Narrating Motherhood

  • Sheena Wilson (Editor) and Diana Davidson (Editor)
    Telling Truths: Storying Motherhood. Demeter Press (purchase at
Reviewed by Asma Sayed

In Telling Truths: Storying Motherhood, Wilson and Davidson bring to readers a rich tapestry of motherhood experiences that collectively illustrate the complexity of mothering. With thirty seven creative non-fiction essays and one contributing visual artist, the collection contributes to an unravelling of the pervasive and damaging definitions of the ’good mother’ that confine women’s ability to mother as an extension of their multifaceted lives and identities as twenty-first century women. Furthermore, the narratives highlight the joys, the love, the anger, the pain and the trauma that motherhood involves. These creatively told, yet truth-baring stories, offer insights into what it means to struggle to become a mother or to lose a child, to adopt or give birth, to step-mother, to mother through divorce and become a single mother, to mother a disabled child, to mother in an uncertain world changing environmentally, and many more variations on mothering. These stories expose the intimate lives of women, most of them Canadian, who range in age and who come from a diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds.

The stories each tackle difficult questions. How does a mother explain to her little child the meaning of racism when she is confronted by racist remarks on a bus? How does a mother convince her adopted daughter that she means a world to her irrespective of blood ties? How does a mother come to terms with the fact that her daughter died in a car accident and that she will never be able to touch, kiss, and hug her? How does a mother explain to the world the trials of raising a daughter with severe developmental behavioral issues? What does a child feel when he has to start calling his mother ’dad’ because ’mom’ has decided to ’come out’ and embrace her transgender self? How does a mother, petro-mama as she calls herself, help her asthma-struck child when she is raising him in a culture and economy driven by the politics of oil? These and such other complex mothering issues are explored in this book. Ultimately, what the reader gets are narratives of empowered mothers—mothers who have endured, resisted, cherished, loved, and survived their parenting journeys. Collectively, the contributing authors—mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers, working mothers, stay-at-home mothers—bring stories of mothering in the last three decades, and resist “imposed definitions of motherhood.” The stories are touching—at times the reader may shed a tear or two as she reads the accounts of mothers who have suffered and lost much and yet gained plentiful—and emotionally engaging.

In a lyrically written introduction to the book, Wilson argues that traditionally, writing about experiences of motherhood, and in a creative non-fiction format, may be considered a ’transgression’; but that is why, there is all the more need for such a collection. As Wilson suggests, one ought to move away from “a long silencing tradition that removes mothers from the spotlight, denying [their] own central role in the narrative of family.” In fact, socially and culturally motherhood has been glamorized for centuries. And yet, narratives of mothering remain unexplored and under-researched. Consequently, the institution of motherhood has not received the kind of creative and scholarly attention it deserves. For now, Wilson and Davidson address the existing chasm. We can only hope that this collection will inspire many more because as our fast-paced globalized world keeps changing, and as more women take on multiple roles in and outside the home, mothering becomes more nuanced and challenging. Telling Truths, a meticulously edited and pleasant read, may also be a valuable resource for teaching courses on creative writing, women’s writing, and motherhood.

This review “Narrating Motherhood” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 196-97.

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