Let’s face it: parenting can sometimes feel like a happiness sold separately deal. This crop of books has both hits and misses, with titles that offer sophisticated entertainment, autumnal understanding, and near-suicide by boredom. While Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s pious virtue wasn’t my drink of choice, Jill Smokler’s Scary Mommy hit the spot. And though Angela Wynne’s blog-inspired book falls flat on the page, Anthony Wolf’s guide to teenage conflict should buoy some parents’ spirits on the home front. This month offers some pretty darn good books crying out for purchase‚ no rare birds, but a few fine worker ants.
O’Boyle, Donna-Marie Cooper. Embracing Motherhood. Servant Bks. 2012. 160p. ISBN 978086716994. pap. $13.99. CHILD REARING
Popular Ave Maria Radio contributor O’Boyle (A Catholic Woman’s Book of Prayers) stays on the straight and narrow, exalting motherhood as a God-given vocation. Vehemently opposed to birth control and abortion‚ even mostly against working outside of the home‚ she views women’s “feminine gifts” as those of giving, their most important responsibility to care for others. (This includes a woman’s duty to compliment and uplift her spouse as the head of the family.) References to the “evil one” and her view that the institution of marriage is under attack will dissuade many readers, as will her advice to place a font of holy water inside the front of homes. VERDICT While O’Boyle clearly comes from the heart, only the most devout Catholics will agree with her view that parents are mere stewards of their children, who are on loan to them from God. Others may find this children-on-borrowed-time approach to parenting upsetting.
Halvorsen, Theresa and Brad. The Dad’s Playbook to Labor and Birth: A Practical and Strategic Guide to Preparing for the Big Day. Harvard Common, dist. by Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2012. 176p. ISBN 9781558326729. pap. $14.95. CHILD REARING
Former doula Halvorsen and her husband Brad present a dad’s guide to labor and delivery, from the first contractions to helping at home. They cover everything from what to pack in the hospital bag to what to do if an epidural doesn’t work and how to protect your partner’s privacy. The specificity of their advice makes this book blessedly utilitarian and the authors do a credible job of presenting information as it is likely to affect dad (e.g., what to do if you don’t want to watch the baby coming out). VERDICT Future fathers would do well to read this title and discuss each chapter with their partner. Unfortunately, oft-used sports metaphors are annoying and ineffective (e.g., approaching labor as the big game). The authors are best when providing concise information‚ their big-oaf humor falls flat. The charming book jacket wins it extra points.
Siegel, Daniel J. and Tina Payne Bryson. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive. Delacorte. 2011. 208p. illus. index. ISBN 9780553807912. $24. CHILD REARING
Siegel (psychiatry, Univ.of California‚ Los Angeles, Sch. of Medicine; Parenting From the Inside Out) and psychotherapist Bryson present a practical approach for turning everyday interactions with your children (from birth to preadolescence) into opportunities for brain integration. By syncing the left and right hemispheres of the brain (order and emotions, respectively), they suggest that children can strengthen the connections between both, contributing to greater strength and resilience. By teaching parents to connect with and then redirect their children, the authors outline how to avoid tantrums and meltdowns, improve bonding, and exercise higher reasoning skills necessary for responding to difficult situations. VERDICT Siegel and Bryson have a warm and inviting style that will appeal to parents, and the text is accompanied by delightful illustrations. Even libraries that have more brain-related parenting guides than they do brain-munching zombie books, this is an essential title. Few authors have successfully translated brain research as it relates to child development into less than 250 pages, much less in approachable and entertaining manner. Enthusiastically recommended.
Smith, Darron T. & others. White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption. Rowman & Littlefield. 2011. 184p. ISBN 9781442207622. $34.95. CHILD REARING
With the best of intentions, many parents teach their children to be “color blind,” essentially closing the door on a difficult but important conversation. Smith (physician assistant studies, Wichita State Univ.) and his coauthors argue, however, that love cannot conquer all, and for transracially adopted children, negative consequences of race remain facts of daily life.” Furthermore, Smith argues that the country is currently at a cultural crossroads, and “parental understanding about race, regardless of intentions, may serve to either challenge or build up the existing racial divide in U.S.society.” VERDICT This is an academic text, appropriate for sociology, African American, and cultural studies collections. White parents adopting black children will also learn a great deal. For a general readership title on this important topic, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s NurtureShock, which addresses much of the same research, is a better fit.
Smokler, Jill. Confessions of a Scary Mommy. Gallery: S. & S. Apr. 2012. 168 p. ISBN 9781451673777. $15. CHILD REARING
Oh, the irony: as books go electronic, successful bloggers publish traditional books. Smokler, whose scarymommy.com was named one of Babble’s “100 Best Mommy Blogs 2011,” does what few other bloggers-become-authors have: write a mischievously funny book about the brain drain called motherhood. Smokler hooked her readers by allowing them to comment anonymously on her blog, which created a sort of provocative freedom. These thematic confessional comments precede each chapter and range from pregnancy disgust to the crises de corps of postpartum baby weight (e.g., “I joined a gym just for the free day care. I drop the kids off and read magazines and blogs in the locker room.”). Smokler’s “scary mommy” version of motherhood makes no apologies, which is precisely why it succeeds. VERDICT If motherhood is starting to feel like a story without a plot, my advice is to pretend you’re sick and lock yourself in the bathroom with this book. Highly recommended.
Wolf, Anthony. I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens. Morrow. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780061915451. pap. $14.99. CHILD REARING
If kids today seem mouthier than generations preceding them, clinical psychologist and bestselling author Wolf (Mom, Jason’s Breathing on Me) thinks it is because they are. Does your son call you a dick? Does your daughter engage you in endless arguments? You’re either an abusive parent for spanking or a lackadaisical one for putting up with the smart talk. What gives? Here Wolf gives parents a dialog-specific approach to communicating with your teen, as unsavory as that person may be at times. Viewing the moody skies of adolescence as a storm to be weathered, he gives parents a realistic, empathetic, and humorous approach for (mostly not) responding to the dramedy of adolescence and its tiny wars of epic proportions. VERDICT The turbulent waters of the teen years can feel darkly dysfunctional. Read this before either slipping into madness or resorting to exorcism.
Wynne, Angela. The Baby Cheapskate Guide to Bargains: How to Save on Blankets, Bottles, and Everything Baby. NAL: Penguin Group (USA). May 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780451236692. pap. $15. CHILD REARING
Popular blogger Wynne (babycheapskate.com) brings her money-saving tips to book form, advising parents on the real necessities, the principles of smart shopping, and the best ways to score the best deals. Covering everything from diapers to strollers, Wynne knows her stuff when it comes to buying all-things-baby. Her book brings more depth to the best of her blog entries and offers space to snippets of solid parenting advice shared by her online readers. If ever a blog trumped a book, however, it would be able about finding great deals. The sheer timeliness of Wynne’s blog can’t be replicated here. For instance, Amazon Mom (amazon.com/mom) saves parents 20 percent off disposable wipes with their Subscribe & Save discount, but the sign-up period is already closed. VERDICT While the life spans of money-saving guides expire annually, parenting collections may wish to add this title as a timely (for now) update. It may drive readers to the blog, where the real savings happen.