Parenting happens on many levels. Most parenting books, especially those for new parents, focus on the surface, on helping parents get done what needs to get done. These books cover topics like how often a baby needs to eat, how much they need to eat, how best to get them to go to sleep, and when to introduce solid foods.

While these topics are things that all new parents wonder about, parenting will fail if it stays at that level. Children are complex little beings, and parents will miss a lot if they think that their parenting needs only focus on the child's physical well-being. Finding resources to parent a child on these deeper levels, though, can be tough.

Enter Parenting From the Inside Out. This unique book offers the combined perspectives of a psychiatrist (Daniel Siegel) and a nursery school teacher (Mary Hartzell) in order to help parents understand why they act and react the way they do to their children.

Though it's been around for a while, this book is unlike any other parenting book I've read because it focuses on the parent, not the child. Based on the premise that many of a parent's reactions to a child are based on their own past experience, Siegel and Hartzell help parents figure out why they are reacting to their child the way they are and how they can change that.

The book offers an in-depth look at how the human brain works and ties that directly to parenting. Siegel and Hartzell explain how people carry their emotional baggage and how a child can trigger a response that belongs more to the baggage than to the present situation itself. They help parents figure out what their baggage is and how to separate it from their relationship with their child.

The authors also discuss some of the emotional building blocks that will create healthy children. They go beyond attachment (though their discussion of it is refreshing) to determine how and why children attach and how to help them do that. They make these things very basic, so even a struggling parent won't have to feel overwhelmed by his child's emotional needs.

For anyone who has ever suspected that parenting goes beyond physical well-being (Isn't that all of us?), this book offers an introduction to those depths.

Pros:

  • Parenting From the Inside Out is a great book for parents who want to dig deeper, and who are interested in taking time to do the reflection necessary for deep personal growth.
  • Parents who take the time to practice the principles put forward in this book and who learn about themselves along the way will find their relationships with their children deepening, even when the children are still very young.
     
  • For parents who already value fostering healthy attachment, this book offers theory instead of steps. It allows parents to determine for themselves how to help their children attach well, emphasizing attachment as an emotional connection between two people instead of a process to by systematized.

Cons:

  • Some of the emotional "work" required to figure out what is going on in a parent-child relationship may overwhelm some parents. Others may be tempted to use the book in place of therapy or other help.
     
  • The sections on brain chemistry can be technical and difficult to follow. While they add greatly to the understanding a parent can gain about his own thought processes, they may just frustrate people who need answers now.
     
  • The book won't tell you how to feed or bathe your child, and how to put him to bed. While the information in its pages will inform those decisions, it won't give you step-by-step instructions.