Dude, You’re Gonna Be A Dad: All I want is a book I can give to my husband that focuses on his experience of the pregnancy. Instead, I get this sexist pile of bullcrap.
A truly astonishing percentage of this book is devoted to Dealing With Women And Their Incomprehensible Woman Feelings. Of course you, a man, do not have any feelings you need to talk about! You are a manly man! You care about football! And sex! And drinking! The most striking thing about all of this is that it isn’t clear to me that this book expects men to actually get any say in their relationships whatsoever. If you don’t want to go shopping for the birth announcement or participate in a baby shower or go to the doctors’ appointments, why not just say that? Like, first of all, some men like baby showers? And, second of all, if you despise baby showers that much, why not tell your wife? It is just this horrifying vision of a world where people are constantly forced to have their most intimate relationship with someone they can’t talk to and don’t particularly like.
While I too agree that large breasts are very nice, an advice book shouldn’t go hubba hubba about how big one’s wife’s breasts are more than, say, twice. And if your wife is literally producing your child, then it seems to me that you should do your fair share of chores without having to be bribed with sex to do so. And in a pregnancy book, I think it is wildly inappropriate to talk about the process of birth and associated medical procedures as if they are so disgusting men cannot possibly be expected to deal with them. If you can’t handle knowing what an episiotomy is, maybe you shouldn’t have a partner who might get one.
The Book of New Family Traditions: How To Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday: I think that it’s problematic to refer to things as being neurotypical; after all, both neurodivergent and neurotypical people are very diverse, and it’s a mistake to assume that “unlike me” is the same thing as “NT”. Still, this book is aggressively neurotypical. A lot of the things the author considers to be Fun I would consider to be incredibly overstimulating and they would make me want to hide in a corner and cry.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of really cool ideas for holidays and rituals, if you can pick through the ones that wouldn’t work for you. A few I particularly liked: A mom bonded with her son, a college student who liked World of Warcraft, by playing with him, and eventually organized a birthday party for him in WoW with his guild; celebrating A A Milne’s birthday with small children who like Winnie the Pooh; reading a poem each day with your kids during April; a dad who brings his child’s stuffed animal with him on work trips and photographs the stuffed animal doing various fun things; giving a Miss Frizzle Award each month to the family member who has learned the most things through making the most mistakes.
The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting: How The Science of Strategic Thinking Can Help You Deal With The Toughest Negotiators You Know– Your Kids: Less a parenting advice book, more an introduction to game theory that happens to use parenting as a hook. Still pretty interesting.
The traditional “I cut, you choose” is provably optimal if there are only two people involved. Traditional turn-taking is often suboptimal because going first is way better than going second: for instance, if you’re picking players on a team. “Balanced alternation” (Alice, Bob, Bob, Alice, Bob, Alice, Alice, Bob) is superior. If children are arguing over something, try an auction! The book recommends chore auctions, because children might have different amounts of money, but it seems to me that “you can’t buy control of the remote control if you’re saving up money for a new bike” is in fact an important economics lesson of its own. Not sure what the best way to deal with older children having larger allowances is, though. If you credibly follow through on threats, it’ll be less likely that you’ll have to follow through on threats. Majority rule works best for voting if there are only two options; if there are more options, Random Dictator (in which a single person is randomly selected to make the decision) is best over time, because families are generally small enough that everyone will be able to take a turn to be dictator.
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way To Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind: The one phrase repeated throughout this book is “connect, then redirect.” Connecting with your child first calms them, improves your relationship, and might improve your child’s brain. To connect with your child, first get below their eye level, then touch them, give them a nod, or otherwise nonverbally communicate your empathy. Acknowledge their feelings verbally, then listen to what your child says, instead of lecturing or trying to convince her not to feel what she feels. Once you’ve listened, reflect back her emotions to her (“you seem really disappointed about not getting to go to the party”). Throughout the process, try to have an attitude of curiosity about why your child is behaving as they are. And don’t catastrophize about what your child’s misbehavior means for the rest of their life.
Wait until both you and your child are calm to redirect; your child is not in a place for learning, and you aren’t in a place for teaching, when either of you is overemotional. (I think they chose “redirect” because it rhymes, because honestly what they’re calling redirection doesn’t seem like redirection to me.) Redirection is inherently flexible: the important thing is not to stick to rules, but instead to ask yourself how best to teach the child what you want them to teach. It’s important to be consistent but not rigid: if the household policy is that homework is done before fun, but the child’s grandparents came over, maybe homework can wait for after dinner.
The skills you probably want to build through discipline are insight into oneself, empathy with others, and the ability to repair harms caused. Therefore, ask the child about his feelings to build insight and about other people’s feelings to build empathy. (It’s important to ask rather than lecturing. As you can no doubt remember from your own childhood, children zone out during lectures.) To build the ability to repair harms, ask the child what they think should happen afterward. You can also ask them for ideas about how to prevent problems in the future. Try neutrally describing situations: “you said you were prepared for the test, but you got a D, what happened?” Always accept your child’s emotions, even as you limit their behavior. Emphasize what you do want your children to do (“put on your shoes”) rather than what you don’t (“stop messing around!”). Whenever possible, say a yes with conditions rather than an outright no: “we can read a story tomorrow night”, not “no more stories.” Playfulness, silliness, and humor can defuse conflicts.
Loose Parts: Inspiring Play In Young Children: The premise of this book is that to encourage freeform play with kids, you should give them toys that can be used in a lot of different ways. This book then proceeds to have pictures of literally every such toy in existence. It is literally 90% picture. I don’t object to pictures per se, and some of the pictures are very prettily shot, but I am a very verbal person who gets bored easily by the umpteenth picture of pinecones.
A random sample of things photographed in the book, to give you an idea: bouncy balls; buckets; boxes; fabric; metal washers; rocks; pipe cleaners; seeds; pots and pans; bottlecaps; colored paper; necklaces.
The Wonder Weeks: The Wonder Weeks claims that whenever your infant is really fussy it is because they are learning a new skill. I have no idea if this is technically speaking “true”, but it certainly sounds hella useful for parents to believe. It is a huge pain in the ass when infants are fussy, but parents like their infants learning new skills, and you can reframe the situation by going “oh yes! She’ll probably be able to lift her head up/talk/walk/whatever soon!” Since infants are constantly learning things, it is a bit hard to prove this framing wrong.
Suggested activities for newborns: lots snuggling.
Suggested activities for week five: lots snuggling; have ‘conversations’ with your baby; show her things she finds interesting.
Suggested activities for week eight: let baby play with her hands and feet, possibly naked, possibly securely tying a ribbon to a hand or foot; chat with baby; bathe with baby; bring baby interesting objects; if the baby can lift her head up, gently pull her up so she’s sitting supported with you. Toys: anything that dangles overhead; anything that can be swiped at or touched; a mobile that moves or is musical; cuddly toys; a music box.
Suggested activities for week twelve: let your baby feel different fabrics; gently bounce the baby; sway baby side to side like a pendulum; slide the baby down your body; lift the baby up slowly above your head then lower her down, perhaps making airplane noises; pretend to nibble the baby; put the baby on your knee and bounce her. Toys: rattles; rocking chairs; dolls with realistic faces; bells; toys that make sounds; wobbly toys that bounce back when hit.
Suggested activities for week nineteen: narrate your life to the baby; look at brightly colored pictures together; sing songs; play peek-a-boo and one-little-piggy; show the baby a mirror; say “I’m going to [dramatic pause] pinch your [body part]” and then do so. Toys: crackly paper; mirror; photographs or pictures of other babies or objects or animals she recognizes by name; CD with children’s songs; toy vehicle with wheels that really turn; screw-top container with rice in it; household items such as a measuring cup or colander in the bath; activity center; ball with gripping notches and a bell inside; plastic or inflatable rattle.
Suggested activities for week 26: peek-a-boo and variations, hiding yourself or her; hide toys under a blanket or in the bathtub; look at picture books together; whisper to her; letting her drop things from her high chair; songs where you move the child as you sing; standing the baby on her head; letting her ‘fly’ around the room; supporting her as she sits or stands; swimming (only if supervised closely); going to a children’s farm together. Toys: a cupboard full of interesting things like empty toilet paper rolls, empty boxes, a pan, keys, and plastic plates; toy pianos; toy telephones; drums; squeaky toys; cuddly toys that make noise when turned upside down; toy cars with rotating wheels and openable doors; things to fill and empty out in the bath; CD with children’s songs; picture books; photo books; wooden blocks; balls; wooden spoons; boxes; empty egg cartons; wooden spoons; cups that nest or stack.
Suggested activities for week 37: taking baby outside; allowing him to press doorbells, flip light switches, etc.; let baby watch himself as you dress or undress him; name things; ask your baby to do things for you like handing you something; patty cake; let baby imitate what you’re doing; put baby in front of a mirror; chase; hide-and-seek (make sure the baby sees you disappear). Toys: things that open and close like doors and drawers; pans with lids; alarm clocks; magazines and newspapers to tear; plastic plates, cups, silverware; cushions and duvets to crawl on and over; boxes and buckets that are larger than he is; toy cars; posters with distinct pictures; picture books; baby pools; blocks, especially if large; sand, water, pebbles, and plastic tools; swings; dolls with realistic faces; things he can move (handles, knobs); things that move by themselves (shadows, branches); containers; balls of all sizes.
Suggested activities for week 46: pattycake; itsy bitsy spider; row row row your boat; let baby ‘help’ you do housework; let baby ‘groom’ himself; let baby feed himself with a spoon; let baby cooperate in dressing himself, and name the parts as you dress him; touch and name parts of your baby’s anatomy; point to and name things; put a toy under a cup and watch him look for it; wrap a plaything in crinkly paper and watch him unwrap it. Toys: toy cars; wooden trains with stations and bridges; drum (or pots and pans!) to beat on; dolls with toy bottles; books with animal pictures; balls of all sizes; giant plastic beads; mirrors; plastic figures of people or animals; primo blocks; bicycles, cars, or trucks he can sit on and move around himself; stuffed animals, especially if it makes music if you squeeze it; sandbox with bucket and spade.
Suggested activities for week 55: give the doll a bath; let the baby help unpack groceries, do dishes, or do other housework; hide an object that’s playing a sound and let the baby find it; put a toy under one cup, switch the locations of the cups, and let him find it. Toys: dolls with strollers and beds; farmhouse with farm animals and fences; tea set (unbreakable); wooden train with tracks; cars and garage; pots, pans, and wooden spoons; telephone; Primo blocks; bicycle, car, toy horse, or engine he can sit on; push-along wagon; rocking horse; stackable containers; rod with stackable rings; colored sponges; box with differently shaped blocks and holes; mop, hand broom, dustpan and brush; large sheets of paper and markers; books with animals or cars and tractors; musical instruments; CD with simple stories.
Suggested activities for week 64: various physical antics; playing outdoors; asking the child to point to objects or body parts; movement songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes or If You’re Happy and You Know It; silliness; cartoons like Sesame Street; peek-a-boo; hide-and-seek; ‘helping’ cook, vacuum, or do the dishes, or pretending ot do so. Toys: jungle gym and slide; balls; books; sandbox; tea set; puzzles; plastic bottles; cleaning utensils; toy vacuums; toys on a string; Sesame Street; cartoons.
Suggested activities for week 75: silliness; play wrestling and other physical play; drawing; trying to stand on his head or balance on one foot; drawing; blowing bubbles; jumping; balancing on a short wall; tickling; playing outside; playing with other children; ball games; ghost games; twirling around until dizzy; feeding the dog; tag; hide-and-seek; reading stories. Toys: cars and garage; clay; children’s TV; children’s books; trinkets that belong together; toy airport; drawing on paper; sand and water; push car; plastic chair; ball; bicycle; stuffed animals, dolls, teddy bears; stickers; sandbox; digging in the yard; Sesame Street; music; slide; colored pencils; blowing bubbles; trains; swings; rocking horse; puzzles.
Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy: This cites a lot of psychological experiments that have that sort of “gee whiz” quality that makes me think they’ll fail to replicate. Many of the cited studies are on rats, and things that apply to rat babies have a remarkable tendency to not generalize to human babies. She also cites Satoshi Kanazawa, He Who Gives All Other Evolutionary Psychologists A Bad Name. So if you’re looking for a science-based pregnancy I’d recommend Debunking the Bump or Expecting Better and skipping this one.
Anyway, the actionable advice from this book is as follows:
- Don’t eat food that makes you feel nauseous in early pregnancy.
- The expectant father may get mood swings, nausea, fatigue, food cravings or aversions, or bloat; if so, rejoice, as this is a sign of attachment and emotional responsiveness to the baby. (Also, now he gets to suffer as much as you do.)
- Eat a generally healthy diet: leafy greens, eggs, fruit, fish, nuts, beans, whole grains, soy, and a little fat and dairy, but not to excess.
- In particular: Eat fish.
- Avoid consuming an excessive amount of vitamins.
- Gain between twenty-five and thirty-five pounds.
- Have sex.
- Tell the father the baby looks like him, even if it doesn’t.
- Read books to and play music to the baby in utero; they will find those books and music comforting when they leave.
- Moderate stress and exercise are good for the fetus, but high levels of stress and exercise are bad.
- Eat a chocolate bar each day.
- Squat during childbirth if you can.
- Stimulate your breasts to induce labor.
- Spend the first hour after birth with the baby pressed against your chest.
- Don’t bathe right after childbirth.
- Get ample support during childbirth.
- Take pictures of your baby’s smiling face and then look at it as often as possible.
- Give your baby ample love and nurturing, even to the point of spoiling her.
- While breast-feeding, try to have moderate stress in your life.
No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years Into Cherished Moments With Your Kids: No Regrets Parenting consists mostly of a series of ideas about how to spend time with your children if you are a busy person, as many parents are. For instance, you can host sleepovers; if you’re working weekends, you can take your kids to the office with you and let them play at the office. To bond with a teenager, you can teach them to drive and then help them apply to college. You can have family traditions, like a taco night and family movie night. You can have family dinners together every night. Most of the suggestions are not particularly groundbreaking, but it’s nice to have them all in one place.
Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach To Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavioral Problems, and Encourage Confidence: Based on the author’s experience as a father and play therapist, this is an extensive guide to playing with children. I find it extraordinarily reassuring that there are how-to books for these things.
Playful Parenting argues that children’s misbehavior is often caused by disconnection, and creating a sense of connection can cause them to behave better. The best way to do this is through the language of children– play. Play also allows children to work through their feelings and conflicts in their lives. We may stigmatize certain kinds of play– disapproving of roughhousing, violent play, or play we deem sexist. But these allow kids to feel a sense of connection and work through their feelings too: for instance, wrestling can allow kids to explore themes of aggression, anger, isolation, or strength. So try to respect your children’s play and engage in it wholeheartedly. For instance, the author played Barbies reluctantly with his daughter, thinking that they were boring and stupid and sexist, before he realized that this was basically saying to his daughter “your interests are boring and stupid and sexist.” He then played with more enthusiasm. The author suggests that wrestling and other physical play are excellent ways to engage with kids, as is pretending to be stupid (for instance, putting a sock on your head, then on your hand, then on your shoulder, before you put it on your foot). Play can stop misbehavior in its tracks by turning the misbehavior into a game.
[content warning: child sexual abuse]
Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex: A must-read for any sex-positive American. Levine’s thesis is that, as a culture, Americans are hysterical about the sexuality of minors, and this causes a great deal of harm. Although her book is nearly fifteen years old, the trends she discusses have not changed as far as I can tell.
For instance, consider child on child sexual abuse. Although child on child sexual abuse is a real thing (and one of my few critiques of Levine’s book is that I think she fails to engage with the harm it can cause), social workers and scholars have concluded without evidence that sexual play and ordinary roughhousing are really sexual abuse. Sexual play might not be “just curiosity”– many children experience sexual pleasure, which they may wish to consensually explore with other children. We simply do not have enough information to know what is normal and what is abnormal sexual play, as well as whether abnormal but consensual sexual play causes any harm. In the absence of this evidence, children are being branded as sexual offenders and placed in treatment that is far more appropriate to actual abusers (for instance, it characterizes the child’s insistence that they have not done anything wrong as “denial”).
Even if it’s not branded as child-on-child sexual abuse, Levine points out that our attitude towards children’s sexuality is fucked up in a lot of different ways. For instance, she describes a parenting advice columnist who, when asked what to do when the parent catches two five-year-old boys looking at and touching each other’s penises, says to tell them there’s nothing wrong with their bodies but that their bodies are private so they shouldn’t show them to each other. Levine asks, “surely, if we want to teach our children about privacy, the correct thing to do would be to say ‘excuse me’ and close the door?” There is simply no concept that children might have privacy from parents or the ability to make decisions about their own bodies.
The situation is worse for teenagers, who pretty much always want sex more than children do. Levine’s criticisms of abstinence-only education are familiar, but she goes farther than that. Levine questions the usefulness of statutory rape law, pointing out that the line is drawn differently in different places, and yet most Americans don’t even know whether their state is a sex-under-eighteen-is-illegal state or a sex-under-sixteen-is-illegal state. She points out that many adults who had sex with adults as teenagers consider it a positive experience, and essentially no one considers actual rape to be a positive experience. And getting the courts involved can worsen an already bad situation.
Levine argues that teenagers should generally be expected to engage in outercourse, rather than intercourse. However, even comprehensive sex education (Levine calls it “abstinence-plus”) provides little to no education about what outercourse might mean, almost never mentioning such activities as phone sex, sharing porn, frottage, or use of sex toys. Many people condemn cybersex, even though it’s objectively speaking the safest form of sex a teenager might engage in: there’s no STI or pregnancy risk, and real life doesn’t come with a block function. But cybersex combines the terrifying Teen Sexuality with the terrifying Internet, so it’s doomed.