- MISSION + VALUES
Sometimes the right book at the right time makes all the difference.
This is our library of recommended books to read if you're navigating your health, body, pregnancy, or the early days of parenting. In addition, I've got a round-up of my favorite books on business, entrepreneurship, marketing and leadership. Over the past decade, I've read hundreds of books and some of them are stand-out winners for business and parenting support. Good books, crafted with love and effort by authors who take years to pour wisdom into their pages, can be life-changing. Take a look through our recommendations by category, below!
MEMOIRS: BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
The work of parenting—motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood—is transformative, and there are thousands of variations on what it means to dive deep into the work of caretaking. From the mundane to the heartbreaking, reading these stories captivates me. I couldn’t get enough. As you’ll notice, I’m a big fan of memoirs—there are a lot listed here, and I heartily recommend them.
9 Honest Memoirs About Moms and Motherhood
By jennie yabroff.
If you like to tell stories about your life, it’s a good bet that one of the main characters of many of them is the woman who raised you. So it’s no wonder that so many authors find the complexity motherhood such an irresistible topic. Whether a cookies-and-milk type, a cigarettes-and-vodka type, or somewhere in between, you’ll likely find a mother who reminds you of your own in the pages of these memoirs — which, by the way, would all make great gifts to let your mom know those hours she devoted to teaching you to read was time well spent.
Mother Daughter Me
by Katie Hafner
It sounds like the setup for a sitcom: a mother, daughter, and grandmother sharing a roof. And maybe all would go according to plan if it really were a made-for-TV comedy. In real life, however, things were much rockier when journalist Katie Hafner invited her mother to move in with her and her teenaged daughter, Zoë. Hoping to bond across the generations, Hafner instead found herself confronting difficult memories of her own childhood — and learning more about her mother than she ever expected.
Now My Heart Is Full
by Laura June
Often by the time we’re teens, we think we know all there is to know about our mothers. But having a child of your own can quickly change all that. In this memoir, Laura June writes about how the birth of her daughter, Zelda, caused her to rethink many of her assumptions about her own mother, an alcoholic whose struggles overshadowed much of June’s childhood. By the time she was an adult, June thought she was done with her mother entirely, but Zelda’s birth made her rethink their relationship. (On Sale: 7/24/18)
Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps
by Dave Isay
The genius of StoryCorps is its simplicity: Real people telling real stories. That’s it. Yet the impact of these deeply personal stories is immediate and profound. In this collection, editor Dave Isay compiles some of the funniest, most moving, least likely, and relatable tales about moms — what it means to have one, to be one, to lose one, and to find one. It just might inspire you to write down your own reflections.
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This
by Nadja Spiegelman
Nadja Spiegelman’s father, Art, wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus . But for Spiegelman, the truly fascinating parent was her mother, art director Françoise Mouly. As Nadja came of age, Françoise confided in her about her own turbulent childhood in France. Determined to learn more about the woman who made her mother who she was, the author moved to Paris and began the work of putting together the trail of breadcrumbs leading to herself.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
by Anne Lamott
No list of memoirs about motherhood would be complete without Operating Instructions , a book chronicling Lamott’s first sleepless year as a single mom. With brutal honesty, humor, and plenty of self-deprecation, she captures the many extreme emotions that the experience sparked, from pain and fear to joy and extraordinary love. A perfect pick for readers deep in the trenches of new motherhood and looking for a kindred spirit with whom to laugh and cry.
Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within
by Elif Shafak
When you have a new baby, it can be hard to find the time to brush your teeth. So how do you carve out space to write a novel? For Turkish writer Elif Shafak, the answer was, you don’t — but the consequences of abandoning her art were devastating. In this searching memoir, Shafak discusses how famous writers before her negotiated raising children while holding on to the art that sustained them.
The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation
by Melissa Rivers
Joan Rivers had her fans and her detractors, but no one could deny her devotion to her daughter, Melissa, who often joined her mother on the red carpet critiquing the awards show outfits of various celebrities. Joan was brash, brassy, complicated, and generous, and no one knew her better than the woman who grew up with her. Here, Melissa pays tribute to her larger-than-life mother.
A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother
by Rachel Cusk
Some mothers bring home their babies from the hospital and are over-the-moon in love. Others have a more ambivalent relationship with the newest member of the family. But the complicated feelings of new motherhood are rarely explored as candidly as in this memoir by novelist Rachel Cusk, who admits to both adoring and resenting her children when they were tiny and their needs were endless. Her openness may make you feel better about your own impatience or frustration with the many unexpected, conflicting obstacles that motherhood can bring.
Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence
by Rebecca Walker
When Alice Walker is your mother, you don’t take the relationship for granted. Growing up, Rebecca Walker was taught to be smart and skeptical, and that her life could be anything she wanted it to be. But did she want it to include a child? In this memoir of overcoming her conflicting emotions and choosing motherhood, Walker explores how smart, independent women can also embrace a role they may have never thought they wanted.
What memoirs about motherhood have you read and loved? Let us know in the comments below!
Books about motherhood - and the motherhood memoirs to read in 2020
By Jen Barton Packer on 28/1/2020
The experience of motherhood is so universal, yet so incredibly difficult to translate into the right words. It's wondrous, it's all-encompassing, it's maddening, it's devastating, energising, brutal, beautiful, messy, surprising... sometimes all before 7am. Luckily, there are some incredible writers out there who have captured the essence of being a mother – and all its contradictions – so the rest of us can get a peek into what it entails, or feel less alone when we're experiencing certain emotions. 2020 is promising to be the year of the motherhood memoir: more inclusive, more brutally honest and more easy to find a voice to identify with than ever before.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother: What It's Like to be a Black Mother by Candice Brathwaite
Candice Brathwaite is the brilliant voice behind Make Motherhood Diverse , a blog which aims to portray motherhood inclusively, and showcases the parenting stories we don't typically get to read about it in the media, from differently abled mums to those parenting children with special needs.
Her debut novel, about her own experiences navigating motherhood and noticing the lack of representation of black motherhood, is one of 2020's must-reads for all mums, new or experienced.
My Wild and Sleepless Nights: A Mother's Story by Clover Stroud
For any parent who's ever wondered how on earth they're going to manage this whole parenting lark, we'd recommend looking to those who are doing it - and with an extraordinary number of kids to boot.
Journalist and author Clover Stroud has five children, aged 1 to 17, and this book is an honest account of her own experiences and thoughts about losing and finding herself in motherhood, as well her insights for every stage of parenting, whether your kid's in nappies or heading to uni.
Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr
Award-winning journalist Deborah Orr's exploration of the complexities of the mother-daughter bond - and an ode to the love-hate relationship she had with her hometown, Motherwell, in Scotland - forms the basis for this autobiographical work.
Orr's writing beautifully captures that conflict and tension of yearning for parental approval and knowing that no matter what choice she made, it would be the wrong one for her mother, who never had the same agency over her life choices that her daughter would. Sadly Orr passed away in October 2019, so this is her final book.
Letters on Motherhood by Giovanna Fletcher
Giovanna Fletcher is a mum of three, podcast queen and accessible, easy-to-relate to voice in the sea of endless depictions of perfect parenting.
Her latest book is a collection of letters she's written to her three young sons which touches on everything from mum guilt to body image, to the dreams she has for her children's futures.
The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell
Vogue columnist Nell Frizzell's debut is a must-read for millennials, that chronicles all of those big decisions a woman is expected to make between the ages of 25-40: where to live, if they should marry, what to do with one's career.
And that other biggie: to have a baby or not. It's the essential book for anyone who finds themselves youngish, and pregnant - or isn't sure if they ever want to be parents.
We'd recommend poring through Frizzell's parenting columns for Vogue and The Guardian while you wait for its release - her writing is sharp, funny and very easy to connect with.
The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood
This memoir of single motherhood hitting when you're really not prepared for it is funny, honest and written by seasoned journalist Sophie Heawood.
Not only is it about coming to terms with pregnancy when you'd rather be partying with friends, it's about reinventing the nuclear family narrative. Think Bridget Jones for the Tinder generation.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
In Motherhood , Sheila Heti grapples with the conflicting desires and pressures of whether or not to have a child at all, as well as the issue that if a woman decides against children, then she is expected to bestow something truly fabulous on the world instead.
Ambivalent and contradictory, honest and fragmented, this is a book that speaks to all women.
'On the one hand, the joy of children. On the other hand, the misery of them. On the one hand, the freedom of not having children. On the other hand, the loss of never having had them – but what is there to lose? The love, the child, and all those motherly feelings that the mothers speak about in such an enticing way, as though a child is something to have, not something to do. The doing is what seems hard. The having seems marvellous,' Heti writes.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Becoming isn't an ode to motherhood per se, but in parts, it's a memoir of motherhood which offers glimpses into how Obama wrestled with protecting her children as their lives became increasingly public.
It also touches on the topic of work post-motherhood: Obama rethought the whole linear idea of life and career, something that happened as the result of two factors, meeting Barack (who wasn't afraid to 'swerve') and becoming a mother.
She tells readers that they have the right to change their mind at any point – we are constantly evolving, or becoming, after all – which is a message that's so important for mothers working out how to blend their career with parenting.
This whole book feels like an intimate conversation with a girlfriend; one that happens to be wonderfully inspiring, and with a former First Lady who can rock a pair of Balenciaga gold thigh-high boots like no other.
'Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child – "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end,' she writes.
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Written in 1924, this novel from Persephone Books by American writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher brilliantly captures the frustrations of parents when they're pigeonholed by society into the roles they should have.
Evangeline is a frustrated home-maker and mum of three who would be much happier in an office; her husband is miserable at work and would love nothing more than to spend time raising his children.
Disaster strikes – or perhaps a stroke of fortune - and Evangeline has to work after her husband falls off of a roof and is housebound. Children and parents alike flourish.
'Oh Lester , let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It's dreadful enough your having to do the housework!'
"Eva darned them a good many years," he said, with some warmth, "and did the housework. Why shouldn't I?" He looked at her hard and went on, "Do you know what you are saying to me...? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor, mean, cheap job beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else," ' Canfield Fisher writes.
Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose
Is tormenting mothers one of our favourite societal pastimes? This book argues that mothers are the ultimate scapegoat for all of society's ills.
Rose draws on various resources to make her argument on the impossible demands society places on mothers, including policy documents, feminist theory, social history and psychoanalysis, in this compelling must-read.
A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk
Cusk's ambivalent exploration of new motherhood is one of the first books to honestly describe those early months of parenting for what they really are at times: exhausting, bleak, and isolated, rather than the calm and beautiful image that we're told it should be.
Cusk was derided by critics at the time of publication in 2001 but this work is now seen as one of the seminal books that truly captures motherhood in all its contradictions. It's also extremely funny – Cusk even makes colic a topic we want to read about.
'I am sure there must be a word for it in German, something compound like lifegrief that would translate as outpouring of sorrow at the human condition, for I do not entirely believe that it is a digestive malaise,' she writes.
Mother Ship by Francesca Segal
A memoir of Segal's time in the neonatal intensive care unit after her twin daughters were born prematurely, Mother Ship is a love story which captures the terror every human feels at the unbearable, indescribable pain that comes along with bringing a human into this world – the possibility of losing them.
Segal's memoir talks about a different kind of motherhood; one that we need to have more candour and conversations about. It's also a story of hope, friendship and overcoming the odds.
'Our greatest gift to one another is this: each woman here has been swept out by a riptide, pulled far from the current of normal motherhood. Apart and all together in this space, our odd craft, we are drawn back into the folds of the unremarkable,' she writes.
The Republic of Motherhood by Liz Berry
An electrifying poetry collection, this ode to new motherhood has picked up numerous awards and plaudits for its honesty and beauty. Bonus: unlike a proper novel, there's actually hope of squeezing in a poem or two in the sleepless haze of new motherhood.
'I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift, the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding. I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets, the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.'
Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin
Is motherhood a competitive sport? In Upper East Side Manhattan, most definitely. Entertaining, cutting and totally absorbing, this look at parenting from a social anthropologist's lens is one of those can't-put-down reads – pack it for your next holiday. A TV show of the book is in the works.
'This explained why Upper East Side mothers all wore tiny medallions engraved with their children’s initials around their necks. And stacking rings, one for each child, on their fingers. And entered the names of other mothers in their contacts under the names of their children, so that, on so many of my new friends’ phone and email lists, I came up not as 'Wednesday Martin' but as 'Eliot M/ mother, Wednesday M.' We were our children, utterly merged together.'
Lost In Motherhood: The Memoir of a Woman who Gained a Baby and Lost Her Sh*t by Grace Timothy
Previously published as Mum Face , Lost in Motherhood explores the identity issues facing most new mums: after pregnancy and childbirth and now faced with a tiny human, who am I?
Honest, hilarious and very easy to relate to, it's the kind of book you'll read in a day and then buy for everyone you know who's just had a baby.
Hurrah For Gin by Katie Kirby
The antidote to the pressurised expectations of perfect Instagram-style parenting posturing, this book is filled with anecdotes parents can relate to, as well as hilarious stick-figure cartoons. There are a couple of companion books if you love it.
Real and honest, it highlights many of the less-glam aspects of parenting, in a funny, uplifting way. Note: it's better appreciated by those who already have a kid or two rather than first-timers who have yet to experience many of the joys Kirby highlights...
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- BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
12 Awesome Books About Motherhood
Give Mom the gift of the written word, courtesy of Candice Bergman, Erma Bombeck, and others.
- Photo Credit: Bethany Beck/ Unsplash
She forgot to pick you up once (or twice). Fed you Doritos for breakfast. Cursed a lot. And was always the first one to remind you that you didn’t come with a manual.
Until now. Put the old adage to bed (with breakfast) this Mother’s Day and give Mom the greatest gift of all: the written word.
From a laugh-out-loud memoir to a self-deprecating celeb autobiography, the following personal accounts of parenting are just as relatable to those celebrating the holiday as to those who are being celebrated. She’ll laugh, she’ll remember when, and she may even cry—in a good way.
Want more great books? Sign up for the Early Bird Books newsletter and get the best daily ebook deals delivered straight to your inbox.
By Erma Bombeck
Erma Bombeck spent nearly three decades chronicling the frustrations and victories of parenting in both her newspaper column and numerous books.
Resonating throughout Bombeck’s observations are the superhuman qualities it takes to not only care for a family but for oneself. In this timeless collection, she presents everyday motherhood, as it should be—insane but glorious.
Because Crack Is Illegal
By Raema Mauriello
This book of daily devotionals contains a month's worth of inspiration for women at any stage of motherhood. Taking an honest and humor-filled approach, Mauriello's work embraces the common struggles inherent in being a mother, offering support and reaffirmation. This religious-based text not only supports mothers but issues the challenge for them to continue to grow and learn through their experiences.
15 Spiritual Books to Inspire Positive Living
The Dog Stays in the Picture
By Susan Morse
A parent’s work is never done, as Morse discovers in her memoir of an empty nest gone awry. Recovering from the loss of the family dog and faced with her children heading to college, Morse and her husband adopt a retired racing greyhound.
Although lovable, Lilly is a handful, and Morse finds herself reliving all the moments she thought were long past. For those with children and fur babies, Morse tells a tender story of new life and soul mates.
This Lovely Life
By Vicki Forman
Vicki Foreman had to face a terrible tragedy when her twins, Evan and Ellie, were born 3 months too early. Wishing for the most merciless solution for her babies, Vicki pleaded with doctors to let her children slip away from the suffering, but due to California's resuscitation laws, the medical team continued to give the infants care. Within days the young Ellie passed away, while Evan survived to face multiple harrowing disabilities for the course of his life.
This book touches on the guilt and anger centered around this brave woman's initial ignored decision, and the triumphs, joys, struggles, and fierce unconditional love for the children she brought into the world. Full of heart-break and slow-coming victory, this touching memoir will give you a whole new perspective on motherhood.
A Fine Romance
By Candice Bergen
She made waves more than 20 years ago with her controversial role as a single mother on Murphy Brown. In her recently released memoir, Bergen, though a celeb going on 50 years now, addresses everything from her hit television show to love, loss, and being a parent to very relatable effect. As she navigates her feelings raising her daughter, she also grapples with the challenges of a life in an often-unwanted spotlight.
15 Best Memoirs That Will Change Your Outlook on Life
By Ayelet Waldman
Reflecting on the changing status and paranoia of parenthood, Waldman reflects on the impossibility of being a good—much less perfect—caregiver in the modern age. With a mix of advice and humorous anecdotes, Waldman encourages both young and old parents to stop fixating on right or wrong and enjoy the experience of raising a family.
Are You My Mother?
By Alison Bechdel
Fans of Bechdel’s brilliant graphic memoir, Fun Home , which detailed her coming-of-age story complete with her closeted gay father, are treated to the next chapter in Bechdel’s life: the retelling of her relationship with her mother.
Bechdel struggles to understand the difficult and distant relationship the two endured, and uncovers a woman similar to herself—an artist—whose talents were unfortunately stifled by an unhappy marriage and her unwavering commitment to her children.
But I Wanted a Pony!
By Anne Taintor
Anne Traitor is here with her collection of comedic essays on the ups, downs, and alcoholic indulgent moments of motherhood. With hilarious commentary on those early baby days to watching them grow into rude little teenagers, Traitor covers it all. She captures the honest thoughts of moms everywhere and isn’t afraid to say what most would care to admit. Mothers all over the world will laugh at Traitor’s signature humor.
By Joyce Maynard
From the late 80s to the late 90s, Joyce Maynard’s column Domestic Affairs ran in newspapers all over the country. With her widely beloved witty essays chronicling the ups and downs of motherhood, Maynard quickly became one of America’s best-loved memoirists.
This is a collection of her greatest writings, gathered over nine years of her successful career. Mothers will relate to Maynard’s challenges and the rewards she’s found through parenting.
Mother's Love Is . . .
By Mina Parker
This book of motherhood quotes showcases the tremendous power and strength of a mother’s love. You’ll find inspiring quotes from amazing women like Oprah Winfrey, Erma Bombeck, and Erica Jong.
Every quote celebrates the joy and light that all mothers bring into our lives.
The Complete Oprah’s Book Club List
By Ann Van De Water
Mother of three rambunctious boys, Ann Van De Water takes readers on a detailed journey of her experience in motherhood. This book is filled with authentic and relatable stories that moms, grandmothers, and even expectant moms will love reading.
Van De Water is unapologetic in her reflections on motherhood and doesn’t pretend to be the “perfect” mom. Mothers of all kinds will find they are not alone on their respective journeys.
The Pure Gold Baby
By Margaret Drabble
It’s the 1960s in London and Jessica Speight is at the beginning of what’s looking like a successful career as an anthropologist. But everything comes to a screeching halt when a brief love affair leaves her a single mother.
Her newborn baby Anna is beautiful, but as time passes, it becomes evident that she is different from most children. With altering points of view from Speight’s fellow friends and mothers, this is an inspiring tale of the joys and pains of motherhood.
21 Books About Mother-Daughter Relationships
Featured Image: Bethany Beck/ Unsplash
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Powerful Parenting Memoirs Every Parent Should Read
Our favorite true parenting stories that you can learn from, be inspired by and take comfort in., by babylist team.
Parenthood is a lot of things—exciting, joyful, frustrating, exhausting. And though it’s impossible to completely capture all of it in one small package, here’s something that comes pretty close to doing just that.
We’ve gathered a list of our favorite memoirs about parenthood. From single motherhood to postpartum health challenges to the journey of being a transgender parent, every individual parenting story is unique in some parts, but totally universal in others.
One of the best parts of parenthood is knowing that other parents go through the exact same things , so here are some stories by parents who you can relate to, learn from…and commiserate with.
Psst! Have a new or expecting parent in your life? We love these books as gifts, especially to give as a baby shower gift .
In a series of letters to her pregnant friend, author, poet and mother Beth Ann Fennelly writes about all the joys and aches of motherhood that her friend can expect. Ranging from serious to lighthearted and sentimental to cautionary, these letters are filled with poetic language and sage advice to help any expectant mother feel ready for her parenting journey. We love this book as a baby shower gift.
Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother
Nearly 30 years after it was first published, Anne Lamott’s memoir about her journey through single motherhood is still a favorite. At 35 years old, single and with a new baby, Lamott relied on her circle of friends and her own sense of humor to survive her baby’s first year. With honesty and warmth, Lamott tackles the tougher, grittier parts of parenting that aren’t talked about often enough.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year
This memoir-like collection of essays was written in the 12-month period around the birth of Louise Erdrich’s third child, from pregnancy in the winter to caring for an infant in the spring and summer to finally returning to her work in the fall. An exploration of all the emotions, learnings and meditations that come with “the passionate and artful bond” between parent and child, Erdrich’s deeply personal stories are sure to resonate with any parent, new or experienced.
The Blue Jay's Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood
After several years of fatherhood pre-transition, a handful of nonbinary parenthood years while mid-transition and finally a few years of motherhood post-transition, Jenny Boylan has learned a thing or two about parenting and gender. Combining stories from parenting her own children and interviews with other parents to create a diverse quilt of parenthood experiences, Boylan’s humorous style and unique perspective as a transgender parent make this a fun read for any parent.
Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders
Swear words. Head lice. Petty vandalism. Drew Magary’s take on modern American parenting is relatable to anyone who isn’t clutching their pearls. Turning parenthood anxiety into hilarious stories of “do whatever it takes to make things go smoothly,” this memoir may give you some fun (unconventional) new ideas to throw into your basket of parenting techniques.
Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood
Fifteen steps to raising your child to be a feminist, as told by acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Including everything from open communication to debunking sexist myths to embracing yourself as a whole person, Adichie’s suggestions are wise, powerful and totally actionable for any feminist parent.
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
In his typical magically humorous style, Michael Chabon shares stories of fatherhood in seven separate essays, including his viral essay written for the September 2016 issue of GQ. Though the book is short, these brief glimpses into Chabon’s unique version of fatherhood make for a powerful and relatable read.
Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces
After several unexpected health issues following the birth of her child, Molly Caro May grieves the body she knew before pregnancy and rages against her new incontinent, hormonal body. Her honest look at women’s physical postpartum journeys is relatable to so many mothers who are coming to terms with their new selves, both inside and out.
Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and My Passage into Motherhood
Honest, funny, irreverent— McSweeny’s and The New Yorker essayist Kimberley Harrington spares no details when sharing her stories about parenthood. From lighthearted, relatable topics like school plays and bake sales to emotional, open discussions about miscarriage, this memoir embraces the rollercoaster of parenthood and personhood with a healthy dose of frankness and sarcasm.
Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words
Best parenting books, best pregnancy books, anti-racist books for babies and toddlers, best baby keepsakes and memory books, best books about family for babies and toddlers, best multicultural baby books, our favorite award-winning books for babies and toddlers, best potty training books for toddlers.
Whether you ever become a mother yourself or not (and, thankfully, we get to decide that entirely for ourselves) motherhood is a huge part of the experience of being a woman. After all, we are all a mother's child, and knowing more about the unique experiences of giving birth, from the hilarious and sweet to the heartbreaking and difficult, is crucial to understanding many of the women in our own lives. We all know that motherhood is a hard job , and a difficult choice for many women to make for many different and personal reasons, filled with lots of fears and tons of questions . But just thinking about all of the incredible mothers you know if your own life can probably provide a huge list of inspiring, hard-working, passionate, strong, wonderfully flawed women.
As Mother's Day rolls back around, whether you are celebrating your own mother or some other incredible women in your life, take some time to really put yourself in their shoes. The eleven memoirs below all explore different aspects of motherhood, from loss and abandonment to fierce love and feminism. Mothers, after all, are as complex as any other human being, full of the fire and fight we have come to expect from so many matriarchs, but also worries and fears and struggles, too. Share these books with the women in your own life, because we can all stand to appreciate our mothers even more than we already do.
'Blue Nights' by Joan Didion
Blue Nights is a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this book examines Didion's thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she may have failed. Seamlessly woven in are incidents Didion sees as underscoring her own age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.
Click here to buy.
'Mom & Me & Mom' by Maya Angelou
The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But here, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother. Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years. Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives; love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.
'White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, And The Mess In Between' by Judy Batalion
Judy Batalion grew up in a house filled with endless piles of junk and layers of crumbs and dust…obsessively gathered and stored by her hoarder mother. The first chance she had, she escaped the clutter to create a new identity—one made of order, regimen, and clean white walls. Until, one day, she found herself enmeshed in life’s biggest chaos: motherhood. Confronted with the daunting task of raising a daughter after her own dysfunctional childhood, Judy reflected on not only her own upbringing but the lives of her mother and grandmother, Jewish Polish immigrants who had escaped the Holocaust. What she discovered astonished her. The women in her family, despite their differences, were even more closely connected than she ever knew.
'Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only To Find Her Again' by Kimberley Williams-Paisley
Behind the scenes of her decades long acting career, Williams-Paisley was dealing with a tragic secret: her mother, Linda, was suffering from a rare form of dementia that slowly crippled her ability to talk, write and eventually recognize her own family. Where the Light Gets In tells the full story of Linda’s illness from her early-onset diagnosis at the age of 62 through the present day. Williams-Paisley draws a candid picture of the ways her family reacted, and how she, her father and two siblings educated themselves, tried to let go of shame and secrecy, made mistakes, and found unexpected humor and grace in the midst of suffering.
'The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss' by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
Though Anderson Cooper has always considered himself close to his mother, his intensely busy career as a journalist affords him little time to spend with her. After she suffers a brief but serious illness, they resolve to change their relationship by beginning a year-long conversation unlike any they had ever had before. The result is a correspondence of surprising honesty and depth in which they discuss their lives, the things that matter to them, and what they still want to learn about each other. Both a son’s love letter to his mother and an unconventional mom’s life lessons for her grown son, The Rainbow Comes and Goes shares often humorous and moving exchanges, of their most private thoughts and the hard-earned truths they’ve learned along the way.
'Ma Speaks Up: And A First-Generation Daughter Talks Back' By Marianne Leone
Marianne Leone’s Ma is in many senses a larger-than-life character. Born on a farm in Italy, Linda finds her way to the United States, having escaped a forced marriage to a much older man, and marries a good Italian boy. She never has full command of English and when she is suddenly widowed with three young children, she has few options. To her daughter’s horror and misery, she becomes the school lunch lady. Ma Speaks Up is a record of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, with the wrong family, in the wrong religion. Though Leone’s girlhood is flooded with shame, it’s equally packed with adventure, love, great cooking, and, above all, humor. The stories she tells will speak to anyone who has struggled with outsider status in any form and, of course, to mothers and their girls.
'There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story Of My Mother And Me' by Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields never had what anyone would consider an ordinary life. She was raised by her Newark-tough single mom, Teri, a woman who loved the world of show business and was often a media sensation all by herself. Teri's skills as both Shields' mother and manager were formidable. But in private she was troubled and drinking heavily. As Shields became an adult the pair made choices and sacrifices that would affect their relationship forever. And when Shields' own daughters were born she found that her experience as a mother was shaped in every way by the woman who raised her. In an honest, open memoir about her life growing up, Brooke reveals stories and feelings that are relatable to anyone who has been a mother or daughter.
'Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend from childhood, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie's letter of response. Here are fifteen suggestions for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner, and that men can "allow" women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of motherhood and sexual politics in the 21st century.
'Then Again' by Diane Keaton
In Diane Keaton's memoir, you will meet and fall in love with her mother, the loving, complicated, always-thinking Dorothy Hall. To write about herself, Keaton realized she had to write about her mother, too, and how their bond came to define both their lives. Over the course of her life, Dorothy kept eighty-five journals—literally thousands of pages—in which she wrote about her marriage, her children, and herself. Keaton has sorted through these pages to paint an unflinching portrait of her mother—a woman restless with intellectual and creative energy, struggling to find an outlet for her talents—as well as her entire family, recounting a story that spans four generations and nearly a hundred years.
'The Blue Jay's Dance: A Memoir Of Early Motherhood' by Louise Erdrich
In The Blue Jay's Dance , Louise Erdrich's first major work of nonfiction, she brilliantly and poignantly examines the joys and frustrations, the compromises and the insights, the difficult struggles and profound emotional satisfactions she experienced in the course of one twelve month period; from a winter pregnancy through a spring and summer of new motherhood to fall and a return to writing. In lyrical prose, Erdrich illuminates the large and small events that mothers, and parents, everywhere will recognize and appreciate.
'Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year' by Anne Lamott
With the same brilliant combination of humor and warmth she brought to her beloved book Bird by Bird , Anne Lamott gives us a smart, funny, and comforting chronicle of single motherhood. It’s not like she’s the only woman to ever have a baby. At thirty-five. On her own. But Anne Lamott makes it all fresh in her now-classic account of how she and her son and numerous friends and neighbors survived and thrived in that all important first year. From finding out that her baby is a boy (and getting used to the idea) to finding out that her best friend Pam will die of cancer (and not getting used to that idea), with wit and faith (but very little piousness), Lamott narrates the great and small events that make up a woman’s life.
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Which novels or memoirs will help prepare me for motherhood?
Francesca Segal recommends literary explorations of new emotional territory
Q : Can you recommend any particularly good novels or memoirs about the experience of motherhood? I have a few months to prepare and this feels as important as collecting tiny babygrows. Sophie Lim, 42, London
A: Francesca Segal, author of Mother Ship (Vintage, £8.99) , writes:
First of all, congratulations – I so clearly remember the urge to understand the lay of that strange new territory ahead, longing for books that might offer a way in, if only for a moment. Making Babies by Anne Enright is a wonderful place to begin, because it is funny and poignant and vivid and written by a woman who is happy in her maternity, clear-eyed, but not frightening.
Anne LaMott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year made me roar with laughter, and is joyous because it shows that you do not have to have every black-and-white frieze hung, every muslin ironed, each educational material absorbed – you do not need a perfect life, merely an open heart and, to quote Mary Oliver , “to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.’ A recovering alcoholic with no money and no co-parent, LaMott does a beautiful job of loving and raising her son, who grows up to be a thoroughly good egg. I’d be remiss to leave out the magnificent A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk, a pitch-perfect exploration of the claustrophobia and ambivalence that can come with serving the whims of a new “tetchy monarch”.
Hey Yeah Right Get a Life by the wonderful Helen Simpson has a not-great title and a terrible jacket, but is one of the most incredible short story collections about motherhood, and has women I know who’ve read it banging their fists on the table with rage and recognition and vindication. Amy Bloom has always written achingly beautiful mother-love tales, in both A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You , another short story collection, or her novel, Away , which is a mother’s picaresque journey across the US to find her lost daughter.
Finally, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is an excellent parody of life at the school gates, and means that in the future you will never be remotely surprised by an email demanding that you arrive the following morning with a pair of green tights, six printed family portraits, a list of every vegetable in your crisper drawer, and a tulip bulb. Armed with these texts, you will be ninja-ready.
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Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives Paperback – July 1, 2013
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8 Memoirs About Mothers, Motherhood, and Loss
Alex Luppens-Dale won the “Enthusiastic Reader Award” all four years of high school. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her favorite genres are memoir, witches, and anything with cults. She lives in New Jersey. You can keep up with Alex's latest work at her website.
View All posts by Alex Luppens-Dale
My mother died a few days before my 23 rd birthday and, after a few weeks of being unable to read anything at all, I decided, in the words of Joan Didion, to “go to the literature.” Everyone will tell you that grief is “a process.” It has also, for me and for others, become something of a study. Sometimes one wants to read things that are as far from what happened as possible. At other times, one feels the need to go back to that place, back to the moment it happened. These memoirs about mothers helped me navigate the transition from “mothered” to “motherless.” Some of them come at the loss more directly than others, but all of them have given me something to add to my toolkit as I’ve navigated adulthood as a motherless daughter.
Death is not the only way to lose one’s mother but it is the one I am most familiar with, can speak to most intimately. Not all of these books feature a death on the page. Here are some of the best books directly or indirectly about what one of our authors calls “the mother of all losses.”
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
This might seem like a weird choice given that Didion lost her only child and not the other way around, but I find this book so affirming that I read it at least once per year. No one understands grief like Joan Didion. Didion has become a surrogate for how much my mother loved me, how much I will love my child. She was not a perfect mother and she acknowledges this. No one is ever perfect and neither is any relationship. I love this book as a study of motherhood and daughterhood.
The Long Goodbye by Megan O’Rourke
I read this while trying to finish my grad school thesis on grief memoirs. After Meghan O’Rourke’s mother died of cancer at age 55, she began to explore her the experience of being a mourner in a culture that has few rituals for grief. It is a record of O’Rourke’s loss and of the life that followed, how caring for and losing her mother both changed and strengthened their relationship and her relationships with her living family members.
The Dead Moms Club by Kate Spencer
Spencer’s mom died of cancer when she was 27. This book was the first one I found that talked about telling one’s own children about where one’s lost parent actually is in a way that isn’t scary. It’s also hilarious and full of tips for new members of the club no one wants to join. It offers hope that you will also come out the other side—and that there is indeed another side, even when losing your mother changes nearly everything in your life. It is also really great on audio.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Jones’s single mother is always present in this book about his journey as a poet and as a Black gay man from the South who eventually moves North. He takes the reader through his life from adolescence to young adulthood and shows how our relationships—with family, lovers, strangers— help turn us into the selves we eventually become. This book is not exclusively about losing your mother but it features heavily as one of the things that turns us into who we are.
Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
This is new graphic memoir by a woman who lost her mother when she was in college and how she and her younger sisters navigate adulthood without her. It’s also one of the only times a Facebook ad has worked on me, because I bought it instantly. There were a bunch of times while I was reading this book that I looked up and said “yes” or, embarrassingly, did a little fist pump. There’s even a bingo game for all of the things people say to you when you’re grieving. I got bingo. Twice.
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
Terry Tempest Williams’s mother left her all of her journals when she died. Williams was left with three shelves of journals, all of them blank. This book is made up of lyrical meditations on the mystery of her mother’s journals, on having a voice and what we use that voice for. If you’re the sort of person who likes to underline in books, get your pencil ready.
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith
This memoir traces the former U.S. Poet Laureate’s changing relationship with her parents’ faith, her developing sense of her own racial history including her parents’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and her desire to become a writer. When Smith’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, which she claims is part of God’s plan, Smith navigates loving and looking after someone whose beliefs you no longer share. It was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2015.
What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang
Losing your mother to Alzheimer’s is a different kind of loss—Lang’s mother does not die on the page but she loses her a bit at a time. Losing your mother is also losing the stories she told you and the stories she never got to tell. After Lang becomes a mother, her own formerly supportive mother loses track of the stories she told her daughter about her immigration, her experience of motherhood and the secrets—or are they lies?— lead her daughter to reexamine their relationship. Did she ever know her mother at all?
It has been nearly a decade since I joined this club and I still miss my mother every single day. But it’s good to know that I have never been alone. My fellow club members have given me strength and helped me see my own writing as something that could help someone else to feel less alone.