7 books that changed the way I live, love, and parent.

7 books that changed the way I live, love, and parent

I’ve read many wonderful books, but too many of them are forgotten shortly after I finish them. I don’t think I’m alone. Saying that a book has actually changed the way I engage with the world is a huge compliment. These 7 books are special because they have fundamentally altered the way I live, love, and parent—on a daily basis.

For better or worse, this list is nonfiction-only. I wish it included fiction—and I can rattle a few off the top of my head that might be worthy of a spot—but somehow those titles are harder to come up with and a lot more personal. I’ll continue to think it through. Maybe someday soon I’ll have a list of novels that changed my life.

7 Books That Changed the Way I Live, Love, and Parent
Renovation of the Heart

Renovation of the Heart

Dallas Willard's books are so meaty that I read them at about a quarter of my normal speed. This one about carefully cultivating our inner selves is no exception, packed with rich insights that I'm still struggling to fully understand, even though I'm on my fourth re-reading. More info →
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

This book was huge in framing my expectations about relationships. Surprising-but-true insights: most marital conflicts aren't solvable. Strong couples are good friends. Happiness is about how we respond to the little things. Gottman's insights will heighten your self-awareness, and are applicable to other kinds of relationships. I like to revisit this practical, readable handbook every few years. More info →
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child


This book is twice as long as it needs to be and the writing isn't stellar, but dig a little and you'll find fabulously practical advice buried in the cheesy examples and bad prose. Gottman teaches you how to coach your kids (or anyone's kids) to understand their own emotions and deal with them in constructive ways. To do this, you have to confront the unhealthy ways you were (probably) taught to deal with your emotions as a kid. Painful, but WORTH IT. This book deserves its own post.

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Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

This slim, conversational memoir articulated a lot of my swirling ideas about art and creativity. L'engle combines insights from her own journey with masterful storytelling to make her case for art as something necessary and vital, for Christians, for everyone. This book makes me want to do the work, and that's saying something. Read (and re-read) it slowly.

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The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder

The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder

This was my lifeline when we first heard the words "sensory processing disorder," and while it was crucial to shaping my understanding of SPD, it shifted my paradigm in more fundamental ways. Filled with practical wisdom that helped me understand that different kids have different needs, and my kid isn't trying to be difficult. Eye-opening and empowering.

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Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly

This isn't exactly a color-coded handbook for life, but it's as close as I'm going to get. Packed full with lofty ideals plus practical examples of how to show up—always imperfectly—in our own lives and engage with the world from a place of worthiness. Everyone should read this once. More info →
The Talent Code

The Talent Code


This book is all about how to get better at getting better—at anything, whether it's sports, music, math, or business. Coyle delves into the science of how the brain acquires skill, then shows dozens of ways top performers are putting those theories into practice every day. This book has changed how I work, and how I talk to my kids about their work and play.

More info →

Honorable mentions go to: The Highly Sensitive Child, The Creative Habit, Outliers: The Story of Success, The Power of Habit.

What books have changed the way you live, love, or parent?

7 Books Live Love Parent

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  1. Jamie says:

    Great list – I have read none of these, and it sounds like I need to!

    I nominate The Five Love Languages for top slot among the books that changed my life. Understanding that gifts are a Love Language completely changed my perspective and revolutionized my approach to relationships with several very key people in my life who have gifts as their top LL (it falls very last for me!). (The Five Money Languages, while not nearly as powerful, was also very helpful.)

    Potatoes Not Prozac was also life-changing for me, because it was my “gateway book” into the realm of understanding the links between how we eat and how we feel/function mentally and emotionally, and how we can manage our mental health and emotions through food rather than drugs.

    In the novels category, I’d have to go with One Second After. It made me very aware of how fragile so much of modern life really is. As a result, I’m much more aware/grateful on a daily basis of the opportunities I have (and can so easily overlook) to enjoy the time I have with the people who are precious to me – because we’re really not guaranteed our next breath, let alone tomorrow.

    • Amanda says:

      I 100% agree with you on the Five Love Languages. My husband and I both read the book as part of our premarital counseling, and we were amazed by how much it opened our eyes. We dated for five years before getting married, and reading this book helped us to actually see each other (and ourselves) clearly for the first time. We both loved the book and continue to utilize its principles three years into our marriage. We recommend it to almost anyone who will listen because it really does help you to understand your own behavior and the behavior of others.

      • Jamie says:

        I’m just over halfway through getting my certification as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, so I’ve got all kinds of opinions on this subject! 🙂

        But the top two things that are critical to keep in mind when reading books like PnP or The Mood Cure are:
        1. Everyone is bio-individual, with their own set of factors. No solution will fit everyone equally well.
        2. The quality (and proper preparation) of our foods are essential – any plan or method that doesn’t emphasize clean food as close to its natural form as possible is bad news, no matter what other science it has behind it.

        As far as restricting carbs goes, it often works but it’s absolutely not the only way to balance one’s blood sugar (or achieve other health goals). Often the reason it works actually has less to do with the carbs themselves and more to do with “side effects” like removing common allergens (wheat, soy) or toxins (high fructose corn syrup) from the diet and upping good fats and green veggie consumption to more appropriate levels.

  2. Jess Townes says:

    I have read five of the seven on this list and concur, all very powerful books that have influenced my relationship with my children and beyond. Early in parenting I read How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk. It was a short, succinct, somewhat prescriptive guide to communication that stuck with me. I find myself utilizing the tools, again, with people inside and out of my family. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about much Little Women impacted my parenting. I have read this book nearly every year of my life since I was seven years old, and as an adult see pieces of its wisdom and characters all around the life I lead. I channel my inner Marmee in times that require more patience than I posess, or my daring Jo when I need to make a courageous decision. Fiction, but definitely impactful.

    • Page says:

      How to Talk to Kids… was a life saver for my relationship with my kids. As a teacher I use How to Talk to Kids So They Learn. Same principles, just oriented to the classroom/school setting.
      The advice in these books is timeless and very valuable.
      My husband told me he uses a lot of their advice dealing with fellow employees and clients. They just give great relationship advice.

  3. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam totally changed how I think about time and the excuses I make for not doing the things I want to be doing. We all have 168 hours, the question is just what we’re doing with them. (And as a mom of 5 – soon to be 6 – I really had to learn to embrace the 15 minute or 30 minute snatches of time to do meaningful things.)

    Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs changed our marriage (which was already pretty good but this book helped make it even better).

    Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is my most highly recommended parenting book. I have pretty good boundaries in general but somehow this book really helped crystallize what the relationship between parent and child(ren) ought to be.

    Great list – I haven’t read most on your list but several look like things I need to look into.

  4. Britta says:

    How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Faber and Mazlish
    Siblings Without Rivalry – Faber and Mazlish

  5. Britta says:

    And, if were getting into ideals I picked up in adolescence- Anne of Green Gables, Austin Family series (Madeleine L’Engle) and Pippi Longstocking.

  6. Nancy B says:

    I’d like to recommend Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life by Keri Wyatt Kent (http://www.keriwyattkent.com/keris-books/). One big takeaway for me was to think, really think, why I should say yes to something. Am I saying, “yes, I’ll do that” out of fear or for another lame reason? This book helped me give up the guilt about not being supermom.

    • Hannah says:

      I have been asking myself ‘Why am I saying yes?’ to such and such more and more. Often it IS because I’m worried what someone will think if I say no. Just understanding that it’s coming from a anxious, people-pleasing place is helping me say more healthy no’s. It’s changing my life!

  7. Cheryl says:

    I read a different Brene Brown book and I think it almost gave me a breakdown. Really, I read it on vacation and it put me in a terrible funk that I am still having a hard time recovering from. Am I the only one? Maybe it is the point I’m at in my life. I would really love to know if anyone else has had a hard time after reading her books.

    I agree with Karen that Love and Respect was life-changing for us, a “good to great” for our marriage. And I loved the Power of Habit. I just read it about a month ago and promptly loaned it out. I want to reread it to really dig in. Another one for me was C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

    I’m definitely adding the Dallas Willard book to my list. Thanks for yours.

  8. Leslie says:

    Thank you! Added a couple to my goodreads list. Fiction book that changed my life would ne Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset and non fiction would be the Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I am very low on memory cells for books read but I think of aspects of those books daily! Delicious.

  9. Amy says:

    Love this list! My eldest daughter will be a high school graduate in May, and I’m feeling a bit wistful after all these years of educating her at home. I have two other daughters, so I have time to remain in this challenging and inspiring season. Your list here is full of books which have helped me along the way, though there are a couple I still want to read. Two books which come to my mind that have influenced my choices through the years are Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison and Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

    • Katherine says:

      Yes! I was also going to say Simplicity Parenting.

      Also “Parenting with Love and Logic”. I refer to that one when I feel like we’re all getting a little sloppy around here and need to get back on track. For the baby stage, a mom of five recommended “Baby Whisperer” when I had my first, and I liked that one to learn more about how to accommodate different baby personalities. She also talked about signs of sleepiness in a baby and I still mentally refer to those (and tell them to sitters) for our fourth child. It’s a game changer to get my baby down when she’s first sleepy and not when she’s overtired.

      • Amy says:

        oh yes, the Baby Whisperer!! Following her input made life with my babies two and three so much better than when I was trying another route with my first. Happy memories. I have saved that book.

  10. Joyce says:

    I wish I had known about the book THE OUT-OF-SYNC CHILD: RECOGNIZING AND COPING WITH SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER with my youngest. She is now 20, in nursing school, playing lacrosse and soccer for the college team (she knows she needs an outlet to do well). I am lucky that her catholic school teachers worked with me to make her so successful.

  11. I would say three books that have completely changed me are Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth, and The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.

    Another book that’s life changing that NOBODY’S ever heard of is From Bondage to Bonding by Nancy Groom. It’s about freeing yourself from codependency and embracing biblical love. My counselor made me read it and it’s dense but fantastic!

    I STILL need to read Daring Greatly. Can’t believe I haven’t. Added it to my Amazon wish list! And I’ve heard great things about Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. I don’t have kids yet but the topic fascinates me. Will definitely be reading it at some point.

    • Anne says:

      I love hearing about great books nobody’s heard of! Thanks for sharing.

      I would have gotten a lot out of the Gottman emotional intelligence book even if I didn’t have kids. Recognizing what I was taught about dealing with emotions as a kid—both good and bad—and how those early teachings continue to impact the way I talk to myself and interact with others was hugely helpful.

    • Stacey says:

      I just finished Paris Letters. Her writing is ethereal. Loved it! And i shared it with my arty 14 year old —so she could see different ways art becomes part of your life and sometimes livelihood.

  12. Ashley says:

    I love Walking on Water! So good. And Daring Greatly.

    I second Highly Sensitive Child, and two more I’d highly recommend on the topic of sensitivity and temperament, especially if you have/had a “high needs” baby or what some might call a “difficult” child–although I don’t like to call any kid difficult–are Raising Your Spirited Child and The Temperament Perspective. I had no idea there were specific temperament types (high sensitivity can be considered one of them) and that not only is my young daughter sensitive, but she’s also intense and slow-adapting, which now makes her entire three years of life make SO much more sense and helps us to help her moving forward. Lots of good stuff in both of those books.

    Two general parenting books that went right to the top of my list are The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline. Both talk about how a child’s brain develops from infancy through adolescence and how parents can connect when their child’s “reptile brain” (the lower part of our brain, or what they also call the “downstairs brain”) takes over, e.g. tantrums, meltdowns, red zone… The concepts are incredibly useful not just for parenting kids of all temperament types, but for interacting with people in general.

  13. Becky says:

    Sadly the books that most changed the way I engage with the world did so in an unhealthy way. Yes, these books altered the way I live, love, and parent but in ways that I now regret. I wish I could get that decade of my life back so that I could parent in a grace-filled way and have a healthy perspective on marriage. But better late than never, right?!

    Grace Based Parenting had a big impact on me (in a good way), probably because it was a 180 from the parenting philosophy I’d believed in and practiced for 10 years. But I haven’t found any good marriage books to replace my previous favorite (which had incredibly destructive advice–I’m so thankful my marriage survived it!!) so I’m looking forward to reading these suggestions.

    • Anne says:

      Becky, I’m so glad you pointed out that the books that change us don’t necessarily change us for the good. Thanks for that. And definitely better late than never.

    • Jamie says:

      I could still cry at some of the ways I prioritized schedule over legitimate needs or harsh discipline over grace when our oldest was really young. I’m so grateful for forgiveness. I still think scheduling is good and discipline is necessary. But He has taught me much about grace and age appropriate behavior and not parenting out of fear. As for certain marriage books, my husband can tell when I’m trying to be someone God didn’t make me. He likes me a little sassy and to stand up for my opinions 🙂 Just wanted you to know you’re not alone!

      • Becky says:

        Thanks Jamie. And I can definitely relate to shedding many tears of regret for how we disciplined our little guys for the mistakes and limitations that are a natural part of being “little”! You’re so right that fear was a big motivator. Fear of ruining my kids and fear of what others think.

  14. Alyssa says:

    Parenting with Connection by Karen Purvis and the Whole Brain Child have really helped me in parenting my son, adopted at age 7. I have been encouraged in mothering and homeschooling by Sally Clarkson’s books.

  15. Jenn says:

    What a great list – thank you! The only one I’ve read is Walking on Water, and I absolutely loved it, but there are now a few more on my GoodReads To Read list :).

    I always have a hard time with questions like these … I love to read, and I know I’ve been changed by what I’ve read, but for whatever reason, I can never come up with titles. I guess, given the news about Harper Lee lately, To Kill a Mockingbird might make my list. And this isn’t a parenting book per se, but more a book about how modern parenting changes us – but I read All Joy and No Fun recently and found it thought-provoking.

    • Anne says:

      I read about half of All Joy and No Fun and then I got distracted. I need to get back to it! I loved the premise. And To Kill a Mockingbird is such a good one for a list like this.

  16. Sarah M says:

    Your top two have been two of my top influential books as well. I see that you have two by Gottman….time to get one of those and read up. I’ve never read him before but I’ve heard so many people reference him and his wife.
    Sarah M

  17. Laura M says:

    I haven’t heard of a few of these books…looking forward to reading them! I love any parenting books by Richard and Linda Eyre. Two that come to mind first are Teaching Your Children Values, and The Entitlement Trap.

  18. Lisa T says:

    The most important parenting book I ever read was Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s one of those books I would grab and read a few pages at a time–any pages, really–on those desperate days when my son was an infant and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. It never failed to remind me of what it’s really all about and I could sigh and breathe and start anew. It’s not a conventional choice, but it’s the book I give at every baby shower.

  19. Jill says:

    I was so excited to see Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart on your list! I’m in process of reading it for the second time in a month, and it has been a game changer for me! I am new to Dallas Willard’s works – read The Divine Conspiracy recently. Both are amazing books. I’m with you –must be read at a very slow pace. (Where has this guy been hiding LOL?) So happy to see a fellow fan! 🙂

  20. A few of mine…
    Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
    The Continuum Concept
    168 Hours (I removed “I don’t have time” from my vocab, the time diary also permanently changed my attitude regarding housework because I really don’t spend much time on it at all!)
    Any book on finance by Dave Ramsey
    And yes, John Gottman .

  21. Sayni says:

    Wow, looking forward to reading these suggested books!
    I would like to add and highly recommend The Last Lecture by the late Randy Pausch. This book changed the way I was raising my child, the way I handled bumps in the road and helped me to let go of perfection and enjoy what truly matters.
    His book is in a way a follow up to the lecture that he originally became famous for.

  22. Carol says:

    I loved John Gottmans’ 7 principles book and so did my husband- but one I REALLY REALLY love is what we are reading now! Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. It is the BEST book on marriage I have ever picked up!

  23. I love everyone’s endorsement of the Five Love Languages! I would say that is one for me, too. Also Making Children Mind without Losing Yours, Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis. I just finished Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and I think it will seriously transform how I want to live and how I treat my elders, but it’s too soon to say.

  24. Ashley says:

    This is a great list with some unexpected titles. Most were on my list of “need to read”, why have I not read Daring Greatly yet? As a developmental psychologist I’ve read a lot that has influenced my parenting: attachment by John Bowlby, Cognition by Jean Piaget, and research papers to name a few. But a few mainstream books come back to my mind often: wonder weeks gives great information on how development is not linear, and what Alice forgot — just makes me think about being grateful in the moment.

  25. Marci says:

    Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. Oh man, this book is a game changer. It spoke to many things I was already feeling but articulated the why and the how in a way I never could, and gave me the courage to pursue it. I love love love this book and this movement. Still slowly implementing all I learned.

  26. Stacey says:

    I must admit that I have not yet read through all the comments, but adding my two cents anyway. 😉
    *Five Love Languages of Children (didn’t read his others, this one first) totally helped me understand my 3 kids better and reminds me to connect with them in their most meaningful way.
    *Simplicity Parenting
    *Becoming the parent you want to be was crucial in the very early years of becoming a mom. The idea of BECOMING, not being or already there, was the most hopeful word in that early part of parenthood.
    *Out of sync child has fun was more important for our family cuz i understood the issue, just needed practical ways to implement the exercises/input.
    *Raising Your Spirited Child was right in line with that too. My dd1 was/is SO that and this book allowed me to accept it. Raising these kids is super hard as the qualities they have are amazing for adults but make it incredibly difficult to parent/guide without squashing that spirit.
    *Transforming The Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach is another leader in the clubhouse for understanding how to do real positive feedback that resonates with such kids and the little to no negative feedback. and how it has to keep changing for these atypical (brain) kids. tedious and not well written, but MANY gems of knowledge that gets in and works. (Love and logic is good but can be too wordy for these special kids)
    *Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel helped me a ton in looking at my kids differently, in calling on G-d to help me through the blessings and challenges of parenting, in finding positive ways to discipline NOT punish. She comes across as genuine and as someone who’s been right there living the hard parts.
    Anyway, thanks for posting this list. Definitely adding some to my reading stack!

  27. amanda june says:

    Anne, I would love to hear more of your thoughts on Renovation of the Heart and how it has influenced you! I just finished it a couple weeks ago — and immediately started going back over it, taking more notes, and trying to figure out how I’m going to apply some of the principles he outlines. It was my first taste of Dallas Willard and reading it I felt exactly like you said in another post — if it’s true and I could really take hold of it, it would change everything. I can’t get it out of my head and have been asking all my friends if anyone’s read it because I’m desperate to talk through it and pick everyone’s brain on what they think and how it’s helped shape them! A game-changer of a book, for sure. Have you read his The Divine Conspiracy? I got it (and a few of his other titles) on sale on Kindle and it’s next on my list. I hear it’s also fantastic.

  28. Jamie says:

    I would definitely mention ‘Protecting the Gift’ by Gavin de Becker. While a book about kidnappings and child molesters may seem like a dark, dark read, it actually left me feeling EMPOWERED and INFORMED and EQUIPPED to teach my children how to listen to their consciences, act according to what they discern, and ‘find a mom’ (women, especially women with children, are statistically the safest people for children to be around) if they ever need something and they can’t find someone they know or trust.

  29. Crystin says:

    Anne of Green Gables changed how I see the world. Anne has been as real to me as a physical person since I was a lonely teen, and for several years she was my only friend.

    As an adult, several books by John Piper, Charlotte Mason’s volumes,and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren have changed how I love and live and parent.

    I want to read several books from this list. I am adding them to my Amazon list now.

  30. Angela S. says:

    Thanks for this list! I have loved Paul David Tripp’s book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles – I’ve picked it up to read through a second time and it helps me feel focused and encouraged 🙂 I also agree with an earlier commenter about The Hiding Place – Corrie’s father has beautiful wisdom and illustrations that I’ve tried to use in my parenting.

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