The Best Books For That Distinctive Parent On Your List

Stuck for the perfect read for that quirky, devoted or dysfunctional parent on your list?

Stuck for the perfect read for that quirky, devoted or dysfunctional parent on your list? 

Following are worthy titles for:

  • Flawed Parents
  • Parents of “different children”
  • New Age Parents
  • Parents Whose Kids Don’t Like School
  • Parents of Teenagers
  • “Traditional” Parents
  • Today’s parents and grandparents


 For the Parent who Finds Parenthood Anything but Sheer Bliss:

Scary Mommy

An Honest and Irreverent look at motherhood – the good, the bad and the scary


“Jill has blown the lid off of what should and should not be said when discussing the experience of motherhood, using her sense of humor and the occasional “F-bomb” — and in doing so, Scary Mommy, has actually made motherhood a little bit less frightening… [Confessions of a Scary Mommy] dares to say the things most mothers have thought, but few have had the courage to admit.”

— ABCnews.com

 There are thousands of mommy bloggers out there; however, blogger Jill Smokler clearly resonated with an abundance of parents when she began confessing how she really felt as a stay-home-mother of three.  With a following on twitter of over 250,000 and over 50,000 Facebook followers, it’s no wonder that Scary Mommy hit the NYTimes Bestseller List its first week on the shelves.  Smokler offers parents something fresh: a forum in which to “confess” their “scary mommy” moments and clearly there are many of us “scary mommies” out there ready and willing to share:

 I pretend to be happy being a stay-at-home mom but sometimes I feel like I’m slowly dying. I cry every night in the shower. This isn’t what I thought it would be. 

Motherhood isn’t a chain of wondrous little moments strung together in one perfectly orchestrated slide show. It’s dirty and scary and beautiful and hard and miraculous and exhausting and thankless and joyful and frustrating all at once. It’s everything. Anyone who claims that motherhood is only the good stuff is simply in denial (or she’s on some serious drugs). Admitting that this job isn’t always easy doesn’t make somebody a bad mother. At least, it shouldn’t.

We’re all on this ride together. We are not the first ones to ever accidentally tell our children to shut up, or wonder — just for a moment — what it would be like if we’d never had children. We aren’t the first mothers to feel overwhelmed and challenged and not entirely fulfilled by motherhood. And we certainly won’t be the last.

I shall not judge the mother in the grocery store who, upon entering, hits the candy aisle and doles out M&M’s to her screaming toddler. It is simply a survival mechanism.


 Bad Mother



Covering topics as diverse as the hysteria of competitive parenting (Whose toddler can recite the planets in order from the sun?), the relentless pursuits of the Bad Mother police, balancing the work-family dynamic, and the bane of every mother’s existence (homework, that is), Bad Mother illuminates the anxieties that riddle motherhood today, while providing women with the encouragement they need to give themselves a break.

Amazon Reveiw

I listened to Bad  Mother in my car during my daily commute to and from my son’s distant school.  I loved Waldman’s candor, humor and courage.  As anyone who spends a lot of time in their car knows, a book that can take your mind off the drive and also make you laugh out loud is worth checking out. Waldman wrote the book, she says:

  As a kind of f**k you to the insane Urban-Baby type moms who after my New York Times piece on loving my husband more than my kids, sent me letters saying my children should be taken away from me and/or my husband would leave me for another woman. And especially to the woman on Oprah who leapt across the stage shouting, "Let me at her!" when I walked on that set. Yes, that really happened.

Ironically, after reading Bad Mother, the reader is left with the sense that if all parents could love their kids as fiercely and as honestly as Waldman, the world would be a much kinder, gentler place.



So many women I know are in real pain. They are so crippled by their guilt, by their unreasonable expectations, that they can't even allow themselves to celebrate the true joys of being a mom. When your little girl curls up in bed with you and says, "Your hair always smells so good, Mama," you should be able to melt with emotion without worrying about whether she's reading at grade level.


Let's all commit ourselves to the basic civility of minding our own business. Failing that, let's go back to a time when we were nasty and judgmental, but only behind one another's backs.



Stories you won’t read in a parenting magazine



"With humor rather than earnestness, Afterbirth plumbs the emotional and diaper-filled depths of procreation...the pieces here skewer the fantasies of parenthood and do it with hilarious candor."--Los Angeles Times 


Afterbirth is about how life for some parents changes for the worse after their kids are born. Or so it feels.   I like books with essays – especially as a parent with little time to read more than three pages at a stretch.  Also, Afterbirth is funny -the contributors in Afterbirth are made up of comic writers and performers.

What can I say? I did not become my father. I am my father. With the hairy forearms and disciplining other peoples’ children and eating your Halloween candy while you sleep– I’m sick about it. All I can do is try and use my powers for good. My oversensitive one, Arlo likes to dress up. Not in costume but in fancy clothes. I’ll admit I envy his confidence as he walks around in a top hat and tails and knickers. He got to meet Alice Cooper and they were mutual grooving on each other. But at school some older kid said to him one morning, “Why do you dress like that? Why do you do that?” It’s hard to explain what wasn’t nice about it unless you are oversensitive like Arlo and me. Arlo’s eyes well. So I say to the eight year old, “Why are you so boring? It’s sad but you are. Why is that?” As we walked away Arlo smiled and grabbed my hand. And when you humiliate another child to make yours feel better, that’s good parenting.
Matthew Weiner from Go Easy On The Old Man

 I really believe anything is a tragedy or comedy depending on your angle. One minute you’re waking and baking and watching Victoria Principal infomercials, and the next you have this life. For me, the crystallizing moment was the night my kid pooped up my back in our bed. I was like, what just happened? You’ve moved into a new phase of your life and either you look at it as a tragedy and you mourn, or you go, this is funny.

Comedian, Johanna Stein



For the Parent Whose Child is Spirited, Difficult, Indigo, Learning Disabled, Food-Sensitive, Hyperactive, Obsessive/Compulsive, Explosive, Unfocused, Gay,  Spiritual, Sensitive, Out of Sync, Shy, Gifted,  Unmotivated or has any other “Issue” I’ve Neglected to Mention:


Far From the Tree

Parents, Children and the search for Identity



“Deeply profound… tackles the feelings we don’t want to admit we have about kids who are outside society’s norms.”



Andrew Solomon’s, The Noonday Demon, which I listened to on audio (yes, I spend a lot of time in the car) often kept me rooted behind the steering wheel long after the drive was over. Solomon’s broad, cross-cultural look at depression taught me how little I really knew on the subject and introduced me to some of the most remarkable people and tender stories I had ever heard.  When I found out he was the mastermind behind Far From the Tree, I knew I would be reading it.   Solomon offers a fresh perspective on how we, as a society view children who are “different.”  Check out some of the chapters:

  • Dwarfs
  • Autism
  • Rape
  • Transgender
  • Schizophrenia
  • Prodigies



With themes like Love, Identity, Science and Hope, how could any parent resist this one?

My name is Byron and I’m telling you this story as if my son was telling it to you if he could:

Hello my name is Phoenix and I am a special young man. I'm 11 years old and I am as big as a 18 year old, I wear a size 13 shoe for those who can't picture my size. The big thing is I have a brain function level of a 2 year old and can through quit the fit to, it's like I'm having a two year old…




The question of how much someone with such radical limitations can progress is mysterious; some brains have proven surprisingly plastic, and some people have emerged from limitations that seemed intractable. How do we treat acutely disabled people humanely even as we acknowledge the ways that they are profoundly different from other people? 


I recognize the gift that’s been given.  If someone had said to me, ‘Betty how’d you like to give birth to a lesbian dwarf?’ I wouldn’t have checked that box.  But she is Anna, cornerstone of the family.  I wish the road had not been so steep for her, but I’m so glad she managed to climb it with grace. 

Betty Adelson, from Far From the Tree


I had come to understand that parental love can rise above all odds, that everyone is ultimately lovable, and that parenting contains a singular intensity that can be—and is for me—almost unaccountably compelling, and joyful even when it is painful. 

Bad Animals

A Father’s Accidental Education in Autism


"Joel Yanofsky has written a staggeringly painful and candid account of trying to cope with his son's autism.... an essential (story) for both parents of autistic kids and those would understand more about (autism)."

- The Sudbury Star 


I have yet to read Yanofsky’s book, however, the reviews and word-of mouth has been enough to put it on my list.  Although I am not the parent of an autistic child, the book is clearly about so much more. As Yanofsky says, it’s about “parenthood and marriage, about hope and despair, and storytelling, too." Judging from the reviews, it’s about raw honesty as well.

“Yanofsky reminds me a bit of Simon Cowell, the former American Idol judge. He was the one who often would criticize contestants and say things the rest of us were thinking but wouldn’t dare verbalize. Yanofsky talks so bluntly about what life is like having a child with autism that sometimes I found myself wide-eyed and shocked by what he was saying. It doesn’t make what he was saying untrue; it is just so brutally honest. However, Yanofsky is never unnecessarily harsh; it’s just that the hand he and his family have been dealt feels at times excessively cruel.”

Montreal Families


My first task of the day is to get my complaining, occasionally inconsolable son dressed and still remain unaffected by whatever he may say or do, no matter how odd or unsettling it might be. As I’ve learned over the years, a great deal will depend on me — on modifying my behavior. This can sometimes feel like I’m walking on a balance beam. Even if I don’t fall, the possibility of falling is always on my mind. This is why it is essential that I keep all those negative feelings — self-pity, doubt, disappointment, resentment, just the exasperation that I normally harbor on mornings like this — from showing up on my too-easy-to-read face.


For the New Age Parent who Regularly Reads Eckhart  Tolle, Practices Yoga, Eats Only Local and Organic and Hopes to Parent Differently From His or Her Own Parents:

The Conscious Parent

Transforming Ourselves – Empowering Our Children


“The Conscious Parent” is a game changer in the way we view parenting, our children, and most importantly, ourselves. Dr. Shefali Tsabary sets herself apart not only by her philosophy that our children are here to raise us, but by a writing style that is so exceptionally clear that it compels the conclusion that the message is nothing short of inspired. Watch where this book goes: a pebble has been cast in the pond.”

John Blomquist

This has become my new favorite book for parents.  It is difficult if not impossible after reading to avoid taking a good hard look at one’s self as a parent.  Dr. Tsabary makes her points strongly yet with grace and a keen self-awareness about her own parenting journey.  The book gives the reader an entirely new way of looking at parenting; a perspective which I believe is desperately needed.


Dr. Tsabary’s recent talk at the TED conference 


When a parent tells me they are upset that they have lost control of their emotions in front of their child, they expect me to judge or guilt- trip them.  Instead, I congratulate them.  I say, now we know how your unconscious looks, which is an important step forward.


Conscious parents trust implicitly their child’s intuition concerning its destiny

If we free ourselves from our ego and simply observe our children’s development as life spontaneously teases it out of them, they become our teachers

 The degree to which we become emotionally agitated by our children reflects the degree to which we are already agitated within ourselves.



For the Parent Frustrated With their Child’s School Experience






“Reading Dumbing Us Down with an inquisitive mind is a whale of a learning experience, and it doesn’t take long to do.  The book is only 120 pages, every one of them delightfully original.”

Hannah B. Lapp – The Freeman Book Review


Dumbing us Down is almost twenty years old, yet continues to have the widespread impact it did when it was first published. This is probably due to the fact that while advances have taken place in other fields, sadly, not a whole heck of a lot has changed in many school systems.

School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.


After an adult lifetime spent teaching school, I believe the method of mass-schooling is its only real content.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that good curriculum or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son’s or daughter’s education.  All the pathologies we’ve considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children keeping important appointments with themselves and with their families to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, and love—and lessons in service to others, too, which are among the key lessons of home and community life.






"[Bennett and Kalish] offer lessons from their own battle to rein in the workload at their kids' private middle school in Brooklyn, N.Y. Among their victories: a nightly time limit, a policy of no homework over vacations, no more than two major tests a week, fewer weekend assignments and no Monday tests. Why don't more parents in homework-heavy districts take such actions?

Claudia Wallis, Time Magazine 


I have been a fan of authors, Nancy Kalish and Alfie Kohn for some time.  Their books have made for interesting discussion with my kids when schoolwork would become overwhelming or uninteresting.  Whether you agree with these authors or not, the books make for interesting discussion.



 “Most parents (as well as many teachers) would be surprised to hear that there's absolutely no proof that homework helps elementary school pupils learn more or have greater academic success. In fact, as this book will explain, when children are asked to do too much nightly work, just the opposite has been found. And study after study shows that homework is not much more beneficial in middle school either. Even in high school, where there can be benefits, they start to decline as soon as kids are overloaded.


Many parents know intuitively that something is very wrong with the system, yet might feel unqualified to challenge it. But the truth is, we're more than qualified to advocate for our kids, and there's plenty we can do to bring an end to this mess.






Kohn asks readers to take a hard look at where America's classrooms are heading and do whatever is necessary to turn schools from "test prep centers" into joyful environments where kids learn to think for themselves."

--Publishers Weekly

If a certain approach to teaching left most of us bored and unenlightened, we probably shouldn’t teach another generation the same way. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of adults were themselves children at one point or another.  So why do educators subject kids - and why do parents allow their kids to be subjected - to the stuff that we found barely tolerable? Have we forgotten what it was like?  Or do we, for lack of empathy, regard the lectures, worksheets, tests, grades and homework, as a rite of passage?



For the Parent who Awoke to Find a Teenager in Their Home



Loving your kid without losing your mind

" ... fascinating insights into the turbulent adolescent mind and excellent techniques to help parents deal with it."
- Marguerite Kelly
Nationally Syndicated Columnist for The Washington Post
Author of The Mother's Almanac 

 I almost didn’t read this book based on the title.  I initially thought it was a bit cheesy – cute attention grabber but probably indicative of its content lacking much substance.  I was wrong. I have three teenagers.  This book is good.

Michael’s mom sat in my office sobbing, repeatedly attempting to reason with her raging and verbally vicious adolescent son. After watching his endless bullying and her tormented begging for too long, I sent

him out of the room, turned to her and said, “Why are you talking to him like he makes sense?” “What do you mean?” she sobbed. I gave her the same shrugging “Duh” gesture her son had just used a dozen times and I almost yelled, “He’s nuts! You can’t talk to crazy people like they make sense.” Her eyes and mouth flew open, astonished at my insensitivity. Slowly her wrenching sobs transformed into chuckling, softly at first, then building to a crescendo of raucous laughter that rang off the walls. “Oh, God,” she howled, “How I needed to laugh like that! It feels wonderful. You’re right. Michael is nuts. And I’m nuts to sit here and talk with him like that.” In our final session several months later, she reminded me of that exchange. “That,” she said, “was the beginning of our healing.

Remember 12 years ago when your teen was a toddler and you walked in to find him sitting in the cat box munching on some very scary litter? Remember last week when your teen used the pressure washer to clean your car, stripping off about $500 worth of paint before the realized this was not such a good idea? Do the words impulsive and poor judgment come to mind? Can you draw that 2-year-old face onto that 12-year-old body? Learn this trick well, because we’re going to use it a lot



For the Parent who Often Laments “The Good Old Days When Kids Didn’t…and who Likes to say “If I Spoke to my Parents the way Kids Today Speak…”


How Parents Can recover from fifty years of bad expert advice


Parent-Babble offers a back-to-basics regimen for those who want to put their offspring back on the right track.

Barnes & Noble Editorial Review


“Do you think American Culture is on the skids?  Do you think America was a more civil, polite place fifty years ago than it is today?”  Rosemond certainly does and if you do too, you may enjoy keeping the fire (and high blood pressure) burning by reading Parent Babble


If [a child’s] parents are dissatisfied with a grade he makes on a test or in a class, the teacher is pressured to change the grade. If she won't then the parents put pressure on the principal to put pressure on the teacher, and the grade is ultimately changed (because most of today's principals have pervasive undifferentiated parent-phobia). Instead of flunking grades, today's kids are put on what are called "individualized educational plans," where they enjoy the lifelong benefits of lower expectations.

 As far as I’m concerned parents today are far more “evolved” than those from Rosemond’s glory days. I fail to see the downside of actually “listening” to our kids.  My own feelings on Rosemond are best articulated by The Huffington Posts’ Lisa Belkin, in her notable critique, What John Rosemond Doesn’t Understand About Raising Kids Today

Nevertheless, for you Rosemond fans…

If a child in the 1950’s misbehaved in school, he was punished in school and he was punished again when he arrived home.  It was a formula and the child’s parents did not care to hear the child’s side of the story (also known as a lie.)  Today’s typical child operates under some sort of bizarre parent protection program.





For the More Optimistic Parent and/or Grandparent who Recognizes the Benefits of our Present Time in Reality and the Splendidness of the Modern Family

Some Uplifting Titles:




 “I’m making a point of holding hands with my kids more often, ever since I read Dr. Harley Rotbart’s new book No Regrets Parenting. Dr. Rotbart…really had my number with this one…I’ve seen how the years blow past at warp speed, to the point that I fear my hand-holding days are numbered. Dr. Rotbart made me realize I shouldn’t count the minutes, but the moments…Dr. Rotbart’s book turned my head around.”

Dana Points, Editor-in-Chief, Parents Magazine.


I like No Regrets Parenting because it reminds of the one and only thing that can truly bring us joy: focusing on the here and now – the time we have with our children in this moment rather than in moments to come.  Also, it’s short, sweet and uplifting.


What will your kids remember about their childhoods – and about your role in them?  My wife’s grandmother was famous for periodically telling her daughters, ‘Remember girls, you’re having a happy childhood.’  What will your legacy be when your kids tell their kids about you?







This often surprising collection of essays explores the complex role of grandparents in today’s world of step-grandparents, ex-spouses, gay grandparents, racial issues and what one writer calls bridging “geographical and emotional distances.” Though there’s a vast array of experiences in these touching essays, common threads run through them: the fierce and overwhelming love we feel for our grandchildren, how we end up learning from them, and how very complicated the emotional bonds of three generations can be. As a besotted grandmother myself, I highly recommend this book.

—Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year of Writing Dangerously and editor of CHERISHED: 21 Writers on Animals They’ve Loved and Lost


This is not your grandparent’s grand parenting book.  It’s a book for grandparents today.  Made up of 30 essays from grandparents and grandchildren, Wondrous Child makes a great gift for that cherished grandparent in your life.



I am lucky to be included in the lives of my kids and their families.  In order to keep their doors open, I sometimes have to keep my mouth shut.


 I lectured my own embarrassed teens once I was divorced and became lovers with Carol, angrily countering their, ‘Mothers can’t be lesbians!’ with basically, ‘You’ll have to get used to it!’ Today, my same-sex spousal status is hardly worthy of mention.  My grandchildren have known us comfortably since birth as Grandma ‘Carol and Grandma Joan,’ one loving entity living far away in California who regularly fly in to shower them with affection and gifts.

Joan Steinau Lester, From the essay, Talking About Race and Gender in the book Wondrous Child





 “I was laughing out loud as I read Dan's book of parental (mis)adventures. He's a gifted writer with a hilarious voice and rapier wit. " —Neil Patrick Harris


I want to read this book for the title alone and according to reviews, the body is just as witty and amusing and from what I can see deeply compassionate as well.  Definitely not just for parents who are gay but for all parents. 

Homophobia is more the rule than the exception.  In most parts of the world like China and Guatamala, the words, ‘I’m a man looking to adopt a baby,’ must be the same as ‘Sociopath seeks naked hugs and finger fun!


I wanted the world to know that something had changed in me.  Shifted.  On a cellular level.  Something that made certain things like her gestures, smells, and particular smiles make me want to burst into tears.  What is that? Sadness? Joy? Pride? Being a parent.


 I think my son, because he has an older sister, is going to grow up with a respect for women. He’s going to [also] grow up with an openness and an open mind, and with the value of honesty and respect … because it’s a natural part of the journey that his parents went through.





"Kelly Corrigan's utterly absorbing memoir, The Middle Place, is wry, smart, and often heart-wrenching. Corrigan takes us down memory lane and then, at the same time, down some other, darker road most of us hope never to travel. Yet we follow her all the way, quite willingly, thanks to her sharp eye and her great sense of humor." -- Cynthia Kaplan, author of Why I'm Like This and Leave the Building Quickly

The Middle Place was my first “car book.”  It’s what got me hooked on audio books.  It showed me what not only a great story, but also, a great storyteller, can accomplish.  That was over five years ago and I still vividly remember Corrigan’s words. Like a spectacular old movie it will make you simultaneously laugh, cry, applaud and reflect.  It will also make you love Kelly Corrigan and to hope the world has many like her in it.  This is a great book for any parent.

 “I called my parents from the maternity ward and cried through the following: “Mom, Dad, it’s a girl, and Dad, we named her after you. We named her Georgia.

Three years after that, almost to the day, I called home to tell my parents that I had cancer.

And that’s what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork—a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns—clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.


It is one thing to be a man's wife - quite another to be the mother of his children. In fact, once you become a mother, being a wife seems like a game you once played or a self-help book you were overly impressed with as a teenager that on second reading is puffy with common ideas. This was one of the many things I had learned since crossing over into the middle place - that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap.



Kelly Corrigan reading the moving epilogue essay from The Middle Place:


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