These are anxious times: anxiety is a leading mental health issue among Americans ages three to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and clinicians and research suggest that anxiety diagnoses have increased in recent years. And it’s not just children: many parents, too, are dealing with their own mental health problems and may feel ill equipped to help their kids negotiate their fears.
Forthcoming titles explore the anxiety epidemic, offering advice for understanding and countering the causes of anxiety, whether in parent or child, as well as commiseration from writers who’ve been there. “There’s a tsunami of mental health challenges coming our way, but we understand what’s causing it, and we know what we can do to prevent it,” says Christine Carter, author of The New Adolescence (BenBella, Feb.). “It’s scary, but it’s understandable, and there’s a lot of hope in that.”
Carter, a sociologist, focuses on teenagers in her book, which synthesizes psychology, sociology, and neuroscience with her experiences raising four adolescents. “I watch all the parents around me struggle with problems that didn’t exist when we were kids,” she says, such as distractions from social media and health and safety concerns including sexting and vaping. “These massive sociological changes are remarkable in human history. We’re seeing anxiety and increases in mental illness across the board.”
Carter wants parents to act as conduits of information to their children, both to reduce anxieties about parenting through unfamiliar terrain and to help ease teenagers’ anxieties about navigating the cusp of adulthood. Teens are “flooded with information, and most of it is wrong,” she says. “They are making their own decisions, but they’re not informed decisions. The book is about giving information to teenagers so they’ll listen and integrate it into their decision-making process.”
Abigail Gewirtz, a child psychologist, considers the needs of children across a broad swath of ages in When the World Feels Like a Scary Place (Workman, July), offering age-appropriate conversation scripts designed to help parents and caregivers address “big feelings around climate change, income inequality, gun violence, and more,” says Maisie Tivnan, executive editor at Workman. “Abigail’s message is, ‘You don’t have to be able to explain the world, but you can help children understand their feelings around it.’ ” The author also emphasizes that what worries parents will preoccupy their child, Tivnan says. “Children look to parents for guidance, so parents really have to manage themselves before they can help the kid.”
Similarly, psychologist Madeline Levine, in Ready or Not (Harper, Feb.), offers what PW’s review called “a practical, wise manual aimed at helping anxious parents with their often equally anxious kids.” Levine, whose previous books include The Price of Privilege (2006) and Teach Your Children Well (2012), sees overprotective parenting as a cause of children’s inability to cope with a rapidly changing world.
“Parents have really doubled down on a model that’s not good for their children’s mental health,” she says. “They’re protecting their children from the wrong thing—normal developmental challenges. Parents are so vulnerable now. It’s making them overly cautious, and they’re turning out children with accumulated disability, or the inability to cope with life.”
Levine says her book helps parents inventory their own levels of anxiety and advises them to listen more to their children and talk less. “I don’t blame parents,” she says. “I’m sympathetic. Nothing matters to parents more than their children.”
Other titles focus on parental anxiety and postpartum mental health. In Ordinary Insanity (Pantheon, Apr.), Sarah Menkedick calls postpartum anxiety “a crisis,” elaborating through essay and reportage. (For PW’s q&a with Menkedick, see “A Silent Epidemic.”)
The New Baby Blueprint by pediatrician Whitney Casares (AAP, Mar.) is a guide to baby care and also to self-care for the birthing parent, addressing the emotional ups and downs of new motherhood. Clinical psychologist Claire Nicogossian, in From Surviving to Thriving in Motherhood (Page Street, June), also tackles the complicated feelings of parenting, including those that may go unacknowledged: sadness, anxiety, anger, disgust, and embarrassment.
As parenting memes proliferate on social media, so too do books suggesting that what anxious parents really need is an unfiltered dose of honesty, delivered with a healthy serving of “I feel you.”
A pair of forthcoming Atria titles—You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids (Apr.) by Lindsay Powers, founding editor of Yahoo Parenting, and Calm the H*ck Down (Aug.) by blogger Melanie Dale—take a page from similar trends in the self-help category, says Sarah Pelz, executive director at Atria, with colorful language, a blunt tone, and “a bit of attitude.”
Powers covers such topics as breastfeeding and postpartum sex, and offers a “judgment-free breakdown of popular parenting philosophies,” Pelz says. “She reminds parents that they really have strong instincts in the face of all the onslaught, and to trust their guts and to call out what doesn’t make sense.” Calm the H*ck Down advises parents to, as the subtitle says, “let go and lighten up,” and put less pressure on themselves and their children.
About the well-meaning guidance that family, friends, and even strangers aim at expectant mothers, There’s No Manual (Avery, Feb.) by Beth Newell, cofounder and editor of the Reductress, and Jackie Ann Ruiz, a performer and illustrator, has this to say: “Fuck advice.” The authors’ forgiving take: there’s no single correct way to be pregnant or a new mother.
Those in the public eye, too, are striving for realness in their personas, and in their parenting advice. In You and I, as Mothers (Abrams Image, Apr.), actor Laura Prepon, known for her roles on That ’70s Show and Orange Is the New Black, offers a personal take on what she calls “momcare.” Along with stress-reduction tips and nourishing recipes, she incorporates inspirational anecdotes from famous peers including Mila Kunis and Amber Tamblyn.
Shantelle Bisson, a Canadian actor and producer, calls herself a “survivor” of raising three children in Raising Your Kids Without Losing Your Cool (Dundurn, May). Bisson, whose husband is Yannick Bisson, of CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries, writes that permissive parenting is “fucking up our world” and “pissing” her off, and she discusses the many anxieties associated with raising a family, such as screen time, discipline, and postbaby sex.
Hold On, but Don’t Hold Still (Viking, Feb.) by Kristina Kuzmic˘, a parenting vlogger with 2.8 million Facebook followers, is “a moving and hilarious memoir,” PW’s starred review said. Kuzmic˘ writes of immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager fleeing war in Croatia, her struggles as a single parent, and her dizzying rise as an influencer. “She’s happy to be the punch line to all the jokes,” says Laura Tisdel, executive editor at Viking, “and while she presents the image of being really put together, she’s also ready to cop to her mistakes, reminding us that we don’t have much control.”
Natalia Hailes calls Why Did No One Tell Me This? (Running Press, Apr.), which she coauthored with fellow doula Ash Spivak, a “no-bullshit guide.” Hailes and Spivak, who cofounded the Brilliant Bodies birthing consultancy in New York City, had their friends in mind when they wrote the book. “We wanted them to be empowered on their birthing journeys,” Hailes says.
In the book, the authors discuss the perinatal period and consider how many expectant parents are divorced from their bodies, whether due to substandard sex education or sexual trauma. “We want expectant parents to examine where these ideas about their bodies come from and make good choices as they go through their pregnancy,” Hailes notes. “As doulas, we see firsthand how impactful this lack of information and trust can be, and how it can affect the birth and parental satisfaction. ”
Hailes and Spivak are part of a wave of authors whose books, Pelz at Atria says, offer something of a catharsis for readers. “The main message of so many of these books,” she says, is, “We’re all in this together and we’re doing okay.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
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