Books about Parenting that Tell it Like it is

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

When I was pregnant, I read everything I could about pregnancy, birth, parenting, motherhood, and related issues—fiction, nonfiction, how-to, memoir. You name it, I likely read it. But there comes a point where you become tired of the worn-out tropes, the starry-eyed, blue- and pink-washed stories, where it’s unicorns and rainbows and everyone’s happy all the time, feeling #blessed. Especially once you’ve been a parent for a month or two, you realize that all of that…isn’t necessarily the real story. This shit is HARD. I wanted real, raw, honest stories. I wanted books about parenting that acknowledged how freaking hard it was to be a parent: the ambivalence, the fears, the rage, the struggles, the loneliness, and then the moments that bring you back from the brink and make you catch your breath with how beautiful they are. How lucky you are. Luckily, there are a bunch of books about parenting that have been published recently and are forthcoming that fit the bill.

Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t go as Planned: A Memoir by Sarah Kowalski

As a fellow single mother by choice, I really enjoyed this memoir. For so many women, we think the road to motherhood will be easy. Growing up, we never think we’re going to be the one who has trouble conceiving; we set limits and say we’ll do this but not that; take these meds but stop at IVF, and so forth. The catch is, that it can be really, really hard when becoming a mother is an all-consuming urge. When you don’t have a partner, it’s even more complicated. This is an honest book about the path you never think you’ll take, but it’s the one that’s just right.

Bounce Back Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection by Alissa Marquess (forthcoming in April 2018)

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book, and though it’s not something I ever would have picked up myself, I’m loving it. It has journal prompts, writing challenges, advice, and vignettes. Judgment-free and super encouraging, it’s like a little breather on a hard day for me. I’m really enjoying the fact that the exercises in the book really do bring me into the present moment, encourage me to look at what’s going on, and allow me to reflect. Highly recommended, especially for new parents or those of challenging toddlers (which is, perhaps, a redundant phrase).

Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske

If you loved Bringing Up Bebe (which I read when I was pregnant and adored), you’ve got to read this. American parents have gotten to be so “helicopter”-ish, and when Zaske moved to Germany, she found that it was quite the opposite. A fun, entertaining read, this is packed with a lot of good information and might be really reassuring to those wanting to raise “free-range” kids.

And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell (forthcoming April 2018)

O’Connell wasn’t planning on becoming a mother so soon…but you know what they say about the best-laid (no pun intended) plans. This is the kind of book I wished for when I was pregnant. Pulling no punches, the writing is blunt, honest, and tells the story of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and becoming a mother. The internal transformation and reconciling of identity you undergo during pregnancy and after birth is hard to explain, but O’Connell writes about it in a way that I found myself nodding and underlining passages. This should be required reading that your doctor hands you after you see the two pink lines on the pregnancy test.

Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and my Passage into Motherhood by Molly Caro May

This was another book that I needed when I was a newly postpartum mom. Molly Caro May writes about various health issues related to birth (pelvic floor weakness, incontinence, hormone imbalances) as well as larger, systemic issues, like the lack of supports for mothers and the lack of a village. More importantly, she writes about rage. Rage and motherhood don’t often find themselves in the same sentence, but hormones are powerful, and as a new mom, life can be overwhelming and frustrating and angering. Adjusting to a new normal, a new body, and a new person in the house can be a shock. May’s writing is intensely, beautifully visceral and she brings a new perspective to the postpartum period.

One thing’s for sure: books about parenting and pregnancy are changing. When stories become more authentic, readers can connect with it. I, for one, am so thankful for these books. Find even more 100 must-read recommendations on books about pregnancy and birth here.