Columns > Published on August 9th, 2013

Five Inappropriate Parenting Books Every Reader Will Enjoy

There's nothing more frightening than the realization that in a few short months, you will have a baby. A real, live, screaming baby, one that requires attention every day of the week. Not only that, but you will have to parent your child through all of those developmental stages you chose to forget about in your own life. Puberty, anyone? And remember that kid in elementary school who ate his boogers? Or the one obsessed with bugs? Those children had parents, and now, that parent might be you.

Helping your kid navigate the murky waters of childhood is only one of your duties, of course. There’s also the business of feeding, clothing, nurturing, and providing a plethora of magical memories that will make him want to take care of you in your old age. It’s a big job. As a first-time expectant mother, I'm naturally interested in producing the most intelligent, talented, and good-looking kid the world has ever met. But, I have to admit that the parenting literature has made me question my lofty ambitions. Mommy blogs make me question them even further. Am I really expected to DIY everything in the house, sew my kid’s clothes, and cook 47-step breakfast quesadillas with homemade pico de gallo in order to give my son a happy childhood?

Thankfully, there is a growing body of literature meant to address these specific concerns. Call it anti-parenting, realistic parenting, or plain comedy—books that take a lighthearted view of this subject make us all feel better about ourselves, parent and non-parent alike. Here are a few of my favorites:

'Let's Panic About Babies!' by Alice Bradley and Eden M. Kennedy

This was the very first book I bought after I learned I was pregnant, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Written for expectant mothers, Let's Panic About Babies! is the antidote to all the mushy miracle of life propaganda one finds in the What to Expect series. Divided into two parts - "The Swelling" and "The Birthening and Beyond" - Bradley and Kennedy follow you through your journey from "Getting Used to This Pregnancy Nonsense" to "This Pregnancy Shit is Getting Old!," all the way to "Back to Work, or Do You Love Your Baby?" Readers will find quizzes, tables, lists, Victorian anecdotes, and a host of recommendations as they adapt to the alien/rhesus monkey growing inside them. The chapter illustrations by Oslo Davis are so spot-on; I laugh every time I revisit them. Oh, who am I kidding? I laugh out loud when I revisit many sections of this book. The quiz for fetuses, the repeated references to Brian Dennehy, the cost benefit analysis of giving your partner oral sex (sandwiches don't make themselves!)—these things and more will keep this book on my reference shelf for a long time to come.

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'Dad is Fat' by Jim Gaffigan

If you’re not familiar with the comedian Jim Gaffigan, you’re missing out. Gaffigan tackles the heavy issues, like eating and sleeping, and is best known for his monologue on Hot Pockets. I find him incredibly funny. Naturally, I had to read his book, which details his crazy life with his wife Jeannie and their five (five!) young children. Gaffigan covers all the maternity basics: the pregnancy hormone progesterone (Latin for shut up and get away from me), cutting the cord (snipping the ribbon in front of a new building that you didn’t build), and home birth (witchcraft). His children pee in his bed, drive out the neighbors, and make life in their two bedroom New York apartment a Herculean effort. His advice for parents ranges from babysitters (no English necessary), fast food (you win, McDonald’s), to lollipops (flavored muzzles). If you agree that raising children is more about the try than the Pinterest board, this is the book for you.

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'Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation' by Elizabeth Beckwith

Fear, shame, and repression are central tenants in Beckwith’s parenting philosophy, which she attributes entirely to her large Italian family. She cites examples from her childhood in Las Vegas, where pimps and prostitutes were regular dinner guests, yet her mother still managed to raise her as a guilty Catholic who didn’t lose her virginity until after high school. (Success!) Beckwith proclaims the importance of establishing a strong family team, meaning, “we do things a certain way, and everyone else is an asshole.” Once parents have established the “us” vs. “them” mentality in their children, they can try out a few of Beckwith’s suggestions. For example, Beckwith is a big fan of the “commenting” technique. This method eschews directly telling your child what to do in favor of negatively commenting on other kids and adults displaying the unwanted behavior. I recognized this method immediately from my own upbringing, and I can attest to its effectiveness. Other useful tools include giving “the look” and non-punishment (“I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed in you”). Also, the stories about Grandma Guido are pure gold.

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'How Not to Kill Your Baby' by Jacob Sager Weinstein

If the title wasn't enough of an indication, let me just tell you outright: this is a ridiculous book. Weinstein lays your every possible parenting fear on the table, and then demonstrates that you have only barely scratched the surface. He uses colorful charts and diagrams to illustrate everything from common signs of pregnancy that are also symptoms of life-threatening diseases, names that will lead to playground insults, and the horrible things your baby's first word indicates about his character. There are periodic "Dan's Tips for Dads" sections, in which we repeatedly learn that dads have no essential role in the care of a newborn. At the back of the book is a fold-out Official Growth Chart of Doom, which measures baby against major hazards up to 50 inches. Did you know that the shoulder height of a wolf is 29 inches? Finally, the librarian in me can't help but delight in Weinstein's index, which is hilarious. Where else can one find references like "penis, longer than yours" or "sex—with your wife, you not having"?

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'Sh*tty Mom' by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo, and Many Ann Zoellner

Described as the book about surviving babies and the children they grow into, Sh*tty Mom is truly the parenting book for the rest of us. Written with the working mother in mind, Sh*tty Mom covers everything a normal (not superhuman) woman encounters in her ongoing quest to do good by her kid, hold on to her job, interface with other parents, and maintain some semblance of adulthood. The authors address matters like pacifiers on the ground (look around for observers before inserting back into baby's mouth), sleeping through the night despite a screaming baby (loud box fan), and the anti-climax zoo experience (most animals suck). They remind us that at some point, the toddler having a meltdown at the supermarket will be yours, and a babysitter who shows up on time and then watches TV all night is more valuable than a late sitter who plays with your kid. Sh*tty Mom acknowledges that there will be moments when you just want to text/read/listen to something not kid-appropriate, which is why drop-off playdates, grandma's house, and the McDonald's playgrounds exist.

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Any essential anti-parenting books I missed? Please let me know in the comments!

About the author

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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