Non-Advice Books for Mothers

Mothering can involve a complicated and multileveled emotional terrain. What often speaks most clearly and helpfully to mothers is often other women’s stories and experiences, NOT “advice,” prescriptions, promises, or admonishments.

I’ve noticed two types of “attachment parenting” mothers—those who discovered AP after having their baby or child(ren) and those who chose attachment parenting in advance, sometimes way in advance. While of course a host of factors are involved, both internal and external, I’ve also noticed that those who discovered, feel more content and are less likely to be hard on themselves about their AP-”failures.” If you discover something, you have an ideal to live up to. If what you start with is the ideal, essentially the only way to go is down! I’m one of the latter bunch, having envisioned my attachment parenting perfection and bliss for at least three years prior to actually giving birth to my first baby. After my first son’s birth, I dove into more and more and more parenting books, trying to make sense of my new life. And, to me totally honest, Dr. Sears books started to drive me out of my frickin mind, even though I agreed with the guy about almost everything. I still recommend him, I met him in real life in 2007 and consider him an excellent resource, however tMarch 2013 078he subtext I perceived in his books was: “do it the right way and you’ll always be happy and baby will never cry” and that was really, really hard on me as a vulnerable, sensitive new mother of a pretty cranky baby. So, I practically collapsed with relief when one of the birth center doctors suggested reading the book Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf. After this, I became obsessed with what is somewhat dismissively referred to as “the momoir”—memoirs of motherhood written by real women. Loved them. Lived by them. Learned from them. They “heard” me when I really, really needed to be heard.

Recently, a lovely friend and first-time mom on Facebook remarked that she needed to stop reading “advice” books about motherhood and try something else (though, still interested in reading about motherhood). Her comment reminded me so much of myself and I swooped in, ironically, with “advice” about other books to read. As I thought about books to suggests, the piles upon piles of books that I devoured came back to me in a rush. This morning, I went through my bookshelf and made a list of those that were influential enough to make the cut and be kept, versus being resold or passed along in the giveaway box. It is a big list! And, it is only a fraction of what I actually read. What was also really interesting for me to realize was that I haven’t read a book like this in ages, there are probably dozens more now! I still have several unread on shelf, but I no longer feel as if I need them in the same “lifeline” way in which I combed the library shelves with my first baby in his little sling.

So, here are my tips and suggestions on non-advice-based books for mothers. In general, I vote ixnay on any kind of “how to” mothering/parenting books. I vote yes on parenting memoirs, books about self-nurturing and mother-care, and sociopolitical commentary on motherhood. Disclaimer: a lot of the books on my list are written by “mainstream” authors, many of whom are pretty critical, sometimes very harshly, of attachment parenting. I find that some of these books create a lot of polarization with regard to Amazon reviews. At the risk of sounding very snobby myself, I would suggest that you are unlikely to enjoy these books if you are any of the following:

  • Unable or unwilling to engage intellectually with topics surrounding motherhood/parenthood.
  • Uninterested in the larger social, cultural, and political context surrounding individual mothers and their parenting “choices.”
  • Dismissive of the role that sociopolitical influences have on the lives and experiences of individual women.
  • Unable or unwilling to allow other women to define their own experiences and to recognize that not everyone experiences things the same way, and that that is fine, even desirable.
  • Fond of describing maternal honesty as “whining” and prefer “suck it up” approaches to sometimes painful explorations of complex feelings.

Before I list my books, make sure to check out Brain, Child magazine! I DO still read and devour this and feel as if it “saved me” multiple times during the first three years of parenting. And, make sure to check out my What Kind of Mother Are You Quiz, based on a memoir called Inconsolable.

These books may include links to prior posts/reviews about them. A lot of them are a blend of memoir and sociopolitical commentary—I classified them according to my perception of their primary emphasis. For all book reviews I’ve ever posted on my site, see this page.

Memoirs:

  • Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian. This is one of my very favorites. Nourishing and enriching and relevant. May have a small tinge of “do it my way.”
  • Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. This is a classic. A memoir of the author’s first year with her son. She is a single parent and so the book addresses some of the challenges involved with parenting solo. This book is incredibly funny at times.
  • Callie’s Tally by Betsy Howie. Very, very funny, though not particularly “AP” (so if you’re looking for that, read Let the Baby Drive instead). This book chronicles how much money the author has spent on her daughter during her first year of life.
  • A Better Woman by Susan Johnson this one is an often painful to read memoir of a woman’s experience with an obstetrical fistula
  • Fruitful by Anne Roiphe (also addressed in prior post: Motherhood, Feminism, and More). This is a good look at the tensions between feminism and motherhood and navigating new identities
  • Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! A tale of mothering three sons.
  • The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich. Very lyrical, mild book. (Quoted or written about in these prior posts)
  • Dispatches from a Not-So Perfect Life–by a frequent contributor to Brain, Child magazine.
  • Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers–memoir of a journey through severe postpartum depression. Darkly funny. Critical of attachment parenting, but in a manner in which I can identify.
  • Growing Seasons by Annie Spiegelman. This memoir is by a “sandwich generation” mother, caring for a toddler and for her own ailing mother.

Anthologies:

  • Mothers Who Think—collection of essays from writers for Salon.
  • The Bitch in the House–not all about parenting, about marriage, work, etc. Often angry.
  • Toddler–stories about parenting toddlers by one of the former editors of Brain, Child.
  • Beyond One-collection of essays about adding a second child. I loved it. A friend I lent it to thought it was “horribly depressing.”
  • Real Moms—a surprising gem from MOPS. While I find many of their books too “surface” in emphasis and also very mainstream-Christian-mom directed, this one is great. One of my favorites.
  • The Fruits of Labor–about parenting at all stages of life. Some are tragic. This is more literary memoir than “tell all” memoir.

Sociopolitical commentary and analysis: March 2013 090

  • What Mothers Do (appears in Motherful) by Naomi Stadlen. I love this book! It takes a close look at how women mother and how skillfully they do so (so that on the outside it looks like they are doing “nothing”). This is not a “how to” book, but a book that tries to look below the surface and explore concepts that are very difficult to verbalize/articulate. She strives to put into words/give us language to describe what is it that mothers do all day–their often invisible contributions to life. Contributions that are often invisible even to ourselves. This is a very affirming and unique book. This is one of my top picks for tender new mothers. There may be some subtext about doing it “right” though.
  • Of Woman Born (included in this post: Motherhood, Feminism, and More). This is a classic sociological and personal exploration of the role, meaning, and cultural valuation (or devaluation) of mothers. This was my first exposure to the notion of motherhood as institution rather than simply as role/relationship.
  • Price of Motherhood  by Ann Crittenden. Emphasis on economics, but very interesting analysis of multiple cultural, political, and social influences on mothers.
  • The Motherhood Manifesto—by Moms Rising. Showed me there is an actual “mother’s movement” afoot!
  • Paradox of Natural Mothering—academic in tone. I really enjoy this book. Lots of food for thought. It is a little uncomfortable to read too because she is so spot-on in her analysis of mothers like me. It is strange to feel “under the microscope.” The author herself is a “quasi-natural mother,” so the analysis isn’t harsh criticism, but it is a critical look at the “cult” (my word, not hers) of natural mothering and has a LOT of excellent discussion about feminism and natural mothering. She says–and I completely agree–that natural mothering represents the intersection of three ideological frameworks: voluntary simplicity, attachment parenting, and cultural feminism.
  • The Mask of Motherhood
  • Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf. As I mentioned, this was the first book that I ever read about a woman’s postpartum experience. It was suggested to me by the doctor at the birth center when I expressed some teary frustrations about adjusting to my new life and wondering if I would ever get “back to normal.” This book is on the “angry” side–it is not a nurturing and tender read and she is critical of things I value (like LLL). I did not identify with the author’s birth experiences or feelings about birth (I felt tremendous during birth and powerful, empowered, triumphant, and confident) and her conclusions seems mis-drawn, i.e. her birth was terrible, ergo, birth itself is terrible and those who tell you otherwise are lying, but her postpartum feelings closely match my own (weak, wounded, invisible, etc.)
  • Perfect Madness by Judith Warner. Included in this post: I just want to grind my corn! Fairly harshly critical of attachment parenting. takes potshots at LLL.
  • The Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre (included in: OBs and Normal)
  • Big Purple Mommy—about creativity and motherhood and still nurturing one’s creative self.
  • The Mother Trip (included in this post: Small Stone Birth Activism)–this one is written by Ariel Gore, original founder of the awesome zine, Hip Mama.
  • The Mother Dance by Harriet Lerner. This one focuses on the psychology of women primarily.

Mother nurturing/validating: March 2013 068

  • 25 Ways to Joy & Inner Peace for Mothers
  • The Tao of Motherhood
  • The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood
  • Mother Nurture by Rick & Jan Hanson. This book is phenomenal. Very comprehensive. It addresses mothers of children from birth to age 5, so even if you are several years past the early postpartum weeks, this book has much to offer to you! One of the focus areas is on “Depleted Mother Syndrome” and addresses coping with it via all areas (body, mind, social/relational).
  • Mothering the New Motherclassic postpartum doula book! Highly recommended.
  • This isn’t what I expectedpostpartum depression recovery.
    After the Baby’s Birth by Robin Lim. This book is very holistic in approach and is one of my very favorite postpartum reads. It offers such gems as, “you’re postpartum for the rest of your life” (which some people have said they feel like is depressing, but I find a tremendously empowering statement!) and “when the tears flow, so does the milk” (with regard to the third day postpartum). It does have a large section on Ayurvedic cooking, which, personally, I don’t connect with, so be aware that that section is in there and depending on your belief system, might make perfect sense to you, or might seem inapplicable like it feels to me.
  • Mothers Guide to Self-Renewal

Novels/Others:

  • I Don’t Know How She Does It—fiction about an employed mother and the juggling act with which she tried to balance work and family.
  • Motherhood Confidential–this one is pretty weird. I almost didn’t include it and I also don’t know whether it is fiction or not. It is billed as “chicken soup for the spleen” and as an “anti-advice” book. I like the recommendation to scrape off the “dogma-doo” of parenting. It is about two best friends, one who becomes an attachment parenting homeschooling mother and the other who is a “detachment parent” and how rocky their relationship becomes.
  • Three Shoes, One Sock, and No Hairbrush by Rebecca Abrams. Primarily about adding a second child.

7 thoughts on “Non-Advice Books for Mothers

  1. My favorite anthology is You Look Too Young to Be a Mom. Political, diverse in a way that most parenting anthologies aren’t, and it really nourished me as a teen mom.

    • Sounds great! On my shelf, unread is The Maternal is Political. I’m getting it down right now. :) I’m currently reading Gift from the Sea, which I guess could fall under the maternal memoir category too, but not as a parent-of-young-children type.

  2. Molly, thanks so much for your post! I’m glad my Facebook status could inspire you ;) I’m definitely one of the “planned to AP” folks, and it does make “failures” harder to accept — thanks for acknowIedging this. I also read two other posts of yours that were linked: I Just Want to Grind My Corn, and Playing My Music — both spoke to me so much. I identify so much with your writing — it is food to my soul!

  3. Pingback: Talk Books: Laughter & Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers | Talk Birth

  4. Pingback: Good Birth Books to Gift to Others | Talk Birth

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