As soon as a woman gets pregnant, she is immediately inundated with about a thousand conflicting pieces of advice. She learns pretty quickly what to heed and what to throw out, and with her medical professional she figures out how to make everything work for herself and her growing belly. Then, once the baby is born, it seems that every person she meets (in the pediatrician’s waiting room, while shopping for lipstick at Target, strolling through the neighborhood) is a self-proclaimed parenting expert. Again with the barrage of conflicting advice. By now she’s a pro at tuning out everything but her instincts and, ultimately, the things she wants to hear. Suddenly she and baby have survived their first year together and baby has taken on a personality, learned willfulness, and started walking.
Being a good bookish mother, she turns to literature for how-tos and how-not-tos. She reads The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich and tries new strategies for balancing her family work and her writing. She reads Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti and longs for a society in which juggling motherhood and work outside the home is even a little bit easier. She devours Terry Tempest Williams’ gorgeous When Women Were Birds, underlines sections on every other page, and meditates on her relationship with her own mother. She makes the mistake of re-reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved in the throes of post-partum depression. She sobs her way through Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull and mourns (yes, truly laments) the fact that such a beautiful and life-altering book might be limited by its designation as a YA title.
She turns to literature, to old favorite books and new, and a few examples of motherhood really stand out.
Molly Weasley is the firmest, toughest, loving-est fictional mother in recent memory. She’s a disciplinarian but one can never doubt her love for all seven of her children, even her gently rebellious twins. Her kitchen clock’s hands each represent a member of her family, and instead of telling the time, the clock allows her to monitor each Weasley’s location and state of being. Molly’s parenting advice book would be an instant bestseller, and a large audience would no doubt read the heck out of a hilarious and heartwarming Molly Weasley motherhood memoir. (Unsolicited career advice for J. K. Rowling: Please make this so.) Mrs. Weasley is the kind of mother whom women are told they should emulate: she cooks and cleans; she disciplines, rears, loves, and protects each member of her family to such an extent that readers know little of her beyond her powers as a mother. The problem with trying to emulate her is that she has magic to assist her in her duties. Even so, her magical capabilities and pure-blood status define her less than her role as a mother does. It is her motherly demeanor throughout the series that lends such power to her big line at the end.
Book title: Watching the Clock: My Life as a Magical Mother
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cersei Lannister makes no secret of the fact that she believes she should be king. Yes, king, but she’ll answer to queen. The only saving graces femininity has to offer, in Cersei’s eyes, are wiles and motherhood. Nursing her firstborn son, Joffrey, for the first time is the best feeling she’s ever known. The Queen Regent’s love is as encompassing as Mrs. Weasley’s. Each woman hovers in her own way, but whereas Molly is overly protective, Cersei can be quite menacing. Instead of smothering her children with hugs, Cersei stifles them, bending them to her will and exercising her power through them. No one dares doubt her love for her children, but her self-interest cannot be ignored. There might be a place for Cersei’s advice, as well, and any motherhood memoir or career-planning guide she wrote would certainly be fascinating; scratch that, she’d never write a memoir. Either way, she might be hard-pressed to make many sales based on anything but name recognition.
Book title: Call Me Momzilla and I’ll Take Your Head
Back in Harry Potter land, Narcissa Malfoy resides somewhere between the dichotomous examples of Molly and Cersei. She is technically on the side of evil, just as Cersei leans toward less-than-good. Narcissa’s sister, evil Bellatrix Lestrange, is madly loyal to the Dark Lord, while Lucius Malfoy, her husband, simply wishes to be on the winning side. The Malfoys allow their son, Draco, to be sucked into the Dark Lord’s plot against Dumbledore as proof of their loyalty. Snape swears to Narcissa in an Unbreakable Vow that he will get Draco out of his obligation at the last second if he must. Though she doesn’t get much page-time, we’re still able to see how much Draco’s mother loves him and how much she’s willing to do to keep him safe, ultimately lying directly to Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts. Her allegiance and the safety it offers her isn’t worth the life of her son. I would love to know her better via a tell-all about her life among the Death Eaters and what it was like growing up with Bellatrix.
Book title: Life Among Death Eaters: A Memoir
Who are your favorite mothers from literature?