Mothers. At least for an instant, everyone has one. No mother is perfect, but some know how to mother more than others.
Sometimes a mother-child relationship is a bitch. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes bitter-sweet.
But it’s always complicated.
In the essay collection What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Readers Break the Silence (Simon & Schuster), edited by Michele Filgate, fifteen writers share their personal stories about the complexity of their relationships with their mothers. Just hearing the title pulls many of us into a state of emotional turbulence. Don’t most of us have something we wish we could tell our mothers, but haven’t?
As Filgate admits, confessing personal truth and living with the pain of a strained relationship is hard enough, but releasing it into the world creates a vulnerability that might feel like setting your own life on fire. Will people judge? What will your mother think? It took Filgate fourteen years to write her essay.
These writers finally break their silence, sharing with readers the words they could never share with their moms. Amid the pain of admission and recollection is their ability to command their own stories and possibly mend the relationships with their mothers and themselves.
This collection explores what it means to be a “good daughter” or “good son.” Is it being quiet, not telling? Not talking about things better swept under the carpet or kept beneath worn floorboards? Who will be hurt by the telling, or the keeping of secrets?
There is pain when a child realizes their mother is lacking—acknowledging the gap between the idealized version of the ultimate protector and supporter, and reality. The confession of what is missing. That truth is amplified at certain times, like Mother’s Day. Celebrating the women who gave us life can be appreciative and joyous but also distressing. The contradiction between the mother we wish we had and the mother we were born to is sometimes so stark the celebration might as well be a fairy tale.
Some of these writers have very close relationships with their mothers; others are fractured. Some have problems with the physicality of communicating; others communicate too much. Some relationships are filled with longing, some with disturbing memories. Some stories are tender with the quiet of secrets; others are loud screams within the chaos of mental illness. Several involve the denial of abuse—physical, emotional, or sexual; others talk of false accusations. Some truths belong to the writers; others belong to their mothers.
All come from the heart.
This collection of poignant essays serves as an instrument to break the silence, of speaking the truth about these authors’ relationships with the women who raised them. It is a plea to open the lines of communication, to mend those rickety, impassable, or disintegrating bridges of understanding.
And they ask the question: what do you yearn to tell your mother?
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is available for purchase.
About Michele Filgate
Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and the editor of an anthology based on her Longreads essay, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster on April 30, 2019. Currently, she is an M.F.A. student at NYU, where she is the recipient of the Stein Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Longreads, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Refinery29, Slice, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, Salon, Interview Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Barnes & Noble Review, Poets & Writers, CNN.com, Fine Books & Collections Magazine, DAME Magazine, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Time Out New York, People, The Daily Beast, O, The Oprah Magazine, Men’s Journal, Vulture, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Star Tribune, The Quarterly Conversation, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. She teaches creative nonfiction for The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, Catapult, and Stanford Continuing Studies and is the founder of the Red Ink series. In 2016, Brooklyn Magazine named her one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture.” She’s a former board member of the National Book Critics Circle.