Although this book, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, edited by Michele Filgate, came out in time for Mother’s Day, I don’t know that it would have been a great gift for your mother. It is very much as advertised, essays about what the authors don’t discuss with their mothers — not all bad, and some of them have lovely relationships with their mothers, but all pretty intense essays.

For me, reading this collection was a form of Mother’s Day self-care. A reminder that relationships with mothers and motherhood are complicated, and that I’m not alone in not celebrating Mother’s Day and having no desire to do so even when I become a mother. I could definitely see how for others, reading this would not be an act of self-care. Most of the authors have come to a place of acceptance, or at least a place where they can put their feelings into words. And I too have come to a place where everything isn’t so raw; my Mom has been gone for nearly a year and a half, I’ve gotten through all the first holidays, and she was sick for years. Do I still have regrets? Did I still cry when people at work casually asked what everyone was doing for Mother’s Day? Sure. But somehow, for me, this book was like spending time with people who get it.

The book is a collection of fifteen essays, and the intro makes clear that what the editor was going for here was talking more about how complicated mothers can be, breaking you silence about what your relationship is with your mother, because you aren’t alone:

For even a brief instant of time, every single human being has a mother. That mother-and-child connection is a complicated one. Yes we live in a society where we have holidays that assume a happy relationship. Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, I brace myself for the onslaught of Facebook posts paying tribute to the strong, loving women who shaped their offspring. … There’s a huge swath of people who are reminded on this day of what is lacking in their lives – for some, it’s the intense grief that comes with losing a mother too soon or never knowing her. For others, it’s the realization that their mother, although alive, doesn’t know how to mother them.

I also thought the various essays did a lovely job of acknowledging what a difficult thing it is to be a mother. Society puts so much on mothers, we want them to be everything, so that even when they are wonderful, they can still fail to be everything:

We were talking about the impossible position [mothers] are placed in, the ways in which they are our models; we were talking about what little space moms have to also need and also want. … There is a gaping hole perhaps for all of us, where our mother does not match up with “mother” as we believe it’s meant to mean and all it’s meant to give us. What I cannot tell [my mother] is all that I would tell her if I could find a way to not still be sad and angry about that.

There is a lot of what I would call child abuse and child neglect and mental illness in these essays. Some of these people were horribly abused by their mothers. Others, have beautiful relationships with their mothers, which read together is kind of a perfect balance:

When [my mother] arrived in the hospital after my daughter was born, I sat there on the starched sheets holding my baby, and she held me, and I cried uncontrollably — because I could finally understand how much she loved me, and I could hardly stand the grace of it.

For those with terrible relationships with their mother, some of the happier essays might be more difficult to read, but even though for me, that passage above hurts to read (my mother won’t be meeting her grandchildren, we won’t have this moment), inside the whole collection, it works so well to tell all these very different stories. What you don’t talk about with your mother is different for everyone. For some, it’s something unspeakably hard, her cruelty or her inability to love as you should have been loved, but for others, the love was there, and things were still complicated. You were still separate people, and there were (or are) things you didn’t talk about.

Strong recommend, if you’re in the right place.

Currently reading: Totally skipped over to The Mars Room last night, and put everything else aside for the moment.