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Two years ago, pregnant with my daughter, I refused to read parents’ books. I had a few trustworthy web resources to turn to, but largely stayed away from books that promised knowledge of what to expect when I became a parent. On the one hand, I had gained perspectives on this journey from the novels I had read long before I became a parent. If you think about it now, there is something about these fictional works that captures the emotional turmoil in which you as a parent are constantly the focus. These works put on paper the thoughts that keep the parents awake, those that keep the children of the parents awake.

I have four works below that I have read at different stages in my life, starting as a non-parent, a new parent, to a little less as a new parent.

Everything I never told you about Celeste Ng

If you are not familiar with Celeste Ng’s fantastic debut, please read it. We have the matriarch of the family who has layered dreams of their own futures on her children. We, the readers, are witnessing the effects of this election. Both parents choose to live vicariously for their children, forgetting to live themselves and forgetting to remind their children that it is okay for them to live the way they want. I’ve been scared to return to this book since becoming a parent because what if I was reflected in the matriarch I told myself not to be? What if reading her story changes my loyalty and I see her moments of desperation resonate with my own?

You exist too much by Zaina Arafat

I read another book when my daughter was on the verge of mobility: You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat. There isn’t much to say about this book in terms of plot, but allow me, if you will, to paint a picture of the feeling this book captures from the child’s perspective.

Imagine, as a child, that you forget to wear the correct clothes and have to swap clothes with your uncle to match the description of the correct clothes. Imagine your mother standing up and watching you go through this hardship for which you certainly feel inappropriate. Just turn to yourself to say, “You exist too much.” Imagine that you spend your entire life existing less, blurring your boundaries, and never being able to express yourself for fear of too much existence .

As I read this, a sense of fear came to mind. A fear from my daughter who remembers the moments when I had enough. The fear that my daughter has withered away emotionally in some way that, like the protagonist of this book, could spend the rest of her life diminishing her existence.

You will know me from Megan Abbott

I wouldn’t forget to mention another writer whose work I only do once a year because honestly that’s all I can take – Megan Abbott. It captures the desperation that exquisitely creeps into ordinary life. In her novel You Will Know Me, we hear the story of Katie who along with her husband gave it their all, including most of their marriage, and some would say the welfare of their younger son for their daughter’s gymnastics career. But what they are really overcompensating for is an incident that happened years ago. I was on Katie’s internal monologue. This book has helped me visualize the path of control and helplessness that parenting is. How to define yourself as a parent in the darkest moments instead of the good ones, and how that perspective can consume you.

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Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

The last book, but certainly not the least, is Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. This was Strout’s debut and I think it’s ridiculous that anyone could have such an extraordinary debut. Our main actors; Amy and Isabelle are a mother-daughter duo who live in the hot, humid town of Shirley Falls, Maine. What you see is her story unfolding as a mother tries to hold onto some semblance of normality and security for her daughter and a daughter doing everything in her power to destroy her.

In this novel, a power dynamic emerges between a parent and their child: when kids are younger, they need you more, which gives you most of the power, and as they get older, you want them to need you. what leaves all this power in the open. This book tore open my skull and openly comments on what it means to be a mother and what it means to be a daughter.

What am I doing here? Am I saying that traditional education books have no value and should be abolished? Absolutely not. My intention to share my experience is to give you a perspective on the power of fiction to give us insight into the truth. My intent is to invite you to tell your story more, to hear other people’s stories more, and to consider empathy as a form of continuous learning.

If you happen to be looking for nonfiction books about parenting, check out these tips!