround peri-menopause and menopause itself. Weaving personal experience with scientific information, Steinke’s book shines a light on the realities of this woefully under-discussed topic; it does a service for all women. Why we love it: because people don’t talk about menopause enough.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
A brilliant look into modern parenting that offers a reframing of how we should raise our kids. Instead of the de rigueur model of carpentry, whereby parents specifically aim to shape their children into a certain type of adult, Gopnik argues for a less goal-oriented, more nurturing approach. “Being a parent,” she says, “is like making a garden. It’s about providing a rich, stable, safe environment that allows many different kinds of flowers to bloom.” Why we love it: it’s an antidote to the exhausting culture of concerted cultivation we currently live in.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not a parenting book per se, but a deeply thoughtful account of what it means to turn fifty in a culture increasingly obsessed with youth. Benjamin gracefully chronicles her experience with ageing, and with menopause in particular, exploring the effects it has on her body, her psychology and her role as both mother and daughter.
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.
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.
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.
A provocative, much-needed look at the realities of—and constraints on—female sexuality and autonomy. Martin delves into anthropology, social science, and cultural criticism to come to grips with why women seek extra-marital relationships and what this tells us about the gender as a whole. Why we love it: Sheds light on an otherwise taboo topic.
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.
Set in the fictional and affluent town of Crystal, Colorado, this fast-paced novel follows a group of four mom friends, who met eleven years earlier in a baby swim class. The high-achieving parents learn a new charter school for “exceptionally gifted” students is opening, and through plot twists and character unravelling Holsinger reveals how far some privileged parents are willing to go to pursue what they perceive as “the best” for their kids. Why we love it: Because the writing is sharp, current, and witty, and the richness of the characters makes it possible to both commiserate and wince at their behaviors.
After nearly 35 years, this much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale does not disappoint. For lovers of the first book and/or the TV show it inspired, The Testaments moves the story on, from multiple vantage points, in an extremely clever and vivid way. Why we love it: We all want to know what happens to Gilead in the end.
A raw and emotional narrative spanning three generations of Palestinian-American women living in America. Rich in detail, it’s a story about love and violence, secrets and family, and the oppression of women living in a male-dominated culture. Why we love it: Because Rum gives a voice to the women who’ve been abused and silenced. Plus, we love the title, which can be interpreted in an oppressive way, or in a way that is empowering to women.
Note: We share the books we love—and we may receive a small compensation if you choose to buy.