Throughout human history, all over the world, babies have started out life pretty much the same – slimy, squishy, and totally unable to take care of themselves. Whether their first moments are in a sterile operating room or a tent with a dirt floor, newborns want to be warm, full, and snuggly. But from that first breath onward, the way adults perceive and treat children varies tremendously between cultures. As a nanny, I love reading about childrearing practices of all types – it’s a good reminder that there’s no “right” way to raise a child! Here are some of my favorite books and movies for the baby-crazed.
Babies ‘round the world
What it’s about: A journalist and mom combines personal experiences with research to cover childrearing practices from a variety of world cultures. It’s a quick read with lots of anecdotes about babies all over the world.
Read this for: An overview of styles without any preaching.
Don’t read this if: You’re looking for something comprehensive or scholarly.
What it’s about: An American mom raising her young daughter in France discovers the significant differences between parenting styles in each county. Interestingly, the common French methods fall well into line with RIE or respect-based parenting, but the French parents Druckerman talks to don’t see their parenting as following any specific philosophy.
Read this for: A personal exploration of French and American parenting styles
Don’t read this if: You’ll be offended that she has strong preferences and opinions about the two philosophies.
What it’s about: Raising girls in an era of “princess culture.” Orenstein discusses the Western focus on pretty pink princesses, early sexualization, advertising to children, and the negative effect on girls. This is easily my favorite book on the list, possibly my favorite nonfiction book of any sort, and I wish every American parent and caregiver would read it!
Read this for: A very readable feminist smackdown.
Don’t read this if: You are fiercely loyal to Disney.
Babies, then and now
What it’s about: A biography of an 18th century New England midwife by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (author of the now-famous quote “well-behaved women seldom make history”). Martha Ballard kept a daily record of her life and work as a Maine midwife and nurse for nearly 30 years, and, amazingly, the diary has survived to the present. It gives a remarkable look into the untold history of women’s lives in an era defined by men’s political actions. There’s an associated PBS documentary which I recommend as well.
Read this for: A scholarly historical work.
Don’t read/watch this if: You are looking for a light, quick read, since it’s long and quite dense.
What it’s about: A memoir of a midwife in 1950’s London – this is the book and the woman that the popular British TV show Call the Midwife is based on. Worth was a district nurse and midwife in one of the poorest areas of post-war London, delivering babies in often miserable conditions before the advent of birth control or hospitalized birth.
Read this for: A world of bicycles and babies that will make you want to join a convent. Then watch the TV show!
Don’t read/watch this if: You are easily grossed out by birth, blood, or grime.
What it’s about: A documentary that follows 4 babies from the US, Japan, Mongolia and Namibia for their first year of life. It’s entirely footage of the babies, and the simplicity of the format emphasizes the differences in parenting and the similarities in the babies themselves. You might be surprised at which practices you identify with!
Watch this for: The babies. Duh.
Don’t watch this if: You will be bored by the lack of narration or plot.
Stellata is an infant/toddler nanny living in Washington, DC. When she’s not baby-wrangling, she loves baking, handcrafts, reading, and museum-hopping. Online, she is on the Sheroes Blog editorial team and serves as the Sheroes Central rep to the Board of Directors. Her book blog can be found at The TBR Shelf.
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