As a mother and a writer, I feel like we are hitting a new age of motherhood in writing. First, literature was ruled by stories of men. Eventually women broke in, and we got to take the lead in some stories. But they were specific types of stories. It was the story of the young, unmarried woman, searching for a man to complete her. It was the story of the manic pixie dream girl. It was the story of broken women.
Eventually, women became their own protagonists. Yay! During this time, certain types of womanhood was still more acceptable than others. And how motherhood was portrayed was limited.
Portrayals of Motherhood
- The happy mother.
This is the mother who is ecstatic to be a mother. She is happy to lose herself in her motherhood and cannot imagine wanting any life other than one caring for her children. This is the 1950’s housewife. June Cleaver.
- The psychotic mother.
Both in drama and horror, we have the mother who suffers postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis to the point that she loses her humanity and becomes a danger to herself and others.
- The non-mother.
Some mothers refuse to rise to the challenge. They neglect their children or leave them in search of greater adventures. This is often the case in YA and MG, when parents need to be gotten out of the way so children can have their own adventures.
- The unhappy mother.
I feel like in the past twenty years or so we’ve been allowed to admit motherhood is hard. It isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. But, as soon as we admit this, we can only explore an unhappy mother. This is a mother who does her duty but is constantly longing for something more.
These four caricatures sum up most mothers I’ve seen in literature and pop culture. Until recently.
I’ll admit, my interest in mom-lit has increased since I became a mother six years ago, so it could be that I am just now noticing more types of representation that have been there all along. However, I also think as a society, our expectations of mothers are changing, which allows for greater representation.
This is great because, above all, motherhood is complicated. Rarely is a mother always perfect or always terrible. Loving a child is far from black and white. There are good times and bad, easy and hard, some squished together in a matter of seconds.
Lately I’ve been noticing more stories that explore these complications and admit the “mother” character is not a stable, unchanging character, but just as dynamic as any other character.
Today my friend Jaz shared an amazing short story from Escape Pod that encompassed this new exploration of motherhood perfectly. The Cost of Wonder by Leah Cypess, narrated by Tina Connolly hit all my feels as a listener and especially as a mother.
I won’t give any of it away, as it’s a rather short piece. Go listen to it. Then share your favorite motherhood piece with me. (Please? I want all the motherhood stuff right now).