What’s Wrong With Parenting Books?

by kayris on June 17, 2009

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Of the many things that changed in my life after my children were born, one of the biggest was my attitude towards food.

Once my son started eating solids, I was careful to avoid artificial sweeteners, food dyes, certain types of fat, etc. One day, while peering into my refrigerator and seeing “his” organic ketchup on the shelf next to the non-organic ketchup I bought for my husband and myself, it struck me how silly it was to buy more than one kind of ketchup. I wondered why I was so careful with what I fed him, but not nearly as careful with myself. If organic ketchup was good enough for him, why wasn’t it good enough for me?

It was like a little cartoon light bulb appeared over my head. That realization, combined with a gift subscription from a friend to Prevention Magazine, and a desire to no longer feel fat and frumpy, changed my life and my outlook when it came to food.

Nutrition became a personal interest, and in addition to starting to exercise, I overhauled the way we eat.

That was over four years ago, and I feel like my health has steadily improved. While my older child is picky compared to his sister, who eats anything that doesn’t eat her first, I feel like both kids eat substantially better than a lot of kids their age.

Understandably, I also take a lot of criticism for the way I choose to feed my kids from friends and family, but I’ve mostly gotten used to it. It’s easy to brush off comments when I’m maintaining a healthy weight and feel great.

Easy, that is, except for a recent comment by an acquaintance that rubbed me the wrong way. It all started when I mentioned that I planned to use M&Ms as a reward for when my daughter potty trains, because she’d climb to the moon and back for a piece of chocolate. The girl has her mother’s sweet tooth, and I’m not above using chocolate as a bribe for toilet learning. This person implied that my daughter’s interest in candy was unusual and perhaps it meant that she wasn’t getting enough to eat. When I objected, she said, “But what do I know, I feed my kids Happy Meals and don’t read parenting books.”

So what’s wrong with parenting books? I’m assuming that she thinks that I read them, therefore I think I know everything, and here’s why it rubs me the wrong way. For one, I don’t regularly read parenting books, and even if I did, wouldn’t that imply that I DON’T know everything? Why would you read a book if you already knew how to do what it was about?

My college education was intense, but my degree is in a science field, not parenting, and I’m as new at this as every other parent. So what’s wrong with reading a book or two or fourteen for a little help along the way?

I do have the What To Expect series somewhere in the house. With child number one, I consulted it for guidelines on milestones, and with child number two, I was too tired to care about milestones and just wanted to know how to get her to sleep more. For that, I turned to Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry books to help fine tune our bedtime routines, and when my three-year-old son was giving me fits, I checked Your Three-Year-Old: Friend Or Enemy out of the library. I read the pertinent parts of each book, then used what I thought might help me become a better mother. Isn’t that what parenting books are for? To help us overcome problems and become the best parents we can be?

I never claimed to know everything, but I do know that my daughter eats plenty of healthy food and I do know that she gets plenty of treats too.  I also know that a lot of kids like candy and it’s not unusual for them to be motivated by it.  And I do know that our pediatrician, whom I respect and trust, thinks my daughter is healthy as a horse.  So I do know that the way I feed my family, which I learned from books and magazines, is working well for us.

What do you think? Do you read parenting books and do you find them helpful? Or am I being too sensitive?

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kayris (29 Posts)


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Mama K June 17, 2009 at 8:04 am

I rely on parenting books whenever a problem arises. I have my list of authors I trust and can usually find some good advice there.
I’m a reader normally so it makes sense to me to look in a book… or online.
I keep reading books because they have helped in the past and will probably help in the future. And mostly I’m not comfortable just “winging it” all the time. :)

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annie June 17, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I do read parenting books, but I am careful about which ones I choose. I have a good sense of my parenting style and I will read books that are recommended by others with a similar style or that I think will help me to be more successful in my style of parenting.

I don’t read books that talk about things like crying it out, spanking, punishing, training kids to be obedient, etc. That just isn’t me.

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1on1Parenting June 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

I believe parents know a lot more than they give themselves credit for! If you are going to rely on a parenting book, make it a good one!

Gravity Matters is probably the best parenting book out there because it actually gives parents the credit they deserve, while giving them some guidelines to be successful. Check it out and see for yourself.

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ladykay June 17, 2009 at 11:46 pm

“Back in the day” I was my LLL group’s librarian. I not only read every book we had in that library, I would give a book review on one each month to the group. :D

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justine June 18, 2009 at 5:31 am

Sometimes we need a little reminder from our “parenting books” to help us re-focus on our short and long term parenting goals. Ongoing training is part of any successful work that we do in our life. We want our teachers, doctors, and hairstylists to take regular courses to keep their skills up-to-date and their minds sharp. Why should parenting be any different? It is the most important job on Earth, after all.

If I were stuck on a desert island (or maybe even a dessert island, yummy) I would want to take along The Baby Book by Dr Sears and Connection Parenting by Pam Leo. I turn to these two again and again. I of course have also added Attached at the Heart to my regular rotation!

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Amber June 19, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I read parenting books. Some of them have been phenomenal, and changed my parenting for the better in big ways like Alfie Kohn’s ‘Unconditional Parenting’. Some have been useful resources, like Dr. Sears ‘The Baby Book’.

I think there is some value in not getting too hung up as a parent. In trying to not take every little thing too seriously. But there’s also value in learning from others who may know more than you. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t do that, why you wouldn’t want to improve as a parent.

But maybe I’m just saying that to justify my preschooler’s love of candy. ;)

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Elizabeth June 26, 2009 at 8:49 am

I find parenting books to be a great resource. In each one I read, I find a couple parenting tools that work for my family. Over the years, I’ve built a tool kit that is customized to me, my family, and our needs. It’s not that I read these books and follow them to the letter, but rather, find pieces of advice that help me be a better mother. Afterall, there is not one book out there on how to parent my family; that is one book that only I can write!

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Carla July 2, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I told a co-worker I read parenting books & he warned me not to get all caught up in them. I think people believe if you read a parenting book then you’re going to believe & apply everything you read.

I read parenting books and pick and choose what works for me. When I’m with my kids it’s hard to come up with creative ways to distract or discipline or teach or instruct a child. If I’ve read the book then I’ve got some ideas I can grasp at when I need them.

And like a pp mentioned, parenting books which focus on my personal style of parenting help me refocus & stay centered on what matters.

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Stephanie Petters July 9, 2009 at 11:33 am

For me, I NEED parenting books especially those on positive discipline for the school-age child as well as personal and family balance. I did not come from an AP background so when it’s time to provide some boundaries and gentle discipline, I have no tools to call upon. If I have no tools how I can really practicie positive discipline if I don’t really know what it is. Reading books on these subjects helps me build up my toolbox so that I am not floundering. Our society takes away our intuition. If I had a wonderful background than intuition would rule the ruste and I wouldn’t need parenting books but that isn’t the case. So, for me parenting books are my life-saver in building the empathy and connection that I want with my 5-year old daughter.

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Stacy (mama-om) July 10, 2009 at 11:44 am

I have read a TON of books since my first-born was about one-year-old. During pregnancy and infancy, I had one book for each (Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger and The Baby Book by Sears), but when it came to “discipline” and maintaining a connection with an older child, I really needed to soak up all the positive info I could. I have read dozens of books since then that have helped me find my own inner guidance… and I suppose that is the key for me. I don’t read a book to be told what to do… I read a book to take in more information that helps me formulate what I want to do. A book has to resonate with me and speak to my heart…

I wish I could learn from real, live people rather books, but in the absence of a community of people modeling positive parenting for me, I really needed the books. I am an extrovert, so I learn by “talking” and having one or two good friends to bounce ideas off of and a boatload of books helped me find my way in those early days.

I still read lots of books (and in some cases, am re-reading books I read almost five years ago)… I have a whole list of books here.

Also, I wanted to point out that your friend’s comment may be more about herself than you. Maybe she wishes she read more books. Maybe someone implied she didn’t know anything because she doesn’t… Who knows? But investigating your own feelings and decisions and coming to an understand of what you’re doing and why is an important thing to do. If you’re ready or interested, you could even talk to her about it — knowing that there is no need for her to agree with you. (And, there is nothing bad or wrong about not wanting to talk with her if you’d rather not.) In the end, no matter what a book says, we all do what works best for our families. You are both finding your way.

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