x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Required reading: Modern parenting

The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant - but just what does it mean to be a mother in the 21st century?

In case you hadn't heard, the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. William and Kate's first child will one day become the monarch, and will be tended to from birth onwards by a retinue of servants. But, whether for a princess or a pauper, some facts of pregnancy and motherhood don't change. So what does Kate have in store? And what does motherhood mean in the 21st century? The bookshelves hold the answer.

There is, of course, no shortage of parenting books. There's the classic Dr Spock's Baby and Childcare, which shocked its 1946 readership by advocating that mothers let their babies set their own sleep schedule. Or Gina Ford's 1999 rejoinder, now available as The New Contented Little Baby Book, which divided parents and experts by advising the implementation of strict sleeping and feeding routines.

It's all very well, but parenthood is about more, surely, than routines (or a purposeful lack of them). What does it mean to be a young woman and a mother in 2012? The feminist and critic Kate Figes drew ire and admiration in equal measure with her Life After Birth, hailed as the first honest look at issues around identity, sex and marriage after becoming a parent. The novelist Rachel Cusk followed suit with A Life's Work, in which she bemoaned at length the loss of personal freedom that motherhood entails and detailed her feelings of resentment against her baby. The backlash was ferocious and culminated with Cusk's appearance on Oprah's sofa, where she defended herself against accusations of being an unfit mother.

Perhaps the best book to gauge the temperature of 21st-century motherhood, though, must be Babies: The Mumsnet Guide (Bloomsbury, Dh78), a compendium of advice gathered from the formidable online Mumsnet community of mothers. Here, Kate might pick up a few pointers on how to ensure her "DH" (Mumsnet code for "Darling Husband") pulls his weight around the house. And if she ever feels hard done by, she can pay a visit to the notorious Mumsnet chat board, where new mothers ask each other: "Am I being unreasonable?"