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The Five Most Useful Parenting Books I've Read

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by Michelle MacFarlane (subscribe)
Brisbane writer and busy mum of two boys. See my parenting articles at and
Published January 19th 2012
The Five Most Useful Parenting Books I've Read
Family in the Park by Photostock
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When faced with a tricky parenting decision, some parents rely on instinct, others consult family and friends, and some of us turn to parenting books. I tend to do all three.

I wanted to share the parenting books that I've found most helpful during challenging times with my boys (now aged 8 and 10). Some have radically changed my approach on certain parenting issues, and all have improved our family life.

If you have other books that you've found useful, consider posting them in the comments below so that other parents can learn about them too.

Baby Love by Robin Barker

This is the classic for Australian first-time mothers, and it's easy to see why. A nurse and midwife, Robin Barker takes a practical, reassuring tone on all the basic stuff that you don't have a clue about the first time around. She covers breastfeeding, sleeping, crying, swaddling, nappy rash, other ailments, etc, etc.

Barker is pretty balanced and not too preachy -- on most issues, she tends to give you options rather than orders. I found this book really helpful, and I think it's a great gift for a friend who's expecting a baby (you'll pay around $40). If you can't afford to buy one, Brisbane City Council libraries have copies.

Raising Happy Brothers and Sisters by Jan Parker and Jan Stimpson
When my second son was born, my two-year-old wasn't too happy about having to compete for attention, and we had plenty of sibling conflict over the next couple of years.

I hunted for a book specifically about siblings, and found this one by two English writers, one a parenting adviser and the other a writer on child and family issues. It helped me understand sibling relationships better, gave my husband and me some useful strategies for tackling conflict, and made us realise that our boys were pretty normal -- which was a relief. It also has a chapter on coping when one sibling has a serious illness or disability.

It's not in council libraries, but you can buy it for under $30. It discusses siblings right up to adolescence and beyond.

Buddhism For Mothers by Sarah Napthali
This is probably the one book that most changed my attitude to being a mother. I didn't become a Buddhist after reading it, but it helped me approach parenting in a much better way.

When I read it, I was the stressed mother of two boys under 4. I felt stretched to my limits trying to be a good parent, keep a clean house, control my sons' behaviour, and do all the other things I thought I should. This book, written by an Australian mother, reminded me to slow down and appreciate what I had. It also taught me the value of applying the Buddhist principles -- compassion, patience, persistence -- to myself as well as my children. I never finished reading it (too tired!) and I never learnt to meditate (too busy!) but it changed my life all the same.

You can get it from a council library or find it second-hand on-line (it's out of print).

Tricky Kids by Andrew Fuller
Some people have easy-going children, but some of us are blessed with kids who keep us on our toes. The ones who ignore star charts and make up their own rules, who can argue better than a lawyer and who never give up. This book is about those kids.

It's written by an Australian psychologist and father. It takes a down-to-earth, humorous approach to helping you handle tricky kids so that your family is happier and your kids learn better ways to behave. It covers lots of different kinds of children: manipulators, negotiators, dare devils, passive resisters, and more. I loved it because it seemed more honest about kids than lots of parenting books -- and the strategies actually worked.

You can get it from a council library, or buy it for around $25.

How to Help Your Child Fly Through Life by Andrew Martin
When my older son was approaching school age, my husband and I were trying to decide if he was ready to go or would be better waiting a year. And which of the nearby state schools would be best for him.

As well as talking to our son's preschool teachers, and asking other parents about their experiences, I found this book very helpful. Each chapter deals with a different educational issue (e.g. 'Childcare and preschool', 'Choosing school subjects', 'Having a gap year') and then talks about the major decisions you'll have to make, what factors you should consider, and what the research can tell you.

The best thing about this book is that the author doesn't push any ideology -- he presents factual research and sensible guidelines to let you make your own decisions. Some chapters even include flowcharts to help you through the decision-making process. It tackles educational issues from pre-school through to university.

It's not held in council libraries, but you can buy it new for under $20.
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Why? For some fresh and helpful parenting ideas
When: Whenever you need them
Where: Council libraries, bookstores, or on-line booksellers
Cost: $10 to $40
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