Parenting Book Reviews: The Baby Book and Unconditional Parenting

November 12th, 2007 by MamaBear

(Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! :) This Carnival of Breastfeeding, about parenting/breastfeeding book reviews, officially starts on Tuesday, November 27, 2007, but I wrote mine a little early because of personal commitments I need to make sure I’m keeping…)

There are a couple of parenting books I believe have really helped me along in my parenting journey. One of them is a general reference book, more of a refresher/affirmer of a lot of things I already knew (and some things I didn’t). This one is The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. I will be reviewing it here.

The other book I’m reviewing was more of a revelatory, spiritual-experience, mind-altering sort of parenting book. The book’s title is Unconditional Parenting, and it’s written by a man named Alfie Kohn.

First I’ll talk about The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. This parenting guide is written in the same spirit as the legendary Baby and Child Care book written by Dr. Benjamin Spock that was first published in 1945 under the original title The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. The major difference between The Baby Book by the Sears and Dr. Spock’s baby book is that the Sears book is much more mother and child-centered, whereas the Dr. Spock book, while it contains a wealth of information and was quite possibly the best parenting book available in 1945, is a little dated now in some of the assumptions it makes and the language it uses. For example, Dr. Spock’s book treats breastfeeding as important, yes, and highlights many advantages to the mother and child, but it also treats breastfeeding and formula-feeding as though they were pretty much equivalent choices. At one point in the breastfeeding chapter, Spock writes, as one example, “You may have heard that the baby gets some protection against disease from the colostrum. It may well be so, though it has not been conclusively proved.” Statements like this indicate to me that perhaps not enough attention and credit was given to the benefits of breastfeeding during that period of time, that the power of women’s bodies was, as a matter of cultural habit, dismissed, and this is reflected in the way Spock wrote about it. By contrast, the Sears book (original copyright 1992) states, “Colostrum, the first milk you produce, is the highest in white blood cells and infection-fighting proteins at the most opportune time, when your newborn’s defenses are lowest… Consider colostrum your baby’s first immunization.” This is a much more positive, life-affirming take on the very same subject!

The Baby Book by the Sears is clearly pro-breastfeeding, pro-mom, pro-dad, pro-baby, and pro-family. It goes into great detail talking about many of the known beneficial properties of breastmilk with reverence and awe at the miracle of human biology while also including discussion of the very important psychological benefits of lactation (for both mother and child). What’s even more remarkable about this book, though, is that it does all of this without alienating moms who should, for whatever reason, feed their infants formula. There is a chapter in the book dedicated to “Bottlefeeding with Safety and Love,” and it gives very good general advice regarding the proper and safe way to bottle-feed (breastmilk or formula).

Since The Baby Book is a book on general baby care, though, and not a book specifically on breastfeeding, the Sears have included lots of other really useful family-centered advice, particularly the advice on parental attachment to their children (and vice-versa: children’s attachments to their parents). It was the Sears family (not sure which of them — William or Martha — or both together) that coined the term “attachment parenting” sometime during William Sears’ career as a pediatrician and father before the first publication of their first book. Since the coining of this term, the philosophy of attachment parenting has evolved into a worldwide parenting movement, an organized yet relatively informal collaborative community effort among parents everywhere who agree that the attachment of the infant/child to the parent is tantamount to the child’s success at becoming an individual, independent being as an adult.

It is all of this together that makes this book, The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears, my #1 pick for a baby shower gift, especially for a first-time mom. No matter what a new mom may think of infant feeding before she has a child (even if it’s not her first), this book is an excellent, gentle encouragement in the direction of breastfeeding, without guilting, without shaming, and without any negative peer-pressure, especially since there’s so much more in it than just infant feeding. It’s got a lot of really valuable factual information that will help parents to trust and feel proud of their natural parenting instincts, and do it in a well-informed way.

Now for the other book… Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. This book talks about a very radical approach to child-rearing (when compared to the current dominant authoritarian paradigm), about how imposing contrived punishments and rewards as conscious disciplinary tactics is not helpful for growing children into adults who think for themselves. I went through a lot of mind-blowing realizations as I read the book, and I found myself wanting to disagree with a lot of it at first, but ultimately, I just couldn’t really refute the logic behind the intent of what Kohn was saying. I don’t think the book is perfect. Perhaps he could have worded some things differently, and maybe he could have provided more real-world examples of what an appropriately respectful parental response would be to a child in a situation that required parental guidance. But I’ve found now that I actually like the book better the way it is, without too many examples. I think specific examples would interfere with the message, because this isn’t so much a parenting guide of “What to do when X happens.” It’s more of an open-ended philosophical guide that informs you of the long-term (and short-term!) negative consequences of using punishments and rewards to try to manipulate your children into bending to your will… And then it assumes you the reader are intelligent enough to figure out how best to do that for yourself and your family. Really refreshing!

A brief summary of what I learned from it is: Teach your children to be considerate, thoughtful human beings without using punishments or rewards. “Because I said so,” is not enough for us as adults, so it shouldn’t be for children either. Teach your children to question all authority, even your own. You should be able to explain to them (or at least to yourself) logically and reasonably why you’re taking a certain course of action. If you can’t, then why are you not permitting them to do X thing? The beauty of thinking in this way is that it gets you really in touch with your own motivations as a parent. It forces you to think if a certain course of action is being done because you’ve always done it/seen it/observed it that way or if it truly is what is best for a given situation and a given individual child. The natural result of this is that if you explain everything to your children (within reason, of course) from the beginning, they get an intuitive feel for your reasoning and internalize this logic and love into their own psyche. The logic, love, and acceptance becomes their own, and it results in genuine morality from within instead of just parroted, robotic moral pantomiming that relies on perpetual, extrinsic motivation (reward or punishment) to continue to exist.

These are tough realizations to ponder, and if you dare to read the book Unconditional Parenting through to the end, you will probably arrive at more questions than answers. And that’s the whole point. :) It is a very worthwhile read, but only if you’re ready for it. It’s not for everyone, but it was great for me, and I highly recommend this read for all mothers and fathers who wish to parent conscientiously.

Happy reading! :D

More Carnival of Breastfeeding blogs to whet your reading appetite:

  • The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog discusses and recommends several parenting resources, including one I’ve been meaning to read: What Mothers Do, Especially When it Looks Like Nothing.
  • Hobo Mama explores Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the way we Parent.
  • Mama Knows Breast reviews Boobs: A Guide to Your Girls.
  • BreastfeedingMums talk about several parenting and breastfeeding books, including the visually stunning A Child is Born.
  • On School Street analyzes Blindsided by a Diaper, which discusses some of the changes relationships naturally undergo after a couple have a baby.
  • Tales of life with a girl on the go writes about The Best Gifts, a beautifully illustrated and touching children’s book.
  • The True Face of Birth reviews Mama Knows Breast, a pretty comprehensive, user-friendly breastfeeding primer.
  • Breastfeeding 123 covers Baby Matters, a parenting guide that answers the “why?” of attachment parenting by explaining the science behind it.
  • Crunchy Domestic Goddess asks, “What do babies want?” (Review for the book What Babies Want.)

Ladies, all these books sound fabulous! :D

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22 Responses to “Parenting Book Reviews: The Baby Book and Unconditional Parenting

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Unconditional Parenting sounds like a great book. I will put it on my list.

    Our family adopted a puppy recently and so the Dog Whisper, Cesar Milan, has come into our frame of reference. I’ve noticed correlations between how Cesar Milan deals with dogs and how society expects mothers to deal with children! I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the end result that counts, and in the end, I want my dog to sit, stay and obey, but I want my children to change the world. You can’t change the world if you sit, stay and obey. So, it may be more difficult now, and may sometimes seem like ineffective (by societies standards) parenting, but I love that my kids think for themselves - even when I wish they would sit, stay and obey for just a few moments! : )

    Looking forward to reading Unconditional Parenting!

  2. MamaBear Says:

    Jennifer,

    It sounds like you are getting the idea of the intent behind the book. I hope you enjoy the read. It really is quite mind-opening, some of the things he talks about. Really cool stuff.

    Thanks for commenting. :)

  3. Melanie Says:

    Thanks for the great book reviews! Even tho I’m a few years off from motherhood, I added The Baby Book to my online wish list. I’m not sure that Unconditional Parenting would be quite right for me to read before I become a Mom, but I’ll probably pick it up at some point anyway. It sounds a lot like how I was raised - there was always a reason for everything that we were told, and it was never just “because I said so”. :)

    I noticed that Dr. Sears has a few other books on pregnancy, premies, childhood nutrition, and ADD. Have you read any of those? If so, are they as good as the Baby Book? (I already added the Pregnancy book to my wish list because usually if one book is good, most of the rest are, but I wouldn’t mind an opinion about it anyway, if you have one).

    Thanks again!
    Good to see you back!

  4. MamaBear Says:

    Hi Melanie!

    Glad to be back. :)

    I can tell you that anything by the Sears is going to be pretty solid writing. Sure, nothing is perfect (I, for one, don’t agree 100% with anyone, not even myself sometimes — LOL), but there will be a lot of really good, solid, useful information in all their books. Their writing style is very easy and makes for a pleasant read. I would probably get The Pregnancy Book and The Breastfeeding Book as primers on both subjects, if I felt I wanted to learn more. The Baby Book is also good for other general questions, like what to do if the baby is running a fever and other questions like that (similar in guide-form to the Baby and Child Care Guide that Dr. Spock wrote over 50 years ago, which is why I made the comparison — just that The Baby Book really honors and respects mothers and children, and the Sears are very pro-breastfeeding, which is why I prefer it).

    HTH! :)

  5. Melanie Says:

    Thanks!
    I didn’t actually see the Breastfeeding Book the first time through, until I realized Chapters has it listed under Martha Sears, not her hubby. I’ve added it to my wishlist too! :)

  6. Ruth Says:

    I absolutely love the Baby Book and am going to take a look at Unconditional Parenting too.

    What I really love about the Baby Book is the way it looks like - and is, I suppose - a generalist baby “handbook” it differs from the godawful Gina Ford / Supernanny / Baby Whisperer type books in that it promotes AP, which is still seen by many, unfortunately, as a little bit “out there”!

    Good idea to give as a gift for pregnant Mums, too. Nice counter balance to when they are given the ubiquitous Contented Little Baby Book. :-)

  7. MamaBear Says:

    Ruth,

    The Sears books are fortunately becoming more mainstream because they offer such good comprehensive information, and it’s a good thing they are since they are so pro-attachment parenting and pro-breastfeeding. They are definitely a good counter-balance to the other mainstream parenting-type books out there. Good call. :)

  8. tanya@motherwearblog Says:

    I’d never heard of Unconditional Parenting - will have to check it out!

    I really was planning on reviewing just one thing, but then I added one, and then I couldn’t leave out another - you know how it is. :)

    Tanya

  9. Lauren Says:

    I have Unconditional Parenting on order even as we speak (write, read, whatever)! I was really glad to read your review as I wait for it. I’ve had my mind blown quite a lot in the last month as I’ve been considering Alfie Kohn’s and other general radical unschooling-type philosophies. It’s really a lot to get your head around when you were raised in a culture that taught you to accept authority (and I did a really good job at that growing up), but it makes so much sense to me. Kind of like how home birth seemed crazy the first time (first dozen times?) I heard of it, and then, after a lot of research and soul-searching, I converted! :D Anyway, Alfie Kohn’s ideas really resonate with my desire to treat my child(ren) with RESPECT, same as I would treat any person. I liked the apt analogy to dog training that Jennifer mentioned above, because it seems that often we’re (in this society) trying to train children to be obedient rather than raise them to have their own voices and thoughts. Although I have to admit, ever since considering this whole idea, I’ve been more respectful of my cat’s autonomy as well. :)

    I love, love, love the Searses’ books, so thanks for putting The Baby Book out there too. When I first stumbled across a used copy of Attachment Parenting in a book store basement one day well before I had any children, I felt like a new world of child-rearing possibilities had been opened to me. It just felt so RIGHT.

    Cheers!

  10. Tales of life with a girl on the go » Blog Archive » The Best Gifts - Breastfeeding Carnival Says:

    […] The International Breastfeeding Symbol reviews The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two and Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason […]

  11. MomOnTheGo Says:

    I hadn’t heard of Unconditional Parenting and I think it is a book that I need to read right now - and how to persuade my hubby to pick it up, too? Thanks for the thorough reviews.

  12. SusanB Says:

    Unconditional Parenting is one of my top 10 that I think parents SHOULD read–just because it makes you think about your choices that might have otherwise been unconscious. Even if you don’t choose to do things Alfie Kohn’s way, at least you’ve chosen something for yourself, questioned your assumptions and decided whether or not they’re valid, etc.
    My two favorite parenting books that I think are pretty close to Kohn’s philosophy but have more “instruction and helpful hints” are Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (bad name…great book) and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk.
    Thanks for sharing!

  13. MamaBear Says:

    Lauren,

    I giggled at the comment you made about your cat. Tee-hee. And yes, the respect thing goes far beyond children and other humans. It really is amazing how much understanding can spill over from reading one little book, toward all forms of life. Thanks so much for your comment. :)

  14. MamaBear Says:

    MomOnTheGo,

    Thanks! As for persuading your husband… Well, you know your husband best. I’m sure you both have changed and grown together during the time you’ve been with each other, however long or short that has been… So if you’ve managed to sway his influence in other areas of your lives, you will probably succeed with the UP philosophy — or something similar enough to it — as well. Best of luck to you. I hope you like the book. :)

  15. MamaBear Says:

    SusanB,

    What a coincidence! I guess it’s true what they say about great minds thinking alike because I like both those books as well! :D

    Yes, and I do think that Alfie Kohn’s book, Unconditional Parenting, should be seen as a guide, not as a be-all, end-all book of parenting action. The beauty of the book, to me, is that it introduced so many questions in my mind, and then once I put the book down, I was still thinking about them (I still do). It doesn’t really answer anything definitively (not for me anyway), but it certainly gave me a LOT to chew on. I was really glad for that, and I believe it’s made me a more conscientious person (though obviously not a perfect one, not by any stretch), as well as a more deliberate (though obviously still imperfect) parent.

  16. SusanB Says:

    Beautifully said. Thanks so much for sharing!

  17. Sinead@BMums Says:

    What great reviews. I haven’t read either of those books (yet!) but I definitely like the sound of both, particularly Unconditional Parenting. You’ve done justice to the authors with these reviews :)

  18. What *do* babies want? | Crunchy Domestic Goddess Says:

    […] The International Breastfeeding Symbol Blog reviews The Baby Book and Unconditional Parenting […]

  19. Baby Matters: A Book Review Says:

    […] assortment of ideal gifts including The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers Revised and Updated The International Breastfeeding Symbol Blog reviews The Baby Book and Unconditional Parenting Hobo Mama reviews Our Babies, Ourselves Mama […]

  20. Lauren Says:

    SusanB, I have to add your recommendations to my must-read list as well. Thanks!

  21. MamaBear Says:

    Thank you, Susan and Sinead! :D

  22. Crunchy Domestic Goddess Says:

    i’ve heard a lot about unconditional parenting (many in favor of it, some against it), but i’ve yet to pick up a copy and read it myself. (too many books on my reading list and not enough time! LOL) one of these days i’d like to give it a try. it sounds like quite the eye-opener.

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