Writing Parenthood

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

essay writing

Being a writer, I knew that when I became a parent, I would want to document the experience. I meant to write more during pregnancy, but morning (read: all-day) sickness and extreme fatigue had other plans. Now that my son is here, I want to write about motherhood, but let’s be honest: who wants to read overly sentimental, mushy-gushy crap that is better suited to a journal? No one. Which is why writing well about something is so hard. Especially something as subjective and as suffused with emotion as parenthood.

That’s where books come in. Whenever I have a question or problem, I turn to books. While there’s no shortage of parenting books or memoirs, there are considerably less books about writing parenthood. That being said, I’ve found some excellent ones that I return to, again and again. (I haven’t looked for ones that target fathers, but I’ve never stumbled upon one, either. I hope that one exists).


Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues, is based on her writing workshops of the same name. This was the first book about writing parenthood that I ever read, and it remains one of my favorites. A combination of memoir, anecdotes from her class, and instruction guide, the writing prompts and excerpts from others’ writing propels you to think about how you’re writing about the topic.


Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper, is another book that blends memoir and writing instruction, but this one focuses a bit more on the craft of writing itself, examining things like tense, voice, and structure. The writing prompts are plentiful and detailed, and really stretch your comfort zones.


Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year isn’t a book about how to write parenthood, per se — but it teaches the reader about good writing. Yes, she structures it as a journal and calls it such, but the prose is tight and clear, she steers away from self-pity, navel gazing, and sentimentality, and crafts a deeply personal, funny as hell, and heartbreaking book. She illustrates that parenthood is hard, gut-wrenching, and many of its experiences are universal, making the reader feel a lot less alone.


Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting by Danya Ruttenberg, is another book that’s not about writing, but teaches it, nonetheless. There have been several articles lately about the complex interplay between creativity and parenthood, and whether it’s possible to have both (but funny enough, it seems to focus on motherhood – fatherhood is never seen as a problem to creativity/productivity…). As a new parent, this book has been that reassuring voice letting me know that all the feelings of ambivalence, sleep deprivation, fear, uncertainty, and even joy, are all normal. It helps me stay sane – which, in turn, allows me to write.