I Think, Therefore I Parent

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I Think, Therefore I Parent

Reflections on Parenting

While parenting seems to often sap your brain of any ability to think deeply, it is the kind of work that it is often good to reflect on. What does it mean to be a parent? What are society's expectations of us? How can I do best by my kids? Am I imparting my most important values to my children? These are all things that float through parents' minds, but we rarely find answers to. The books in this list are a hodgepodge of people reflecting on raising kids and suggesting some general philosophies of parenting. Some are more academic and research based, while others are more memoirs. Some lean towards how-to manuals, while others are just reflections on where we are as a society. But all of them present a particular, thoughtful snapshot of parenting for those rare moments parents have to sit down and think.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior- The journalist author interviews parents around the country about parenting, with the book organized around particular challenges for different age groups. She reflects on the disorientation created by infants, the striving for success in the middle years, and growing independence of the teenage years. I read this book and thought "Oh my goodness, this is my life." Nothing I have read has so clearly captured my experience as a parent. Senior's style is both approachable and non-judgmental. She is both amused by her subjects and has a deep respect for them. She puts many conundrums of modern parenthood into historical and cultural context, allowing those struggling through them to feel much less alone.

Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes by Christia Spears Brown- The author of this book is a psychologist and mother of two young girls and so writes from both an academic and personal perspective. She argues that an over reliance on gender as a determiner of what our child will be like harms that child and our society at large. She's realistic about a parent's ability to change this in a culture that emphasizes gender difference, but she encourages people to reflect deeply on their unconscious assumptions and how they affect their parenting. Only 200 pages, it's just enough information to grasp her argument, become familiar with the most current research, and pick up some great tips about how to encourage your kids to be their own unique selves.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross- The author details how to simplify your child's physical space, schedule, and information intake. He encourages lots of unstructured play and little screen time - writing against the culture of "too much, too fast, too soon." Parents, he argues, should be available, stable "base camps" for their children, neither too involved or too distant. While the book gets a bit repetitive at times, it's an easy read and full of good reminders and advice - the most important being that the family should focus on what is important to them, what is most valuable, and let other things go or actively remove them when they get in the way. This transforms the book from the list of "shoulds" to one in which parents are encouraged to envision things and then work towards them in small, simplifying steps.

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon- This book focusing on parents with children who have a profound difference from them. Having done over 400 interviews over the span of years, the author focuses each chapter on a distinct aspect of difference: deaf children born to hearing parents, dwarfs born to parents of typical height, transgender people born to cis-gender parents, etc. This book explores an extraordinary number of important topics - identity vs. illness, acceptance vs. love, nature vs. nurture, the nature of parenting, and what makes people human. While this book is long at 700 pages, I kept reading because each chapter is so different and yet the themes are the same: parents who struggle to love and accept their children across difference. The author writes an honest and nuanced account of topics that often are either too triumphalist or too defeatist.

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson- While this is not quite a book about parenting, it is about how children learn to eat, something that is a frequent cause of concern among parents. This book helps create some perspective, covering the history of how children have been fed over the last century or more. Wilson encourages people to reconsider our assumptions about "kid food" in the hopes that we can help our children become healthier eaters. The tone of the book can be somewhat judgemental at times, but Wilson's research is
fascinating. Again, like the other books on this list, this book is not a how-to manual, but rather a thoughtful consideration of how we think about food and our children.