Friday, April 15, 2016

Book Report: Parent Hacks by Asha Dornfest


Parenting is a job no school prepares you for. Every new parent starts a complete neophyte. Sure, you may have been a crazy great babysitter as a teen, or practiced diapering your friend’s kid, or maybe you were great at swaddling the baby doll when you went to your doula. But let’s face it — nothing prepares you for when your baby refuses to sleep at 3 a.m., or when you are not quite sure if your child just swallowed some poison, or how to baby-proof your hotel room, or how to get your child to stop whining (I'm still working on that one!)

You learn by doing, by making mistakes and by improvising solutions. It’s the ultimate in on-the-job-training. But here’s the thing — once you’ve got the experience, once you’ve innovated and tried doing stuff and figured out a great or clever solution to a thorny parenting problem, who can you tell?

Buy Parent Hacks on
Enter Parent Hacks, the online community started by Asha Dornfest in 2005. That community’s mission was to share their on-the-job learning solutions with each other and the rest of the Internet so that new parents would not make the same mistakes, and be inspired to implement and improve upon the solutions already in place. In other words, parent hacking!

Dornfest has collected 134 of the best tips gleaned from the website into a book, Parent Hacks, available April 5, 2016 from Workman Publishing.

There’s actually more tips than that because interspersed between the numbered tips are various listicle suggestions (six ways to get rid of laundry stains, 16 quick-fix dinner ingredients to always keep on handseven pretend games you can play lying down, etc.) and some odes to common household objects you can use for not-so-common purposes (the laundry basket, empty baby wipe tubs, pool noodles, among others).

Some of my favorite parent hacks

Many of the book’s hacks are for parents of kids ages birth to 5; however, there are still a lot of great shortcuts here for parents of older children (my child is 7.)

 Here are three I’ll continue to use (as you can see, some are not specifically parenting related, although they definitely apply):
  • No. 10: Use toothpaste to mark the spot for picture frames.
  • No. 66: Trace your kids feet so that you can shoe shop without them.
  • No. 81: Put the ketchup under the hot dog, rather than over the dog.
Number 81-  It's a great idea, but I live in Chicago, so I think we will stick to mustard: ketchup on a hot dog could get you reported to Child Protective Services!

A few of the hacks seem pretty obvious. No. 78: “Cut food with kitchen shears” is an example. I mean, how does that qualify as a hack? That’s why they call them “kitchen” shears, right? But I’m guessing that some of my favorites might seem obvious to someone else.

Hacks for moms … and dads?

Most of the hacks are unisex, meant for any parent, but probably about 15 of them are mom-centric and not meant for the dads who are reading.

(No. 8: “Use a frozen sanitary pad to help with vaginal healing” comes to mind. Although I’m sure many new dads pray for quick vaginal healing, so there’s that.)

 I didn’t see any dad-specific hacks in the book, and a quick browse of the website didn’t reveal any either. did have some pretty funny videos of some pretty clever hacks by dads;

I especially liked this one, which featured a video of a dad solving the problem of not being a pony-tail expert. Maybe this should be in the sequel!

Craighton Berman illustrated  Parent Hacks in a fun and whimsical style, and each hack is clearly illustrated. The background of each page is graph paper, which adds to the feeling that you are getting the ideas directly from the hacker.
Sample page from's LOOK IN THIS BOOK
Overall, I think this would be a great book to get for a new parent, or if you are a parent of a toddler. It will still be of value if you are a more experienced parent, but you may have already solved that solution (And if you have, and you’d like to share it with other parents, publish a photo or video using social media with the hashtag #parenthacks. Future parents will thank you for it!)

If you’ve got a great parent hack, or more specifically a dad hack, please share it in the comments!

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