Looking for novels featuring good parenting
January 15, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I want to improve my parenting skills for my almost-2-year old. I don't have a lot of role models nearby, so I'd like to do some reading. I tend to put off reading non-fiction, even if it is well-written about a topic I am interested in. However, I will read novels even if they aren't very good and I don't really have time to read them.

I was surprised at how much I picked up about ancient Egypt by reading Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody mysteries, so it is possible for me to learn something from a novel that is not intentionally didactic. Does anyone have a recommendation for a novel that includes characters involved in good parenting of small children? By "good parenting" I am thinking of "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk," which advocates a style of collaboration with your kids rather than a heavy handed top-down approach. I'm most interested in gentle mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy. I would rather avoid horror and thriller.
posted by SandiBeech to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt.
posted by colin_l at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2013

For rather the opposite of what you're thinking of, there's lots of great (bad) parenting in Steinbeck's East of Eden.

But, later in the novel, when the kids are pre-teens and teenagers, there's more of the kind of parenting you're looking for.
posted by colin_l at 12:49 PM on January 15, 2013

Technically a children's book but... Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
posted by kitkatcathy at 1:00 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm really wracking my brain for more examples, but I think part of the problem is that good, effective parenting rarely makes for exciting drama :)

Also, small children also tend to make poor characters, I think. I'm coming up with heaps of examples of the *opposite* of what you want (eg Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina which is horrifying). But stories with small children as characters, and effective, positive parenting are few and far between, I think.

I think Kitkatcathy may be on to something with children's books. Babar and Madeline stories might fit the bill.
posted by colin_l at 1:02 PM on January 15, 2013

I've always been inspired by Sam Vimes (the later Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett) and most of the parents in Lois McMaster Bujold's work (primarily the Vorkosigan series).
posted by geek anachronism at 1:29 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages is a delightful read. Here's a copy with Raising Demons as well.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:30 PM on January 15, 2013

I pointed a bunch of friends at this question for more ideas, and one of them said:
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Seven Types of Ambiguity, something I can't remember the name of by Siri Hustvedt, Anne Lamott's book about her son's first year. But in all of these, the child is a supporting character.
And another recommended Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
posted by colin_l at 2:06 PM on January 15, 2013

You might want to try The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Kaminer. It isn't fiction, but is eminently readable, and draws some from her own experiences.
posted by 4ster at 2:22 PM on January 15, 2013

The very classic and extremely readable "To Kill a Mockingbird."
posted by SLC Mom at 2:22 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Authors' kids are notorious for expounding that they weren't raised the way their parents books say they were. I'd not take parenting advice from Shirley Jackson for all the money in the world. I don't think that you can actually pick up parenting skills from a novel, unless you're going to pick horror stories and do the opposite. Nice families include the Little House on the Prairie books, and I dunno==the Weasleys in the Harry Potter series?
posted by Ideefixe at 3:52 PM on January 15, 2013

Yeah, I dropped in to mention Atticus Finch of Mockingbird. That guy parented his children and the whole rest of the town.
posted by notyou at 6:04 PM on January 15, 2013

Best answer: I am currently reading Kathleen Winter's novel Annabel; it's about a child with male and female genitalia born to parents in an isolated outport community in Labrador. Their neighbour, Thomasina, who helps deliver the baby, is a wonderful role model and parent figure. (Well, so far at least. I'm only halfway through the book.) The biological parents struggle a lot more, trying to reconcile their child's situation with the conservative values that surround them, but I imagine that the mother and father's perspectives would provide some good food for thought about how to value and nurture difference in a child.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon) features a bright young protagonist with autism. His primary caregiver, his father, has developed some very good, loving strategies for parenting his son, challenges and all. His dad isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and does make mistakes, but he is a good parent overall.

Room (Emma Donoghue) features an amazing mother who manages to raise her child in a very healthy and loving way despite being trapped in an awful situation. It's centred around a difficult, potentially triggering situation (the young mother has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by an abuser; her son was born as a result of rape), but the book is surprisingly uplifting and not nearly as difficult to read as I'd thought it would be.

I don't think that you can actually pick up parenting skills from a novel

I think it's possible. Some current research suggests that narrative fiction provides us with the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a simulated situation, allowing for the opportunity to vicariously experience and explore many different social situations. THis helps us work out for ourselves good courses for action in our real lives. So if a parent reads a novel about a parent-child relationship, s/he can "try on" the role of that parent and see if it is a good one to emulate, and in what way, and why.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:35 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a series of graphic novels, not a prose book, but Hopeless Savages is awesome!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 9:11 PM on January 15, 2013

Almost any book of Ursula Le Guin. She puts families and child rearing in the center of many of her books, and her parents are very often deeply empathic and kind and concerned with the children's feelings and choices.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:09 AM on January 16, 2013

The Ramona books, by Beverley Cleary, feature realistic portrayals of families. Although they have a lot of humour and are aimed at children (they're a good transition from picture books to chapter books), they touch on some serious issues like unemployment, money worries, and fighting between Ramona's mother and father. Two of the books in the series deal specifically with the parent-child relationship: Ramona and Her Father, and Ramona and Her Mother. Her mom and dad aren't perfect, but they are loving parents who do their best.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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