5 Books Helping Me Navigate Motherhood as a First-Time Mom

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motherhood books
Graphics by: Anna Wissler

I’ll admit I used to judge moms before I became one. The thought still makes me cringe. However, if I’m going to talk about what’s been helping me navigate motherhood, I have to be honest. I’m not sure about you, but honesty has been like a lifeline throughout my motherhood journey. I had to learn how to lean into the kind of new mama honesty that looks more like vulnerability and accountability. 

So, what are some of the things I used to say? Oh, you know, things like, “I can’t believe she’s letting her child throw a tantrum in public” or “Is she really going to yell at her defenseless kid?” That’s right. I said a lot of contradictory things before I became a mother. And now that I am one, I’m here to issue a huge apology. Motherhood can be tough!

 

While I love to credit my therapist for helping me become clear about what kind of mother I want to be, I’ve also invested in parenting books.

 

Do you know what’s one of the toughest things about motherhood? It’s the feeling of being exposed as you learn how to parent your kid(s). It’s true when they say kids mimic our behavior, for better or worse. Aside from that, I’ve been thinking about another aspect of motherhood: how to raise a kind, compassionate child in a world that doesn’t always feel that way. Better yet, I’ve wondered how I can raise my kid to embody these things when I don’t always feel kind or compassionate. (There’s that bit of honesty peeking through again.)

While I love to credit my therapist for helping me become clear about what kind of mother I want to be, I’ve also invested in parenting books. I thought I wouldn’t “need” to read parenting books, but having children makes you more open to receiving help. It was hard to narrow this list down, but here are five books helping me navigate first-time motherhood.

The title of this book made me snort when I saw it on Amazon. I immediately identified with it because losing my sh*t seemed like a regular occurrence. (I’m sure you’ve had similar moments.) What I love about this book is that it immediately recognizes that parents are humans. Sometimes it feels like everyone in our communities and on social media is judging us, but guess what? We’re all different moms, and this book emphasizes that.

 

What I love about this book is that it immediately recognizes that parents are humans.

 

It starts by helping parents identify their potential triggers. It also helps us identify how to be more aware of when we’re becoming stressed. Additionally, it shares tips to help parents navigate said triggers and kids’ temper tantrums. At this point, my internal radar lets me know when my kid is nearing a meltdown. From there, I can either help him steer clear of it or redirect his attention to something else. If that doesn’t work, I sit with him while he’s experiencing big emotions, so he knows it’s safe to feel them. 

As a result, I’ve seen my kid try to self-regulate and come to me when he feels he can’t. This involves crawling into my lap, holding me for a period of time, and clapping once his big emotions have passed. Between my son and this book, I’ve even started clapping when I work through my emotions. Go figure. 

 

What I appreciate about this book is how it outlines a counting system for parents to utilize instead of “talking so much.” The first couple of chapters explain that sometimes parents try to explain too much to kids whose brains simply don’t comprehend. I’m guilty of thinking my son is a “little adult” because he learns new concepts quickly. This book, however, reminds me that he’s only a kid. He will be impulsive and have a lot of selfish moments. 

 

I’m guilty of thinking my son is a ‘little adult’ because he learns new concepts quickly. This book, however, reminds me that he’s only a kid.

 

Now, I make it a point to remind myself that my son is doing what he’s supposed to, which is to be a kid. I can guide and redirect him if I find something he’s doing unacceptable but trying to continuously explain why something is wrong can complicate things. I’m finding that when I utilize the counting system outlined in the book (“That’s 1. That’s 2. That’s 3. Take a break” and brief timeout), we’re both calmer. Sure, my son experiences his moments of frustration. However, he’s learning that when I begin counting, it’s time to find another activity.

I don’t use this system all the time, but perfection isn’t the goal. The system helps me actually enjoy raising a toddler who doesn’t have impulse control like adults. Truthfully, I’m still learning how to manage my own impulses, so we’re in this together.

This book caught my eye at my local Barnes & Noble. I must admit I was shocked to see it. Ironically my mom was with me, which prompted a conversation about how different things are from when she raised me. I don’t recall seeing many books in the parenting or children’s section about social justice growing up, so I was intrigued. I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I felt like I didn’t need to scan its contents to add it to my collection. 

 

This book does a good job of preparing parents for the reality that others will not always see our children or us the way we do.

 

Probably my biggest fear as a Black mother is how the world will view my Black son when he becomes older. I’ve often wondered, “What will happen when my son grows up and people stop thinking he’s a cute little boy? How can I teach him to respect others?” 

This book answers those questions for me and then some. As heartbreaking as it was to read, Dr. Traci Baxley begins the book with a personal story that affected her husband and children. It sheds light on microaggressions that can occur when someone approaches another person with biased thoughts. It broke my heart because their young children witnessed another adult’s initial hostile attitude.

This book does a good job of preparing parents for the reality that others will not always see our children or us the way we do. Our kids will inevitably face opposition of some sort, and this includes injustice. I like to revisit this book when I feel anxious about sending my child into the world. 

 

This is another book to help prepare me for conversations I’ll have with my son one day. He’s still young, so I doubt he understands what race his father and I are (Dominican and Black). We make it a point to immerse him in our cultures, but he’s still too young to understand the history of People of Color in the country he lives in. And that’s fine. I want him to enjoy being a carefree toddler.

 

Instead of sheltering my son, this book is helping me to prepare. It’s preparing me for moments where he’ll ask questions that may shock me but deserve to be answered.

 

But, again, I know we’ll have to explain history to him, along with our experiences involving race, gender, and more. If I had it my way, I’d protect him from uncomfortable moments forever, but that’s not realistic. Instead of sheltering my son, this book is helping me to prepare. It’s preparing me for moments where he’ll ask questions that may shock me but deserve to be answered. 

While the other books are geared toward raising children, this book focuses more on the individual. Author and influencer Mattie James is a wife and mother to three children. So, she knows a thing or two about confronting outdated systems. As a first-time mom who’s found herself unlearning certain ideals and restructuring her life post-birth, this book helped me regain some of the sanity I felt I lost on this journey. 

 

As a first-time mom who’s found herself unlearning certain ideals and restructuring her life post-birth, this book helped me regain some of the sanity I felt I lost on this journey.

 

It feels like this book was published at the right time because I was personally experiencing unprecedented burnout. I thought I knew what it felt like before. But the morning I could barely lift my head off my pillow was when I knew I needed to make a change. By nature, I’m ambitious and nurturing. This often means I take care of everything and everyone before considering myself. The sad thing is that I thought wives and mothers were supposed to do this.

This book has challenged me to examine what’s no longer working for me and choose what truly matters. I know I have to care for myself because I can’t be the best version of myself if I’m consistently experiencing mommy burnout. It doesn’t matter how many parenting books I read if I allow myself to remain in a routine that keeps me frustrated. 

So, I’m more intentional about my day, but not as I was before. I create a list of five things I want to accomplish per day, and I leave it at that. I don’t try to take on more tasks just to be productive, and I surely don’t try to hustle anymore. As a result, I’m getting more rest, and I get to be present when I’m with my family. Aside from that, I’m making time for myself by indulging in self-care. Sometimes this looks like spa days or nights at home, and sometimes it looks like watching old episodes of Golden Girls

 


I’m sure I’ll continue adding books to my collection as time passes, but so far, these books have been my saving grace as a first-time mom. Now, I no longer believe I have all the answers, nor do I rely on certain disciplinary tactics I saw when I was a kid. I get to choose how I want to show up as a mother. I don’t feel like I have to present motherhood in a way that works for others. As long as my household and I are full of joy and peace as we continue to learn how to exist in this world, that’s all that matters to me.

I Struggle Putting Myself First—Here’s How I’m Changing That
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