The best books that will change the way you think about parenting

Who am I?

I’m a writer, journalist, and occasional translator. Originally from Poland, I now live in the Netherlands with my German husband and three multilingual children. Since my children were born, I’ve become fascinated by the various ways culture and society affect the way we raise our children. I have written about various topics, but mostly parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and the BBC, among others. When not writing or thinking about writing, I can be found reading books, drinking tea, and doing nothing.


I wrote...

Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

By Olga Mecking,

Book cover of Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

What is my book about?

Not your usual wellness book, Niksen is about the joys and challenges of… doing nothing. Not scrolling Facebook. Not watching a movie on Netflix. Certainly not going through the endless to-do list in your head. Niksen means looking out of the window, watching the clouds pass by, and doing it without any reason, other than because it feels nice.

Niksen is good for our physical and mental well-being makes us more creative and counter-intuitively, more productive. While doing nothing is harder than it should be, due to immersive technology and social expectations of constant productivity, the book is also full of tips and advice on how to achieve more Niksen. The book has also appeared in 15 languages and several countries around the world.

The books I picked & why

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The School for Good Mothers

By Jessamine Chan,

Book cover of The School for Good Mothers

Why this book?

This highly acclaimed novel follows Frida, a divorced mother, who out of sheer exhaustion and boredom, leaves her young daughter at home alone for way too long. As punishment, she is required to attend a special school where she’s supposed to learn how to be a good mother. “I am a bad mother but I’m learning to be good” is the institution’s motto. But is Frida really a bad mother? Most importantly, will she be successful and get her daughter back?

The School for Good Mothers is not just a great read but describes perfectly how parents, but especially mothers in our modern society just can’t win, and how refusing parents the support they need to care for their children harms everyone.

The School for Good Mothers

By Jessamine Chan,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The School for Good Mothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
AN OBAMA'S 2022 SUMMER READING PICK

'A taut and propulsive take on the cult of motherhood and the notion of what makes a good mother. Destined to be feminist classic - it kept me up at night' PANDORA SYKES
'A haunting tale of identity and motherhood - as devastating as it is imaginative' AFUA HIRSCH
'Incredibly clever, funny and pertinent to the world we're living in at the moment' DAISY JOHNSON

'We have your daughter'

Frida Liu is a struggling mother. She remembers taking Harriet from her cot and changing her nappy. She remembers…


Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change

By Angela Garbes,

Book cover of Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change

Why this book?

Mothers often feel discouraged and undervalued, but what if we expanded the definition of what mothering actually means? What if caregiving, in all its forms, wasn’t just an afterthought but the most important work humans can do? Through combining research and personal stories, Angela Garbes is making a passionate plea for recognizing the value of caregiving in our society.

I’ve had read too many parenting guides that put the responsibility for how their children turned out on the parents. Angela Garbes’s book is different. It’s thought-provoking, well-researched, and beautifully written. Garbes is absolutely right: to make a better life for children, we need societies that care for everyone.

Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change

By Angela Garbes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Essential Labor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

From the acclaimed author of Like a Mother comes a reflection on the state of caregiving in America, and an exploration of mothering as a means of social change.

The Covid-19 pandemic shed fresh light on a long-overlooked truth: mothering is among the only essential work humans do. In response to the increasing weight placed on mothers and caregivers—and the lack of a social safety net to support them—writer Angela Garbes found herself pondering a vital question: How, under our current circumstances that leave us lonely, exhausted, and financially strained, might we demand more from American family life?…


I'll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood

By Jessi Klein,

Book cover of I'll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood

Why this book?

In this essay collection, accomplished writer Jessi Klein shares her thoughts about the changes she went through since becoming a parent. The red thread connecting these essays is the hero’s journey – and how mothers receive a call to adventure that they often refuse, meet mentors and find themselves in a completely new world. The ordeal leaves them changed but ultimately, they learn new lessons and become better and wiser for it. 

Not only are the essays hilarious and thought-provoking but I especially loved how Klein compared mothers to heroes. Because isn’t that exactly what we are?

I'll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood

By Jessi Klein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I'll Show Myself Out as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An instant New York Times bestseller, I'll Show Myself Out is the eagerly anticipated second essay collection from Jessi Klein, author of the acclaimed debut You'll Grow Out of It.

"Sometimes I think about how much bad news there is to tell my kid, the endlessly long, looping CVS receipt scroll of truly terrible things that have happened, and I want to get under the bed and never come out. How do we tell them about all this? Can we just play Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire and then brace for questions? The first of which should be,…


Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids

By Matthias Doepke, Fabrizio Zilibotti,

Book cover of Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids

Why this book?

Have you ever really wondered why Dutch parents are so calm and don’t push academics so much? Is it because of some secret special technique that they use? Nope. It’s because cultures that value cooperation over competition like the Netherlands – feel less pressure for their children to excel in school. Turns out the secret to good parenting is having a good social support system. 

I like books about parenting that are counter-intuitive and this one, while more academic than the other ones on the list, is no exception. I have picked it because it proves that parents, like all humans act under economic, financial, and social constraints—a fact that gets easily ignored.

Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids

By Matthias Doepke, Fabrizio Zilibotti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love, Money, and Parenting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An international and historical look at how parenting choices change in the face of economic inequality

Parents everywhere want their children to be happy and do well. Yet how parents seek to achieve this ambition varies enormously. For instance, American and Chinese parents are increasingly authoritative and authoritarian, whereas Scandinavian parents tend to be more permissive. Why? Love, Money, and Parenting investigates how economic forces and growing inequality shape how parents raise their children. From medieval times to the present, and from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden to China and Japan, Matthias Doepke and…


Motherwhelmed: Challenging Norms, Untangling Truths, and Restoring Our Worth to the World

By Beth Berry,

Book cover of Motherwhelmed: Challenging Norms, Untangling Truths, and Restoring Our Worth to the World

Why this book?

Do you think that you’re failing as a mother? That you’re not doing enough, or doing too much, or doing all the wrong things? Do you always have the feeling that you should enjoy parenting more and beat yourself up if you can’t? Mostly, do you believe that it’s your fault? 

Guess what, it’s not you, it’s the culture. A culture that doesn’t support parents. That expects everything of them without giving anything back in return. 

But there is a way out of this mess and it starts with re-writing your story.

I have chosen this book because of its radical message that mothers are not just worthy of support but that they can also change the world. That they’re tired and exhausted and overwhelmed but also strong and smart and powerful. 

Motherwhelmed: Challenging Norms, Untangling Truths, and Restoring Our Worth to the World

By Beth Berry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Motherwhelmed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today’s mothers are struggling; though, it's not for the reasons most moms tend to think. We’ve been conditioned to believe our inadequacy is the reason we can’t seem to “keep up” or enjoy mothering more, but nothing could be further from the truth.

We aren’t failing as mothers. We’re mothering within a culture that is misleading and inadequately supporting us.

Motherwhelmed is a deep, yet lighthearted exploration of the messy frontier of modern-day motherhood we’re all struggling to navigate. With compassion, realness, and rich storytelling, Beth Berry:

• Illuminates the mindsets and narratives keeping us feeling overwhelmed, disempowered, anxious, isolated,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in motherhood, parenting, and Chinese Americans?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about motherhood, parenting, and Chinese Americans.

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Parenting Explore 132 books about parenting
Chinese Americans Explore 36 books about Chinese Americans

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Husbands, Cultish, and Don't Turn Around if you like this list.