Mothers (and aunties and abuelas) are often the unsung heroes of our lives. They help us with last-minute school projects, cut up fruit for us when we're sad, and pretend to understand the TikTok we share with them.
Still, parenthood can be difficult — and even scary. Raising a child is a big responsibility, and mothers, particularly in the West, don't often receive the support they need. They might find their aspirations put on hold, or feel ill-equipped to be the "perfect" parent.
But many of us wouldn't be where we are without our mothers' care and guidance. This Mother's Day, we've rounded up 10 books about the joys and heartaches of parenthood and what it means to be a mom, in all its intricacies.
American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser
A bittersweet history of adoption in the United States, American Baby chronicles the lives of Margaret Erle and her son Stephen Mark Erle, who was later renamed David Rosenberg. One of the many young "unwed mothers" of the U.S. baby boom in the 1960s, Margaret was forced to surrender her son for adoption before she even had the chance to hold him. While Rosenberg grew up in a loving household, he always wondered about his birth parents and was eventually able to reunite with Margaret thanks to modern DNA testing. Glaser follows the impact this closed adoption had on one Jewish family, as the often-questionable practices of adoption agencies and social workers evolved, and how these practices continue to echo today.
Chouette by Claire Oshetsky
Tiny, the novel's narrator, is pregnant ... with an owl baby. If that's not confusing enough, her owl lover was a woman and they only met in a dream. At first, Tiny isn't even sure she wants the child. But soon enough, she falls in love with the small nocturnal creature she's given birth to and commits herself to supporting Chouette as best she can, even as her husband desperately searches for a way to "fix" their owl daughter. Thoughtful, funny and occasionally grotesque, Chouette is a moving portrayal of the love and struggles of raising a child who's not like the others.
Listen to an interview with author Claire Oshetsky about Chouette.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
In a series of diary entries written to her unborn children, Cedar Hawk Songmaker tracks her grocery lists, routines and reconciliation with her birth mother. But this isn't a typical journal: The 26-year-old lives in a dystopian near-future when nature is rapidly transforming. Ladybugs are growing to the size of cats, archaeopteryxes are once again walking the earth, and the few people who are able to carry babies to term face the possibility that their children may not be recognizable as human. In Cedar's poignant musings, Louise Erdrich encapsulates the tumultuous and fiercely loving experience of motherhood in uncertain times.
Read Maureen Corrigan's review of Future Home.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Fairy tales are some of the first stories children are exposed to, but Helen Oyeyemi knows they're not just for the young. As reviewer Michael Schaub notes, while describing the plot of Oyeyemi's book is a task easier said than done, the novel follows Harriet Lee and her 16-year-old daughter, Perdita, as the mother recounts her childhood in Druhástrana – a country that may or may not exist. With Oyeyemi's singular use of language and her wonderfully bizarre world-building, Gingerbread is a delicious reinvention of the stories many of us grew up with.
Las Mamis: Favorite Latino Authors Remember Their Mothers, edited by Esmeralda Santiago
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
In this anthology, Esmeralda Santiago and Joie Davidow ask acclaimed Latin authors — such as poet and political activist Gioconda Belli, writer Dagoberto Gilb and NPR's very own Mandalit del Barco — to share stories of their mothers. As the essays crisscross across Latin America and the United States, the results are a moving tribute to the beautiful, funny and occasionally troubled legacies mothers leave their children.
Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We're Saying Now, edited by Ann Imig
Ann Imig founded Listen to Your Mother on Mother's Day 2010, when she and 11 other writers read their stories of motherhood before an audience of 300 people. Since then, the production has gone national and even spawned its own anthology. The book honors the vast complexities of motherhood and shares a diverse collection of short essays by everyday people covering topics from poverty to infertility and everything in between, with humor and grace.
Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR by Lisa Napoli
Over the past half-century, NPR has established itself as a trustworthy and reliable news source for listeners across the globe. But in its early days, the newsroom struggled to cement its place on American airwaves and sought bright (and relatively inexpensive) workers to help get off the ground. Enter Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts. Lisa Napoli's interwoven biographies of the "founding mothers" of NPR offer a riveting insight into the early days of the newsroom and showcase the intelligence and wit of the groundbreaking ensemble who helped lead the way for countless women in journalism.
Listen to the "founding mothers" reflect on 50 years of NPR.
The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc
When most people associate "pregnancy" with "motherhood," where do transgender and nonbinary parents fit? It's a question Krys Malcolm Belc ponders, and can't always answer, in The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood. Through essays, legal documents and photographs, he chronicles queer parenthood and carrying a child without attaching motherhood to the experience.
Read Britni de la Cretaz' review of The Natural Mother of the Child.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Frida Liu's husband has left her for a much younger Pilates instructor, and she feels unfulfilled by her job at the University of Pennsylvania and is utterly exhausted from trying to raise her infant daughter Harriet by herself. After a temporary (but significant) lapse of judgment, Frida loses custody of her daughter and is sent to a prison-like institution where she and other "bad parents" — mostly mothers — are taught to become successful parents. The School for Good Mothers is a wry look at the impossible standards of "the perfect mother."
The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs
Women are often the unspoken heroes of history, but Anna Malaika Tubbs hopes to change that. Her literary debut centers on the lives of Alberta King, Louise Little and Berdis Baldwin – the mothers of some of the United States' most influential civil rights figures. With a meticulous eye for historical context, Tubbs describes the lives of these women in all their triumphs and their sufferings and the pivotal roles they played in their children's activism. A detailed and thought-provoking celebration of Black motherhood, Three Mothers reminds us how incomplete our history books often are.
Listen to Anna Malaika Tubbs on the TED Radio Hour.