Weissbourd points out that this hyper-concern with reading parenting guides is largely divided among cultural and economic lines, and tends to be more of a middle- and upper-class issue. It's not that parents don't need guidance, he said, it's about where that guidance comes from.
He believes parenting in the United States has become too private. Parents will gladly read books, but balk at feedback from people they know. We've all heard the line: "Don't tell me how to raise my child!"
The takeaway, according to Weissbourd, is not to ignore parenting books altogether, which can sometimes offer practical tips, but that the best advice comes from those around you who know you and your little one. Not only is your child unique, but parents might be bringing their own issues to the table, and those might need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Consult a trusted pediatrician, consult people whose opinions you respect, consult your partner, Weissbourd advises. Find time to pause and reflect -- he advises, adding, "I think everybody has got to relax."
For me and my new life with a newborn, the most appealing books turned out to be those where I could find an answer quickly. In Marc Weissbluth's "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," I skipped the chapters that explained why sleep matters -- that seems startlingly obvious -- and went straight to the week-by-week instructions. The standard "Your Baby's First Year" by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Murkoff's "What to Expect..." books have been very helpful. I relied quite heavily on the Internet to give a variety of answers, making sure to check any advice with my pediatrician.
With a baby, I think it's less about personality, more about practical help. I think the real market for parenting books is parents with older children. Parents of babies reading about what kind of parent to be are probably, like me, likely to gravitate toward books that espouse theories they probably already believe. I read "Bringing up Bebe," because it resonated with ideas I already have about parenting, like teaching kids to enjoy "grown-up" foods from an early age (I might eat my words if my little one refuses everything but chicken fingers.) I like the idea of having a well-behaved child, as I imagine do most people.
This is all very well and good in theory, but I think it's important to read a book that's realistic to the specific situation. Even though I liked "Bringing up Bebe," it just might not be appropriate if my child is exceptionally shy. If a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example, then reaching for Chua's "Battle Hymn" may not be the best shot.
When faced with parenting hurdles further down the line, there won't be one easy answer, one book with all the fixes. I like to think I'll take the same approach I do as a journalist -- read several source, know what advice and opinions are out there, whether books, articles or conversations with other parents and my doctor.
Most important, I think, as Dr. Spock advised years ago, I'll go with my gut.