Cliffnotes on 4 Favorite Parenting Books

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With great response whenever we share a book suggestion here on MU, we wanted to make it more of a habit. Because we’re all about sharing helpful resources but also recognize the lack of time to get through the long list of amazing parenting books, we thought cliffnotes would make the most sense. 2 picks from Neha (mother of 2), 2 picks from Chelsea (new mama to 1), we hope these 4 books cover whatever season you’re in.

12 Hours Sleep By 12 Weeks Old by Suzy Giordano - chosen by Neha

There are several approaches to sleep training but I like to think the unifying undercurrent is that they're all about sleep "teaching" - ways to help your baby learn a really fundamental skill.

12x12, as this method is often referred to, worked for us because of the simple approach to setting up good routines early on while being flexible enough to follow the kids lead and teach them to self-soothe when they're ready. The bottom line(s) for me:

- Keep a log of your baby's natural cycles of feeding in the early days, usually they'll settle into a natural consistent feeding cycle within the first 2 months. As your little one becomes more awake around the 6-8 week mark, you can start to encourage a pattern of feeds every 3 hours and awake time and a nap in between.

- To help your baby understand daytime, when they wake in the morning raise the curtains and the vibe. To help your baby understand nighttime, quiet the mood with the same routine every night. Since the early days with both of our kids, we do a bath or sponge bath, bottle and 3 books. For naps, we put on a sleepsack, lowered shades and kept a sound machine on similar to nighttime.

- Eventually (for us it was around 10 week mark with Lyla) space out the feeds to every 4 hours to ensure two chunky naps for the morning and afternoon and one cat nap between the late afternoon and bedtime feed

- Once you are confident the baby is feeding well for the day and the nightime feeds are more habit than need, you can start reducing the nighttime feed by a half an ounce every three days until they are taking more during the day than the night. Both of my kids dropped their nighttime feed on their own because of consistent feeds during the day, so I never actually did this.

- The key for me was Suzy's approach to sleep training - starting with placing the baby down drowsy but awake for nighttime.  We did this a bit later than Suzy recommended but it worked great (around 4 months with Bodie and 5 months with Lyla).

- Suzy recommends intermittent checks where in you follow your typical routine, rock the baby until drowsy and place awake. Then you let your baby self soothe (cry) for 5 minutes, and then go in quietly and calmly to place a reassuring hand and tell them they're safe before leaving again. Know that they'll likely cry a bit more but this time wait an increased increment of 10 minutes before going back in.  In both my kids' case, they cried for the first 5 minutes and then 7 minutes after my first check, so I never went back in. If they had, I would go in at the 10 minute mark and repeat with a reassuring hand and saying before leaving and waiting another 15 minutes.

- Suzy suggests nap-time training after nighttime sleep habits are solid. Meaning after they could happily put themselves to sleep and stay sleeping until the next morning, we put them down awake for nap-times so they could apply their new found skills to daytime.

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman - chosen by Chelsea

I was excited to read this book as a lifelong fan of the French way of doing things (mainly food, style, and the ease of life). The author is an American who finds herself raising children in France (with a British husband) and it’s a combination of personal stories, research, and input from French parents. In general, the book is full of what I thought to be useful tidbits and tips. Albeit some of it seems to place rose-colored glasses on the French Way and almost shames the American Way, Druckerman proposes ways to borrow from the French in ways that suit your family. The food chapter was a favorite. The bottom line(s) for me:

- Most French parents take a more black-and-white take to parenting vs. those in the US. Which, as a new mom living in the gray - or all the colors, the more rigid approach to answers felt less overwhelming.

- Children need you as the leader, not equal. The whole books seems to center around manners, rules, and an upbringing that is reigned in strictly by the parent. Things like eating what the family eats (including fish, vegetables, etc.), greeting people politely, and staying in your room until the parents wake up are a regular in French society according to the author. By being the clear leader of the family instead of the equal or a friend like many American child-rearing programs suggest, you’re essentially making it easier on the child since they have strict lines to stay within. I do think there’s some leeway here (not what the French would suggest), but in general, I personally agree with this hierarchy as children are young.

- Tastebuds evolve, so try again…and again and again and again. I loved the tip on trying the same food item in different forms if at first a child dislikes. Instead of giving up broccoli after one bad encounter, instead, prepare it a few different ways as you continue offering it to your child. Often times, tastebuds can grow and kids might like a food steamed instead of pureed or with different seasonings.

- Take a pause during sleep. As a very tired new mom reading this book, the chapter on sleep was one I devoured. The French have a sleeping technique called ‘Le Pause’ which essentially means giving the baby time to learn to soothe themselves before picking them up while crying or stirring. French parents claim most children sleep through the night by a few months of age, and I found this to be true for our son by pausing often.

No Bad Kids by Janet Lansbury - chosen by Neha

There are so many parenting and discipline styles and every family will find the one that works uniquely for them and their children. Dan and I tend to cherrypick what works from popular methods and combine with our natural style and then iterate on what works (or doesn't).  That said, some combination of respectful and positive parenting/discipline felt right for us as Bodie turned the corner into the twos and threes, which comes with more testing and big emotions.  Janet Lansbury is a RIE educator and her book and podcast, Unruffled, have been a helpful jumping off point and perspective for me. The bottom line(s) for me:

- The core tenet is this: there are no bad kids. There are simply children who are navigating a lot of new environments, big learning and equally, learning their limits. They are looking to us for support and to help learn those limits.

- Basics, first. I think this was by far my most helpful takeaway.  Before getting fully frenzied by challenging behavior, do a quick audit on if your child might be feeling hungry, tired or overwhelmed. Often times, it's as simple as this.  Building on this, the book suggests taking your child out of a situation that he or she might be feeling overwhelmed by. 

- Confidence is key.  Being firm and calm and explaining the why helps children to feel safe and cared for while also understanding why the behavior is not allowed. Janet models really owning your role as a parent so often I find myself repeating, "I won't let you do that."

- Relevant consequences. The book suggests us to set the limit and offer that for example, "If you do that again, I'll have to take it away to keep you safe."  This is a consequence that feels both proportionate to say, throwing, while also is logical. 

Once I felt rooted in these basic principles, I found and still find it helpful to search Janet's website for articles or podcasts relevant to particular behaviors or stages.

Cribsheet by Emily Oster - chosen by Chelsea

I first found Emily Oster when a girlfriend passed along her book Expecting Better during my pregnancy. As an economist, Oster studies actual data behind pregnancy “rules” and presents the facts - what is actually harmful/concerning vs. fake news based on poor information. As a pregnant girl just wanting a cup of coffee, her book was incredibly calming. She recently released Cribsheet which is a similar format but focuses on early childhood - from breastfeeding to sleep training to preschool. I will say I wish I read this while pregnant (it wasn’t released yet) as a lot of the information is useful for children right out of the womb and recovering from childbirth. I’ve saved it to touch base on as my soon ages since it hits up to age 3-4. The bottom line(s) for me:

- There are pros and cons to breast milk, but ultimately, a full child is what’s important. As someone who gave up breastfeeding early on, this was reassuring and didn’t leave me with an ounce of guilt.

- Day care vs. nanny vs. stay at home mom all depends on several factors and is specific to each family. The way you parent is far more important than the decision here, so weigh your personal family dynamics when making this decision. There are positive and negative effects to each, so there’s no right blanket choice. (As a daycare family, I was again, relieved to read this.)

- There’s not much evidence behind which type of food is best to start your baby on - so have fun with food and make it an enjoyable process. We started with avocado shortly after reading this!

What parenting book do you suggest to everyone you know?