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The 5 MUST-READ Parenting Books

Disclosure: All the opinions in this article are my own and I am not paid to endorse any of the products linked below. However, some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. Thanks for supporting!

There are literally THOUSANDS of parenting books out there. From some of the all time classics like What to Expect When You're Expecting and How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen & Listen So Your Kids Will Talk to the no less famous but deeply problematic books from the likes of James Dobson and Co. there is no shortage of ink being spilled trying to tell you how to raise humans.

And you know what? I'm here for it.

The human brain is the single most complex structure known to human kind. As I've said a million times before raising kids is the single most important and difficult thing any of us will ever do. And because of that, it THRILLS me that there are so many books on parenting out there! But how do we know which parenting books are good and helpful and which parenting books are full of harmful information and therefore better used to prop open a door? That's why I wrote this: The 5 MUST READ Parenting Books.

I have read literally dozens of books on parenting and discussed their contents with other parenting experts and child psychologists to come up with these 5 must read Parenting Books. I truly believe if you read these five parenting books, you will have the tools you need to be a GREAT parent. One disclaimer before I jump into the list, are there other great parenting books that I've left off the list? Absolutely! So don't think just because a book ISN'T on the list, it's a terrible book. It might be that I love your favorite parenting book too but I feel that another book better covers the same material better or more accessibly.

So here it is, my list:

It is hard to talk about attachment parenting without talking about Bill and Martha Sears. This book is for parents of kids of any age but I specifically recommend it for soon-to-be parents and parents of babies. It helps lay the foundational mindset that evolves into "Gentle" Parenting later on and helps parents combat the myths and bad advice so commonly given to first time parents. If that's you hit the link above and dive in!

My three favorite parts of this book are the discussions of "baby-wearing," how to "attachment parent" overnight, and the constant reminder to be weary of the "baby-trainers." As far as parenting books go, this is one of the most popular and controversial in the modern era. Do I totally agree with everything that Bill and Martha say, no... but I probably agree with more of it than most parenting influencers and coaches. Some critics say that some of the research in this book is out of date or unsubstantiated but I have yet to hear someone make a compelling argument that convinces me of that. In any case, I use this parenting book with new parents to set the tone and attitude toward parenting more than anything else. You can also get this as an AUDIOBOOK (my preferred method of parenting book consumption)

Michaeleen Doucleff is an NPR reporter so it's honestly not surprising that I connected so well with her seeing as I grew up in a house where NPR was the constant background noise. This book is an extremely interesting take on parenting and while it's probably the book on this list that I had the most hesitancy fully endorsing (because some of the things in it feel problematic to me) when combined with the other four parenting books, it is an invaluable resource.

Michealeen travels (with her daughter) to several indigenous communities around the world to learn the lost art of child rearing in an age of perceived western cultural supremacy. Ultimately what she learns is the value of autonomy in children and I believe this is a foundational lesson for those of us steeped in the culture of "control." I use this book with parents of pre-school and elementary aged kids who are trying to deconstruct some of the western parenting (ironically often called traditional parenting). My hesitation with it is that some of the advice, not carefully implemented, could feel like shame culture. This is unsurprising given its context but if you read it in tandem with the other parenting books on this list (especially number 2) I think some of those pitfalls can be avoided. Overall, It's a fascinating read and Michaeleen, as a storyteller, is unmatched in the parenting space. You can also get this as an AUDIOBOOK read by the author (my preferred method of parenting book consumption)

It's really hard not to put this as my number one parenting book. Every book co-authored by Dan and Tina is phenomenal and this might be the most practically important for my own personal parenting journey. I recommend this book more than perhaps any other on this list (with the possible exception of number 1) to parents of kids of all ages, from toddlers to college. Frankly, I have even recommended this book to leaders and educators of adults because of the brilliant conflict transformation tactics work on grown folks too.

No-Drama Discipline is a treatise on how to parent without punishment, shame, and with the neurological and psychological health and well-being of your child in mind. It masterfully deconstructs some of the "traditional" parenting ways of correcting undesirable or problematic behaviors while simultaneously not shaming those of us who have implemented those tactics in the past (or were raised by well-meaning loving parents who employed them). It is hard to imagine my parenting or mentoring of parents without the work of Dan and Tina and especially this book. This, is the definition of a "Must Read" in my book. You can also get this as an AUDIOBOOK read by the authors (my preferred method of parenting book consumption)

I admit there may be a touch of recency bias where it comes to Unconditional Parenting. It is the parenting book on this list that I have read most recently and when I did, I felt myself constantly nodding along (when I wasn't wincing from conviction). If you grew up in the West in the last 100 years, chances are Alfie disagrees with how you were parented but it's really hard to argue with his points. The summary of this book could be written on a napkin: The use of Punishments and Rewards in parenting foster a relationship built on conditional affection and love... and that is the opposite of what we should be doing.

I think it's easy to critique this book for being "too harsh" on traditional western parenting, which has been responsible for countless well-adjusted healthy adults. That said, with adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide at an all time high (and still rising) we need prophets like Alfie to come out and push back. This book is for the parent who far enough down the parenting journey to be willing to engage non-defensively and with an openness to "another way." I would absolutely not recommend this as the "first" book to read on this list but it might be the most important. If you're ready for the conviction and challenge that is Unconditional Parenting, hit the link above and let me know what you think! You can also get this as an AUDIOBOOK read by the author (my preferred method of parenting book consumption)

I mean if you didn't see this coming, you don't know me. This is the GOAT (greatest of all time) parenting book. It's hard to overstate the impact, not only on my personal parenting journey (and the journey of those who I mentor) but on the world of parenting in general of "The Whole-Brain Child." Published in 2011, there is not a single parenting book on this list (or to my knowledge that I have read which is saying something) published after 2012 that does not directly reference it. Read that sentence again. This book lays the groundwork for understanding parenting with the adolescent brain in mind and most of the strategies are pure gold.

I recommend this book for all parents and future parents without hesitation; in fact I recommend it to anyone who works with children in any capacity. This is the place to start (along with number 5 on this list) and it is the book I find myself returning back to over and over. When combined with No Drama Discipline (in many ways its natural sequel written by the same authors) it lays out the basis for essentially all thoughtful modern parenting. I cannot recommend it highly enough and if you are engaging with my content, chances are you're going to love it as much as I do. You can also get this as an AUDIOBOOK read by the authors (my preferred method of parenting book consumption).

That's the list! I hope it helps you on your parenting journey.

If you are interested in my reading order I would recommend the following:

  1. The Whole Brained Child (ideally before or shortly after your child is born)

  2. Attachment Parenting (ideally before or shortly after your child is born)

  3. No Drama Discipline (when your child is 18 months-3 years)

  4. Unconditional Parenting (when your child is 2-4 years)

  5. Hunt, Gather, Parent (when your child is 3-5 years)

How many of these books have you or do you plan to read?

  • 0-2

  • 3-4


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