Sharon Lippincott’s latest post on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing blog, links to a list of Flavorwire’s 10 best mother memoirs. Sadly (to me), almost none of them are about women who were good mothers who led their children to be well-adjusted, responsible, happy people. Sharon remarks that those stories would undoubtedly be boring, and she’s right. A good story has both conflict and conflicted, imperfect characters. The memoirs on the list may show horror mother (and father) stories, but they also tend to be inspiring as we watch the child live through a mess and come out of it with introspection, strength, and usually love for their very damaged parent(s). These memoirs definitely have a place in our personal libraries.
The “mis-mems” (misery memoirs) tend to get all the attention while the sweet memoirs tend to fall by the wayside or never get written. The sweet mother memoirs tend to be the “things-I-learned-from-my-mother-while-she-was-dying” sort—beautiful, but painful. You have to read Chicken Soup books to find a story that puts a happy smile on your face and warmth in your heart. Most of those have conflict, but usually of the common problem type we can all relate to and even laugh about.
Someone once asked me to review a manuscript she’d written about her mother. She wanted to publish it for the public as well as give it to her children so they would more fully know their wonderful grandmother and her lessons for life. It was a beautiful tribute to her mother, and a definite treasure to the family to pass along generations, but it was written to her children, not to strangers from many different parenting backgrounds. I tell this because perhaps the best mother stories are meant just for the family, where you can speak directly to your family about this real person in their lives and history and how they relate specifically to you and your family. Writing for public consumption is a different bird with a song written to sell to total strangers.
Most of Sharon’s Mother Memoir post is actually about our own mother-stories and is well worth a read. She just learned about Lynn Henriksen’s recently published Tell-Tale Souls: Writing the Mother Memoir. Henriksen’s blog post “How the Mother Memoir Came to Life” contains a gem of a question for those wanting to honor their mothers: “If you could tell just one small story that would capture your mother’s character and keep her spirit alive what would it be?”
What would yours be? And will you put it in writing to save forever?
If you know of any nice mother memoirs (besides Cherry Blossoms in Twilight!), leave a comment about it.