By Hilary Levey Friedman
Sometimes it takes becoming a parent to truly understand the expression, “It’s better to laugh than to cry.” Parenting produces endless fodder for laughs, wry observations about humanity, and (as I am learning as the mom to a preschool-aged boy) potty jokes. While many insights of the authors on this humor list are timeless, some are very of-the-moment, drawing on technology and pop culture to produce a guffaw or two. Hope you get a chortle, a cackle, and a chuckle to fill your days… and nights.
Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck
Bombeck was seen as the motherhood humor writer of her day. She penned a newspaper column about her family in Ohio that went viral before there was a term for it. In many ways Bombeck’s work is old school; most of it holds up well, but not all of it. In this compilation of her most popular articles about mothering the personal stories still work best; the parodies are the least enduring. Bombeck brings a realistic, long-term, down-home and downright funny approach to the second oldest profession in a way that new moms of today will likely find refreshing. In the introduction Bombeck writes about her correspondence with a woman who was in jail for killing her child. The woman wrote her, “Had I known mothers could laugh at those things, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.” A hard reminder that humor can be a very serious business.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott
A perennial Brain, Child favorite, Lamott deftly weaves together observations of mothering and writing and just plain living in this funny and touching book that transcends genres. Originally published in 1993 Operating Instructions chronicles 1989-90, the year in which Lamott’s only son is born and her best friend is diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. These universal experiences gain more power with Lamott’s deft language choices. You may find a friend in the pages, the friend who tells you like it is, noting about the first year of motherhood: “I feel inside like when you’re first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn’t look all that great around the cuticles.” You might not always agree with Lamott’s opinions (warning: Republicans beware!), but you will know Lamott always feels strongly, especially about her son.
The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting “written under the supervision of” Bunmi Laditan
Laditan built an enormous following on social media as “The Honest Toddler.” Her so-spot-on-they-were-hysterical statements about life as an opinionated toddler resonated whether your toddler is a boy or a girl, or 3, 33, or 53 (while the medium has changed the truths haven’t). Laditan’s identity as a West Coast Canadian mom to two girls was widely revealed when this book was published. I especially loved the section on transitions and sharing. For instance, “Sharing is stupid. I’m sorry, I got ahead of myself. Sharing is a hot-button issue in many parenting books. You’ll be happy to know that they’ve got it all wrong. It’s time for you to put on your thinking cap and use common sense. Everything in the world is divided up based on who owns it.” The tongue-in-cheek Q&As always elicited at least a smile along with the universal toddler math that one minute of car sleep equals one hour of bed sleep.
Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. By Robert Paul Smith
Of course it’s not just moms who bring the funny, dads can be pretty humorous too—both now and in the past. Smith’s short book was originally published in 1957 and republished in 2010, partly because his message that kids need to play and not have parents hover is so enduring. He humorously recalls his own childhood noting that kids, “Don’t want science. They want magic. They don’t want hypotheses, they want immutable truth. They want to be, they should be, in a clearing in the jungle painting themselves blue.” Advocating for privacy in a pithy and concise tone, those who appreciate parenting in historical perspective will especially enjoy this oldie-but-a-goodie.
The Big Book of Parenting Tweets: Featuring the most hilarious parents on Twitter edited by Kate Hall and the Science of Parenthood
Sometimes when you are in the thick of parenting you don’t have time to read a book, even a short one. In that way Twitter has become a lifeline for parents looking for a clever fix, and now this funny book provides bite-sized curated doses on the most common parenting topics. The book is divided into three parts, concluding with the notorious “Bitching Hours.” The cute graphics add to The Big Book of Parenting Tweets, lending credence to what Hall writes in the Introduction, “Weirdly though, Twitter has made me a better parent. A better mom. These days, I find that I don’t get as upset when my kids spill milk or raid my hidden candy stash. Instead, I think, ‘I’ll tweet about that.’ The humor I read every day on Twitter has helped change my perspective and had made me feel less alone.” In the end that’s what we all hope reading and parenting do for each of us.
Mommy Prayers by Tracy Mayor
Mayor’s prayers for crazy days, for sleepless nights, and for meltdown moments are usually funny, often insightful, and always wise. What mother can’t relate to this “Prayer for a Five-Minute Shower?!” “I’m not asking for a good shower—the one where you shave your legs and pumice your heels and slather your limbs with sea-salt-lemon-mimosa foaming body scrub and exfoliate whatever bits need exfoliating… Juts five minutes under a stream of hot water so I can shampoo the ick out of my hair, slop on a little conditioner, swipe my face with one of the baby’s washcloths, and just be.” At the heart of all these short entries is gratefulness. Mayor often presents two sides of an issue, for instance she captures two different perspectives in her prayers about maternity leave. This little treasure might make you laugh, and cry.
Porn for New Moms From the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Collective (photographs by Susan Anderson)
This book is simultaneously what you think and not what you think. Yes, there are some good-looking men, who sometimes appear shirtless. But what this short, paperback of photos and statements is really about is what every new mom may secretly, or not so secretly, want. For instance, a partner to come home and tell her she looks super sexy in sweatpants. Along with, “I’ll be right there, hon. I’m just finishing the last of the baby shower thank-you cards.” While some are truly wishful thinking (“Look, if you don’t want to go back to work, let’s just tap into my family’s trust fund to pay for daycare. Didn’t I ever tell you about that?”) at heart they speak to the conflicts many moms feel about work, their bodies, and the worth of their familial contributions. Note that the choice of the word “pornography” was very deliberate and provocative. The anonymous collective, formed in 2005, want to “reclaim” the term to redefine the way we look at “naughty” pictures. Whether or not you agree with the title, you will more than likely enjoy several of the book’s pages.
The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood Edited by Kerry Clare
In trying to summarize the intention of the anthology editor Clare writes that it’s about life with a uterus, in all stages of life. This collection by Canadian women isn’t all funny—far from it in some cases. But one of the essays, “Primipara” by Ariel Gordon, made me laugh so hard when I read it, and it stayed with me for a long time. In the piece she reveals a poem to a coworker she wrote that says that if she had had twins, she would have eaten one or sent it back. Gordon’s honest take on why having only one child was the right choice for her is elevated by her language choices (“I regret, too, that the girl won’t know the burnt caramel of loving and hating a sibling.”) and her insight (“People mostly ask me when my next book is coming out instead of when my next child is due. It’s a relief to have the poetry and the parenting separate again, though really they’re not separate at all.”). Proof that humor comes to us all individually in different forms.
Ketchup is a Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves by Robin O’Bryant
O’Bryant’s voice is very strong in this collection of the most popular pieces from her blog. Ketchup is a Vegetable originally appeared in 2011 and was re-released by a new press in 2014. One of Bryant’s strengths is her ability to make fun of herself as a mother, but never make fun of her kids or what they do. She details her nursing “boob sweat,” struggles to lose weight, to balance work and family, and maintain a relationship with her husband. Her Southern charm is a welcome addition to this list and her down-home tone won’t alienate many readers who will instead regard her as a friend and wish her family lived down the street for fun playdates.
Gummi Bears Should Not be Organic: And Other Opinions I Can’t Back Up with Facts by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
Wilder-Taylor also has a strong voice, with lots of opinions and profanity to make her points. Gummi bears Should Not be Organic is the latest contribution from the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay and Naptime is the New Happy Hour. Wilder-Taylor’s attitude will not resonate with all readers, but it certainly is very popular with many. She offers more of a critical attitude, but she also makes sharp observations, like that the underparenting of the 1970s helped lead to the overparenting of today. In any event Wilder-Taylor’s summary of her parenting philosophy will resonate with many Brain, Child readers: “That’s my parenting philosophy: read! But I’m not going to have that embroidered onto a pillow anytime soon.” Now that is a needlepoint pillow I would buy!
BONUS: Bossypants by Tina Fey
I must confess that I didn’t love this book the way millions of others have, but those millions can’t be wrong, so I am including this as a bonus read! While the book’s focus isn’t on mothering, it is a big part of it (one chapter in particular, “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter,” is much beloved, read, and shared).