3 May 2019

10 Books on Motherhood

I think it's easy to agree that both of us are fascinated by motherhood. So many of the books we have consumed have been frighteningly honest about the pros and cons, and still I feel like I want more. More pros, more cons, more research. Motherhood is something all women think about, especially as we move through life and its different stages. While we might not always be on the exact same page about having children, I still think we are both very drawn to books about motherhood and what comes with that role. Below is a list of our favourite books on the topic as well as some we are interested in reading. 

This is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about motherhood. Joan Didion's beautiful memoir goes back and forth detailing her experience with aging and the death of her daughter Quintana. She initially tells this story in The Year of Magical Thinking and it's something you can only hope never happens to you. On Christmas Eve Didion's husband (well-known writer John Gregory Dunne) dies in their New York home and two years later her daughter dies of complications resulting from pneumonia.

A lot of Blue Nights is about the anxieties of having a child and your constant fear that the worst will happen to them. It deals a lot with the adoption of Quintana and some of the issues she dealt with growing up in California with Didion and Dunne. This book terrifies me and makes me wonder if I had a child would I die of worry?

Ah, Wild, the book that makes it on every list around here. But how could we not include it on this very introspective list about motherhood when the entire book is rooted in Strayed's attempt to grieve her mother's death?

Wild focuses on Strayed's 1995 hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the physical and mental toll the journey took on her. However, it looks back to Strayed's childhood and her relationship with her mother a LOT. Strayed leads us up to her hike by learning about how she sank into a pit of promiscuity and heroin as a response to her mother dying, and how the hike itself functioned as penance she assigned herself.

Strayed isn't 100% romantic about her mother the way you may expect a daughter to write about their mom post-mortem, which is refreshing. She's very open about her mom's abusive boyfriends, the way she sometimes felt like the motherly figure, etc. but she still maintained this inherent respect for the way her mother dedicated her life to the role. I always liked this quote:

'I never got to be in the driver's seat of my own life,' she'd wept to me once, in the days after she learned she was going to die. 'I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I've always been someone's daughter or mother or wife. I've never just been me.' 
        'Oh, Mom,' was all I could say as I stroked her hand. I was too young to say anything else."

I didn't even really expect this piece of fiction by Dave Eggers to be a meditation on motherhood but was pleasantly surprised. What I love about this book is that it's about a modern-day mother. It doesn't feel romanticized in any way, it just feels like a straightforward telling of how children impact your day-to-day and any irresponsible decisions you make.

This book also freaks me out about motherhood because it reminds me that once you have kids you're no longer only responsible for yourself. The protagonist of Heroes of the Frontier has to constantly deal with how her children fit into her bad decision making. I guess what I love so much about this book is that Eggers show how you can be equally regretful and thankful for your children. My full review can be found here.

This is my favourite passage: 

Goddamn them, her terrible robber children, robbing her of so much, giving her everything and robbing her of everything else, her gorgeous perfect thieving children damn them, bless them, she couldn't wait to lie down with them, holding her cold hands against their hot smooth faces." 

This is such a weird addition to this list, and the book itself took me by surprise with how much it really dove into motherhood and parenting. I just wrote a full review on it here, but I wanted to include it because Oxford has this very approachable way of discussing the transition from being a mother who everyone needs for anything, to being a mother nobody even wants for anything as your kids go through their independent phases.

I like reading about motherhood from the voice of someone like Oxford because I don't feel like she's perfect, or even like she tries to be. She still has her own personality, and she still makes a ton of mistakes (because who is fully prepared, even emotionally, to raise children?) but she isn't completely fucking her kids up either (that we know of, yet), so it's a very relatable success story for me. I'm very scared about the responsibility of raising children, and preparing them for the awful world around us, but Oxford somehow makes it seem ok.

This book is WAY more of a seismological thriller (literally) than it is a book about motherhood, BUT there is a small scene in the book that I've been thinking about for years. It is something that I was much more attracted to when I was in my early years of undergrad, but it's still meaningful to me. It happens when the female protagonist is with a group of new mothers and they keep condescendingly going on about how nice it must be to not be so busy with children all the time. The character is offended because she still sees her life as chaotic and busy as she pursues other things like graduate work, etc. It hinges on this fear that if you don't have children your life will be viewed as somehow easier or less important.

There's also this great passage in the same scene where one of the new mother's is trying to force her baby on the protagonist: 

And there's this little scene where she won't come near me, and I hate her and she hates me, and the reason is that I'm more like her than I'm like any of the four parents, and she knows it." 

I love this passage because we can all relate to the fear that as soon as we hold someone else's baby it will start crying immediately.

I love this book because there really is something for everyone in it, I wrote a full review on it you can read here. It tells stories from various perspectives, including a number of motherly figures and a number of children. I'd say the majority of stereotypical mothering styles are strategically reflected by the different characters.

What's also interesting about the way this book is written is it gives you the perspective of the children, and how they react to these various parenting styles. For example, how Victoria reacts to spending the summers with Caitlin's more traditional style family with money, how her mother, Tawney, reacts to Victoria spending the summers with another family, and how Caitlin's step-mother in turn reacts to Victoria, etc.

There are also a lot of good bits throughout this book about how it's okay to not have children, and how it doesn't make you less of a whole person. Blume is able to demonstrate how having children for the wrong reasons have generational implications, etc. This is one of my favourite books of all time, but I think it is especially introspective around the topic of motherhood.

This is a less obvious choice. Boy Erased (full review here) is a memoir by Garrard Conley that talks about his experience with gay conversion therapy, so this is definitely Conley's story. But something I loved about it was his experience with his mother throughout this horrible period in his life and how it grew and changed over time. Initially you are horrified that a mother would subject her son to something as terrible as "gay conversion," but as you read on you see her grapple with the guilt she feels over sending him there and her fear of destroying their relationship forever.

She begs for his forgiveness and the two are now incredibly close. Conley lives happily in New York as a gay man, and his mother loves him for it. I enjoyed this aspect of the book because it shows that while parents can CERTAINLY fuck up their children, it doesn't mean they can't make amends.

This is a fantastic memoir written by a woman whose mother drowns unexpectedly. The memoir is sort of a cathartic 'unpacking' of her somewhat strained relationship with her mom. It's extremely emotional and I felt a bit uncomfortable reading it. As humans we're always told to "treat every moment as though it's the last" and I can't help but feel for Edelstein that she was never able to really dissect her emotions while her mom was alive, perhaps they would have had a chance for a better relationship.

I had a hard time articulating my thoughts about this book initially, but I think now what I took away from it is that 'motherhood' is not just a thing you do, it's a relationship, which by nature involves someone else. Both parties need to be willing to participate, to be open to the trials and errors of it, etc. I think there's a misconception that being a good mother looks like x, y, and z, but rather, it's providing what is needed for the relationship to be successful, whatever that may be, and receiving the things you need from it as well.

Now that I'm done with my Ted Talk on motherhood, back to the book. This is a tough read emotionally but I think there's a lot of good stuff here on mothers and daughters alike. You can read my full review here.

I can't say much about this book because I haven't read it yet but I am really looking forward to picking it up soon. This is a novel about choosing whether or not you want to be a mother. The protagonist's husband (who has a child from a previous marriage) tells her that if she wants to have a child he will comply but that she has to be certain. This level of commitment sort of sends her over the edge and apparently the rest of the book deals with weighing the pros and cons of motherhood.

I'm so excited to read this to see if anything new in the argument strikes my attention. Hopefully I'll have a review soon!

I haven't read this book but it's been on my wish list since I saw Cheryl Strayed gushing about it on Twitter a while back. It's subtitled "On Motherhood Before I Was Ready" and I cannot wait to read it. It's a memoir from a woman who gets accidentally pregnant when she's twenty, and it's described as discussing her identity shift into motherhood before she's even aware of her own identity as a person.

I think we have TOO many examples of these ridiculous stepford mothers (or women pretending to be) in our lives and the media, and not enough moms willing to put their hands up and say hey that hurt, this sucked, I really hated this part. Those are the types of books I want to read about motherhood.

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