5 Books Every Mum Should Read (unless you’re actually looking for parenting advice)

I have little faith in parenting books.

Preparing for our son to arrive, our attitude was very much ‘We don’t need books. Let’s go with our instinct!’ A week after the birth, back in hospital because the baby couldn’t feed, I began to doubt my instincts. Maybe if I’d read a book I could have prevented this.

‘Don’t be silly’ my husband said, ever the optimist. ‘It’s just one of those things. We’re doing fine’.

We trundled along through despair to confidence, making very occasional reference to the one baby book we were given: What To Expect: The First Year. The book is very helpfully structured in a question and answer format, the answer to every question invariably being ‘Stop stressing. It’s fine! Here’s how I vaguely recollect it:

Q: I was told to start weaning my baby at 6 months, but my next door neighbour started at 5. Should I run out and by some rusks before the little one wakes up?

A: No. Stop stressing. It’s fine.

Q: My always sleeps on his left hand side. I don’t want to wake him up but I’m worried it might do permanent damage to his left arm and he’ll never grown up to be a concert pianist. Should I move him?

A: No. Stop stressing. It’s fine.

Q: A crazy old lady down the street told me that if you carry your baby down the stairs too much the gentle bumping gives them brain damage. Should I pack up, make my husband quit his job, put on a grey wig and move to a retirement village so we can live in a bungalow and avoid the horrors of the dreaded too-many-stairs syndrome?

A: No, you idiot. Stop stressing. It’s fine!

I mock, but it was occasionally useful.

On the whole we stuck with our ‘Let’s make it up as we go along’ – erm, I mean ‘Let’s go with our instincts’ – parenting approach.

It didn’t stop me occasionally neurotically babbling at my husband ‘So-and-so read 4 books on weaning before they started on solids. We haven’t read any. Do you think that makes us bad parents?’ ‘No’ he replied firmly, jamming a spoonful of apple puree into our son’s wide open greedy gob.

It also didn’t stop me sneaking off to the parenting section of the library when our son inexplicably decided aged 4 months that he no longer needed to sleep. Ever.

After about an hour of simultaneously rocking the buggy and flicking through endless pages of contradictory and often completely impractical advice, I threw Gina Ford and her patronising parenting guru-rivals down in a fit of fury and headed home to find solace in the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

That was the end of my foray into parenting books. Not because I think I know everything, nor because I think parenting books have no value. I did take issue with how contradictory the advice was and I would rant about it here, but someone else has already done a much better job: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ava-neyer/i-read-all-the-baby-sleep-advice-books_b_3143253.html

The main reason I gave up on ever reading parenting books, is that I love reading too much. I love it. I’d do it all day if I could. I love reading in bed, and continue to do it even though I know it winds my husband up, because I always answer his questions with a cursory ‘hn’, refusing to tear my eyes away from the page. I don’t even know why I’m writing this now; the baby’s asleep so I could be reading!

If you’re similarly bored of parenting books and would rather indulge your literary demon, here are my top 5 books for mum (or anyone really):

1. ‘How To Be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran.

I go on about this book all the time and people may be starting to think my admiration for Caitlin Moran is verging on obsession, but I don’t care. This book marked the turning point in my maternity leave, where I finally managed to find the balance between the new ‘mum’ me and the old me. Plus, it’s bloody hilarious!

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2. ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ by Pamela Druckerman

‘Hang on!’ I hear you say. ‘This is a parenting book!’ Exactly what I thought when it was leant to me at the start of my maternity leave, and that is exactly why it sat on my shelf, unread, for about 9 months. As it turns out, this book is fascinating. It holds no advice or suggestions on how to get your child to do XYZ, but is instead an interesting mixture of personal anecdote and well researched analysis of the differences between Anglophile parents and their French counterparts. For those who are interested in the practice and sociology of parenting, but don’t want to be told how to do it, this is a great read.

Image 3. ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hossaini

If you have not read this by now I can only assume you have been hiding under a rock. When I first read it a stranger approached me and said ‘I am so jealous. I wish I could read that again for the first time’. Now I understand. So moving I sobbed for about an hour as read the final chapters

.Image4. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Along with ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, this is probably my favourite book. I could take my socks off and still probably not have enough appendages to count the number of times I’ve read it. Plus, it gives you a great excuse to dig out the BBC box set and watch 6 hours of the best TV ever made.

Image5. ‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre

I found this for a pound in a bargain bin and was amazed to discover that, despite it being a Booker prize winner, nobody seemed to have heard of it. The style and content are astoundingly original and may not be to everybody’s tastes, but it’s worth a go. Also, no matter crap a day you’ve had parent-wise, you can rest assured you’ll never be as bad a mum as the one in this novel.

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8 responses

  1. Really like your list of books to read. I must try ‘How to be a woman’ and ‘French kids don’t throw food’. I am a bit worried though that you won’t like the fact that I have written a parenting book.

    1. Oh dear. Always knew writing my blog would mean I’d put my foot unit one day. Everyone else I know read parenting books. My husband and I are just too easily distracted!

      1. No offense taken. I found your post amusing!

  2. Laura Chappell | Reply

    I love this. I am not even a mum, but simply as a woman of childbearing age I already feel oppressed and patronised by all the bollocks I can feel waiting just around the corner, waiting to be pushed on me should I end up carrying a foetus / giving birth. (That recent report by the Royal College of Os and Gs (not attempting the spelling) being an excellent example). Please keep blogging!

    1. Glad you liked it. Seems far more people hate parenting books than I thought. I heard a bit about that report – yet more reasons to get unnecessarily stressed!

  3. This is great, thanks! I am a mum of two smalls. I have never read a parenting book and I don’t intend to. But I have read most of the books on your list and I’ll be getting out the ones I’ve missed 🙂

    1. So glad to know I’m not the only one!:)

  4. […] you or make you feel you’re doing a crap job. If only I had stuck to my own parenting mantra (never read parenting advice: trust only the NHS and my mum) perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself nearly in tears on the floor […]

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