Exploring Motherhood Through Books

Motherhood is complicated. Caretaker, healer, disciplinarian, coach, advocate, organizer, chauffeur, friend, college advisor, wedding planner, babysitter for grandchildren—the roles a mother plays for her children never end.  And there is no roadmap. As children we may have been critical of what our mothers didn’t say or do. The younger we are, the higher our expectations and greater our needs. Through a child’s eyes, a mom isn’t really a living breathing complex human being with her own needs, experiences, attributes and dreams. Only when we grow up do we begin to understand the person we call Mom.

Other than feeling self-conscious about her foreign accent, I never thought much about what it had to be like for my own mom, as a recent immigrant, to bring up an American daughter. I didn’t understand the challenges that must have been part of her assimilation as I was growing up in the late 1950s and 60s in Columbus, Ohio. In time I began to imagine the struggles she had to endure: a new language and culture, two young daughters, casting her personal aspirations aside for the role as a wife and mother during an era when this was the social expectation for women. I may have thought my mom hadn’t accomplished much back then. Yet, there she was day after day: waiting for me at the door after school, fixing me a snack, and making sure my sister and I understood the inherent value in learning. As an adult, I grew to appreciate her loving nature, the way she noticed and appreciated small details or gestures, how she taught me to understand another person’s point of view. I think about her often and especially miss her this Mother’s Day, one year after she left our physical world.

As we celebrate motherhood in May, we can explore the lives of several moms through a bounty of books. Here are a few from the recent past:

My Name is Lucy Barton, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Strout and published last year, begins as the title character recovers slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Lucy’s mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. While they seem to reconnect through the gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood, just below the surface is loneliness and longing. In many ways, this novel is a simple love story about a girl’s unquestioning, almost animal love for her mother, and her mother’s love in return. In the end, what is invisible and incommunicable is not only what isolates but also what binds. 

A Mother’s Tale, by Phillip Lopate, is about the relationship between a mother and her child and, in this case, family members who love each other but who can’t seem to overcome their mutual mistrust. In 1984, Phillip Lopate sat down with his mother, Frances, to listen to her life story. Thirty years later, after his mother had passed away, Lopate found himself drawn back to the recordings of this conversation and the result is this memoir: a three-way conversation between a mother, his younger self, and the person he is today.

One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes, is the story of a single mom, a chaotic family, a quirky stranger and an engrossing read from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng is a poignant story of family, secrets, and longing. Released in June of 2014, the novel is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle all their lives to understand one another.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple, is a broadly satirical novel, whose title character may be opinionated and a disgrace to others, but to 15-year-old Bee, Berndette is a best friend and, simply, Mom. The power of mother-daughter bonds lies at the heart of this touching story.

Written by Linda Kass

About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. It won a Bronze Medal for Historical Fiction from the Independent Publisher Award Program and is a 2016 Foreword INDIES Award Finalist. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, central Ohio’s newest indie bookstore!

Learn more about me on my personal website.