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.
1'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.
2'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.
3'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.
4'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.
5'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.
6'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.
7'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.
8'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.
9'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.
10'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.
11'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.