3 books that have defined my approach to parenting

I guess I fall into the peaceful, respectful parenting camp.

I like to think of it more as simple parenting, something slow and rhythmical that places unconditional love for a child at the centre. An holistic approach to child rearing that sees and accepts a child as a whole individual in their own right. That acknowledges parenting as a political act and a powerful vehicle for social change. That finds equal joy in moments of quiet play and delightful silliness, in the stories we share together, and the overall gentle unfolding of a new human person.

Some of these ideas were fully realised in me when Ben was born. Others have evolved out of my reading over the past two years of parenting. When I sat down to think about it I very quickly identified three books that have been integral to shaping my values as a parent.

Image of Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks

Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks

I want to live in a world where this book, and indeed all of bell hooks’ writings, are taught as standard in schools and beyond. I have often fantasised about setting up an organisation that periodically airdrops copies of Feminism Is For Everybody all over the country, to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to read it. Reading this book for the first time felt like exhaling, like release. bell hooks lays the foundations of the world I want to live in, and the world I want my child to live in.

Feminism Is For Everybody is a distillation of bell hooks’ writings presented as a series of essays on different topics from reproductive rights and class to race, gender, and masculinity. There is even a chapter on Feminist Parenting, which to my mind makes some of the most insightful statements about the problems of parenting culture that I have ever read.

“Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchal cultures of domination children do not have rights… ours is a culture that does not love children, that continues to see children as property of parents to do with as they will… In a culture of domination where children have no civil rights, those who are powerful, adult males and females, can exert autocratic rule of children.”

bell hooks

While not a parenting book in the traditional sense, I cannot understate how much of my approach to living, playing, loving, and supporting my child has come from these pages.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

This was the first “parenting” book that I read (after seeing it recommended by Eloise at Frida Be Mighty), and it has had a big impact on the way I approach life with Ben. In many ways this has been my practical manual for applying feminist parenting principles in the home and providing a stable, safe environment in which Ben can explore and learn, about the world and about himself.

“By simplifying, we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self.”

Kim John Payne

Payne discusses the importance of decluttering our children’s lives, in terms of toys and objects and activities, and creating a calm, gently structured rhythm for home life. Right from the beginning of Ben’s life I wanted him to know that our home was just as much his as ours, and part of that was creating a safe, clutter-free space that he could explore at will. If I ever find myself saying “no” too much I put in some work to change that, and I often find myself returning to Simplicity Parenting to help me find the solutions that work best for us.

The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies

The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies

Another deeply practical book, this time focussed on toddlers in all their wonder and magic and mayhem. I make no secret of how much I am enjoying the toddler phase. The language, the beginnings of deep imaginative play, the interest in everything. What I love most about Simone Davies’ book is that from the outset she is intent on reframing toddler behaviour in its proper context, from the battles over whether to put socks on to the need for a very particular breakfast spoon, to show just how brilliant these tiny humans really are.

“…we see the child as their own person on their own unique path. We support them as their guide and gentle leader.”

Simone Davies

What I love about this book is the detailed practical advice for following your child and their interests, for providing gentle leadership and structure while giving them copious free space and independence in the home. And there are some great suggestions for handling more challenging (for parents!) behaviour like tantrums or biting.


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