(Really) good reads for parents

“Oh great," you’re probably thinking. “Homework.” 

This is often how I feel when someone insists I read such-and-such parenting book. 

“When exactly am I supposed to read that?” I want to ask. I have two little kids; I work; I haven’t even started Breaking Bad

However, if you’re a reader like me, there will probably come a time when you’ll want to pick up a book again — when your baby starts sleeping through the night, perhaps, or when you go on a business trip and have three whole hours to yourself on a plane. 

If it’s “too soon” for a reading list, I completely understand. (And stay tuned for a future column concerning Netflix recommendations.) 

But if you’re open to suggestions, here are some of the books I think new parents might want to check out. 

Becoming the Parent You Want to Be

Parenting books can be so dogma driven, don’t you think? And unless a book speaks perfectly to your experience and beliefs, the likelihood that a given tome will end up thrown across the room in a fit of postpartum rage is high. (My copies of The Happiest Baby on the Block and Ina Mays Guide to Childbirth are likely rotting in a forgotten corner along with my supplemental nursing system.) 

I really like the process-oriented approach the authors (Laura Davis and Janis Keyser) take in this book, subtitled A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years. From dealing with the disequilibrium of bringing a newborn home (for both the parents and the baby) to helping your baby get to sleep, this book offers strategies, real-world examples and support. 

Plus, it’s the book that keeps on giving — you’ll definitely be cracking it open a lot during the toddler and preschool years. 

The Monster Within 

This book, subtitled The Hidden Side of Motherhood, takes on the topic of ambivalence in motherhood from a psychoanalytic perspective. Using stories from her own clinical practice as well as examples from literature and pop culture, Barbara Almond addresses the roots of ambivalence, how it manifests (from normal feelings to highly disturbed actions) and how women can successfully integrate these feelings into their lives. 

Just some light beach reading, huh? 

But seriously, despite the heavy focus of this book, I found it very comforting and eye-opening in its honest approach to the mixed feelings everyone has about parenthood.   

Nine Months: A Novel

In this novel by Paula Bomer, the protagonist, Sonia, becomes unexpectedly pregnant with her third child and loses it: She abandons her husband and sons and takes off on a lengthy road trip during which she does all kinds of things forbidden to pregnant women. 

But what is perhaps most subversive about this story is the fact that Sonia isn’t “punished” in the manner you might expect. 

It’s an ideal read for those of you who are sick of the wide-eyed, flower-smelling, oh-let’s-embrace-the-wonder-of-it-all approach to parenting. 

Old Guy Dad 

This book — with a secondary title of Weird Shit Happens When You Don't Die Young — wasn’t released until after my deadline, so I can’t vouch for the final product. However, I’ve read every installment of OG (Old Guy) Dad by author Jerry Stahl on The Rumpus, and it’s so, so good. 

With women dominating the scene when it comes to writing about parenting, it’s refreshing (and information) to read something from a male perspective. And probably the best dude-written stuff I’ve read comes courtesy of Stahl. 

His essays include some delightful passages, like this: “So I’m standing in front of the fridge, door open, wondering more-or-less what happened to my life, when I suddenly remember I have an 8-month-old baby in my arms. I close the door before her face freezes, already picturing the visit from Social Services, me trying to explain why the tip of my daughter’s nose is missing — frostbite! — and how one ill-fated fridge loiter does not necessarily make me a bad parent.”

It’s so easy to stumble into the black of hole of parenting manuals — books that will instruct you on the “right” way to get your baby to sleep, start solid foods and encourage fine-motor-skill development. 

You could spend your limited free time reading about the wonders of baby-led weaning or you could fling yourself into bed and read about how it’s OK to sometimes feel lukewarm about parenting. 

I vote for the latter. 

Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.