The best pre-natal advice I ever got was, "Pick one book, any book, and only one book." They all get you there, but they take different, and often mutually exclusive paths. I cheated — I read several — and of the lot, the best was My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us by Jessica Mills (horn player in several punk bands such as Less Than Jake, and columnist for MAXIMUMROCKNROLL). Mills, a touring punk musician, silversmith, anarchist and pacifist, wrote the book based on her experiences as a punk parent, trying to raise a baby without "gender-coding," punishment, or authoritarianism, in a world that is hardly cooperative to such goals.
Mills is a great writer — of all the baby-books I've read, only COMBAT BOOTS deserves the adjective "compelling" — and while I don't agree with 100 percent (or even 85 percent!) of her parenting ideas, I found them provocative, well-informed, and, above all, humane. Mills has high ideals, but she freely acknowledges that her parenting often falls short of her objectives — her kid ends up watching Disney cartoons, pitching tantrums, and wanting to wear frilly pink dresses. It's this human fallibility that really makes the book — Mills's insistence that we're all human and parents can, will and should make mistakes. Mills's book is as much about how to cope with your own challenges as it is about coping with your kids'.
I was especially taken by Mills's descriptions of her boyfriend's struggles to co-parent without either smothering or allowing the easy gendered roles to take over. There's a great guest-written chapter about punk-fathering, and a really heartwarming interview with the bright-as-anything 15-years-old daughter of a couple of punk parents who pioneered taking kids to shows, protests, and on tour.
COMBAT BOOTS goes from prenatal to four, and it's just the thing for your different friends who are already being buried under heaps of What to Expect When You're Expecting or worse, Nestle- or P&G-published "parenting magazines" that are just thinly disguised pitches to get you to buy a ton of crap you and your kid don't need.