Author : Jessamine Chan
First published : 2022
Okay, this book was difficult to read. As a mother and as a woman, I found myself gasping, cringing, feeling sad and heartbroken, feeling angry and frustrated. I experienced disbelief and a whole lot of other emotions that caught me by surprise. I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up this book but what I found was definitely not it.
This book was also on Barack Obama’s favourite book list for 2022.
Without giving too much away, I’ll provide a short summary.
Frida Liu is a young mother accused of neglecting and abandoning her young child. She is then sent to a school which is meant to retrain ‘bad mothers’ into becoming the best and most attentive mothers in human existence. (I’m being a bit sarcastic here and once you read the book, especially if you are a mother, I’m sure you will understand why.)
The training and exercises these mothers at the school go through are something else; I found myself frowning and saying “huh?” on many occasions while reading.
‘I am a bad mother but I am learning to be good’
There is so much I can say and want to say about how this book made me feel; when I got to the last chapter, I was in tears.
In a way this book highlights the unrealistic expectations society has when it comes to mothers. Don’t get me wrong, motherhood and children are a gift for women who want it, but it’s a very difficult journey to be on.
In the book, mothers are expected to always be aware of everything around them, never turn their eyes away from their children for a second, be able to soothe their babies by using the correct language and words and physical affection, be able to effectively comfort their children and provide quick, healthy meals and stimulate their minds all the while not losing their own heads.
In a nutshell; it’s a lot.
The thing is, mothers can do all the above but unlike the children in the book, we are not robots. We need a break and we are not always emotionally available for our children or spouses or partners. We won’t always cook healthy dinners and sometimes we want to shut down and be left alone and that is perfectly normal and should be acceptable.
Our own kids are 6 and 8 years old now; they have an abundance of energy which I don’t. There is always something that needs to be done. Laundry needs to be washed and folded and packed away, school lunches need to be made, shopping needs to be done, toys have to be picked up and put away, children need to be disciplined. All the while you are trying to think of the 20 things you need to remember, you are thinking about work, you are checking the time, you are trying to engage in conversations, you are trying to be a good wife and then you need to remember to take care of yourself; have a bath, drink your coffee, fall asleep.
You will fall short somewhere.
We were never made to be perfect.
The guilt and pressure mothers are put under is also a prominent theme in this book; not only by society but by family and surprisingly other mothers too. The pressure can become so crippling, that it becomes life-threatening.
As a mom myself, I’ve been judged, criticized, told what I’m doing wrong, what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. I’ve also compared myself to other moms and it made me feel like the worst person in the world. I’ve been told to plan ahead, prepare dinners, clothing, activities, grocery lists, an endless number of things that I am meant to remember and take care off. Being a parent is difficult but there’s a different kind of hardship that comes with motherhood. Sometimes it’s unrealistic and you have homes where there are two parents and both contribute equally but I think as women, we tend to put ourselves under pressure and that pressure is amplified when you become a mom. Especially when you have a full-time job, a side hustle, a marriage, children. When you do catch your breath long enough to tick something off your to-do list, it feels like a miracle, that’s if you remembered to write your to-do list!
Yes, I know. It sounds like I am venting and maybe I am a little. Reading this book might unlock feelings on the inside of you, that you never even thought you had. Some of those feelings you might not be ready to face.
Something else which stands out for me in this novel is how different the ‘bad fathers’ are treated at the school, which I will call, ‘parenting rehab facility’
The differences are like night and day, which again angered me a little because moms are not always extended the grace which they deserve.
I think the overwhelming message in this book is how one small mistake can change your entire life. The book is about a mother who needs to make decisions which are painful and difficult but she makes them and she doesn’t always make the right ones.
It’s also about regret and how it can hold you back but its also about forgiveness; forgiving others but also forgiving yourself for mistakes you made when you didn’t know better.
All in all, it was an amazing read. I could probably write pages and pages of analysis but I want you to experience this book and make sense of it on your own.