Our Mother’s Day reading list

Books on motherhood and parenting to celebrate Mother’s Day

This weekend we celebrate motherhood in all its forms—and to mark the occasion, we have compiled some of our best books on modern parenting. Explore a collection of eighty designs that have defined the arc of human reproduction; a study of the social media–imposed pressures placed on new mothers; a concise overview of fertility technology; and more titles below.

Supervision: On Motherhood and Surveillance edited by Sophie Hamacher and Jessica Hankey

The tracking of our personal information, activities, and medical data through our digital devices is an increasingly recognizable field in which the lines between caretaking and control have blurred. In this age of surveillance, mothers’ behaviors and bodies are observed, made public, exposed, scrutinized, and policed like never before. Supervision gathers together the work of fifty contributors from diverse disciplines that include the visual arts, legal scholarship, ethnic studies, sociology, gender studies, poetry, and activism to ask what the relationship is between how we watch and how we are watched, and how the attention that mothers pay to their children might foster a kind of counterattention to the many ways in which mothers are scrutinized.

Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births by Michelle Millar Fisher and Amber Winick

While birth often brings great joy, making babies is a knotty enterprise. The designed objects that surround us when it comes to menstruation, birth control, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood vary as oddly, messily, and dramatically as the stereotypes suggest. This smart, image-rich, fashion-forward, and design-driven book explores more than eighty designs—iconic, conceptual, archaic, titillating, emotionally charged, or just plain strange—that have defined the relationships between people and babies during the past century.

“A first-of-its-kind exploration of the arc of human reproduction through the lens of design.”The Guardian

Optimal Motherhood and Other Lies Facebook Told Us: Assembling the Networked Ethos of Contemporary Maternity Advice by Jessica Clements and Kari Nixon

Many mothers today turn to social media for parenting advice, joining online mothers’ groups on Facebook and elsewhere. But the communities they find in these supposed safe havens can be rife with aggression, peer pressure, and groupthink—insisting that only certain practices are “best,” “healthiest,” “safest” (and mandatory). In this book, Jessica Clements and Kari Nixon debunk the myth of “optimal motherhood”—the idea that there is only one right answer to parenting dilemmas, and that optimal mothers must pursue perfection. In fact, Clements and Nixon write, parenting choices are not binaries, and the scientific findings touted by mommy groups are neither clear-cut nor prescriptive.

“Clements and Nixon fill a void in the literature with this intriguing and original examination of contemporary motherhood through the lens of postmodern discourse.” —Mary K. Trigg, Rutgers University

Parenting on Earth: A Philosopher’s Guide to Doing Right by Your Kids—and Everyone Else by Elizabeth Cripps

Environmental catastrophes, pandemics, antibiotic resistance, institutionalized injustice, and war: in a world so out of balance, what does it take—or even mean—to be a good parent? This book is one woman’s search for an answer, as a moral philosopher, activist, and mother. Timely and thoughtful, Parenting on Earth extends a challenge to anyone raising children in a troubled world—and with it, a vision of hope for our children’s future. Cripps envisions a world where kids can prosper and grow—a just world, with thriving social systems and ecosystems, where future generations can flourish and all children can lead a decent life. She explains, with bracing clarity, why those raising kids today should be a force for change and bring up their children to do the same. Hard as this can be, in the face of political gridlock, ecoanxiety, and general daily grind, the tools of philosophy and psychology can help us find a way.

“Rousing, rational, and deeply hopeful, this book helped me feel strong enough to face the future—to fight for my children, and for the world.” —Kirsty Sedgman, author of On Being Unreasonable

The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis by Nate G. Hilger

Few people realize that raising children is the single largest industry in the United States. Yet this vital work receives little political support, and its primary workers—parents—labor in isolation. If they ask for help, they are made to feel inadequate; there is no centralized organization to represent their interests; and there is virtually nothing spent on research and development to help them achieve their goals. It’s almost as if parents are set up to fail—and the result is lost opportunities that limit children’s success and make us all worse off. In The Parent Trap, Nate Hilger combines cutting-edge social science research, revealing historical case studies, and on-the-ground investigation to recast parenting as the hidden crucible of inequality.

“Hilger makes a compelling argument for federal investment in child-rearing.” —Library Journal

Fertility Technology by Donna J. Drucker

In the late 1850s, a physician in New York City used a syringe and glass tube to inject half a drop of sperm into a woman’s uterus, marking the first recorded instance of artificial insemination. From that day forward, doctors and scientists have turned to technology in ever more innovative ways to facilitate conception. Fertility Technology surveys this history in all its medical, practical, and ethical complexity, and offers a look at state-of-the-art fertility technology in various social and political contexts around the world.

Long Days, Short Years: A Cultural History of Modern Parenting by Andrew Bomback

When did “parenting” become a verb? Why is it so hard to parent, and so rife with the possibility of failure? Sitcom families of the past didn’t seem to lose any sleep over their parenting methods. Today, parents are likely to be up late, doomscrolling on parenting websites. In Long Days, Short Years, Andrew Bomback—physician, writer, and father of three young children—looks at why it can be so much fun to be a parent but, at the same time, so frustrating and difficult to parent. It’s not a “how to” book but a “how come” book, investigating the emergence of an immersive, all-in approach to raising children that has made parenting a competitive (and often not very enjoyable) sport.

“[A] charming outing…The author’s determination to be a better parent is evident and motivating, and his wide-ranging study makes for a fascinating look at caretaking philosophies. Parents will find this full of insight.” —Publishers Weekly

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