Amidst a bleak landscape for American families these past few months, I have been widening my scope, thinking as little as possible about “parenting” and more about community, presence and care. Here are five books that are helping me feel hopeful, in the order I read them:
The Gardener and the Carpenter
I love the thesis in this book for the liberation it provides both parents and children: “parenting” should not be a job, nor a verb. Gopnik, a child psychologist and researcher, argues that children simply need to be given a safe and stable base from which to explore the world and themselves. (Austin Kleon interprets this roughly as: Give them art supplies and let them go!) Her breakdown of the explore vs. exploit dichotomy gave me a lot to think about in what I model for my child and how I want her to orient herself toward what the world will have to offer her.
The School for Good Mothers
Devastatingly good. (Even if it did hit a little too close to home for the parent of a three-month-old at the time I read it.) I loved the close writing on modern motherhood and all its entrapments, and the bigger thoughts on whose responsibility it is to raise children “well,” and what it means when race and gender and power come into play in the domestic sphere. A brilliant novel.
Hilarious, a little wild and loose, this novel imagines the madcap life of a stay-at-home mother who has put her art career on hold to care for her toddler… and who fears she may be turning into a dog. Satirical and voracious, this book pushes back on easy tropes and also begs for systemic change in this country. Vivid and funny.
Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter’s School
Martin, an activist and writer whose work I’ve long loved, takes a good, hard look at her own fears, values and decisions about how to raise her daughters in a divided country as she and her husband navigate school choice. An incredibly original, inspiring account of trying to live out one’s values in a country that prioritizes the status quo.
Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change
This book is so necessary and such a pure joy: a treatise on the pleasure, power and possibility of treating mothering (a verb that can be done by anyone, of any gender) as the only essential work that humans do. An important perspective on what the pandemic has laid bare: we must (and can) demand more from family life in this country, but we don’t have to wait for a social safety net to start to make change in our lives and our communities.