In a time when you may be hungrily seeking parenting advice, let me suggest another option. You don’t need parenting advice (and anyway, you’ll get more unsolicited advice than you will ever want from family, friends, and strangers on the street).
No, what new mothers need, from my perspective, is a chance to learn to listen to themselves, to really hear what they and their babies need – separate from the outside noise, and your inside fears. We mommas need to feel heard, and healed, and energized – not told what to do.
In a sea of advice, being able to listen to your heart without fear and shame, and listen to your baby without expectation, is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family.
So, with this in mind, here are my favorite books for new and expecting mothers:
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha
By Tara Brach
Whether you’re interested in Buddhism or not, Tara Brach is a wise teacher with much to offer – especially to us new mommas. She is a clinical psychologist as well as a meditation teacher, and well respected in both fields. If I know anything, it’s that new motherhood throws us one of the most major life curveballs possible. And radically accepting our new life, our new selves, and our new babies allows this giant change to feel more like coming home, rather than leaving all we’ve known. Brach argues that radical acceptance is not resignation, it is in fact, the way we can change for the better. It is saying “yes” to life. Every page has small tokens of wisdom that will soothe your scared and worried soul.
Our Babies, Ourselves:How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent
By Meredith Small
This was probably my favorite book I read during my pregnancy. There is SO MUCH NOISE out there in our world calling itself “expertise” – so many rules for how to parent, so many expectations for how babies should be. When we grow up in one single culture, when we are totally immersed, we rarely stop to consider that our way may not be the only way. This book, written by an anthropologist, chronicles the history of child rearing in humans as well as in other closely related primates and mammals, back through millennia. Her purpose is to illuminate some stark differences between what babies actual biological needs are versus what our culture of parenting has dictated. What I appreciated about this book was that rather than tell me what to do, it gave me information from which I could decide what to do. I felt empowered and ready to make decisions that were right for my family.
The Gifts of Imperfection
By Brené Brown
You have probably heard of Brené Brown by now – social worker, researcher, TedTalk phenom, and author of a handful of books on the topics of vulnerability, shame, and belonging. Her work is incredibly important, I feel, in this technological age of perfectionism and disconnect. This book is actually a workbook, with exercises and prompts to help you reflect. Hear me, Mommas, when I say being a new mother will bring out the shame monster in you. You are going to feel inadequate and scared – just like all the other moms out there. This book does a beautiful job of helping you recognize what happens to you when you feel ashamed or unworthy, and guides you to a way of seeing yourself that actually allows you space to grow and be happy, even in the mistakes. And bonus, Brown is freaking hilarious.
Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive
By Dan Siegel, Mary Hartzell
Ok, ok, I said no parenting advice. This one has some parenting advice, but mostly it’s about noticing how you act around your kids (and how you react) and taking care of yourself so you can behave the way you want to with your children. I don’t mean taking care of yourself like taking a hot bath (while that is a lovely thing) – I mean taking care of your emotional and mental health, tending to your thoughts, your beliefs, and your patterns. If you haven’t heard of Dan Siegel yet, get thee to your nearest internet and start googling! This MD specializes in pediatric neurobiology, aka the brain development of kids. All of his books on children, teens, and parenting are hugely informational and encourage raising children based on an understanding of how their brains work. This book in particular is one of my favorites though, as a family therapist I come back to it again and again, because no parenting technique will matter a hoot if you don’t have the self awareness, self control, and self compassion to be who you want to be for your kids. Being able to see ourselves clearly is how we raise children who are whole, in mind and spirit.