The ultimate guide to family-related memoirs

Memoir is one of our favorite genres, because often it can shine a bright light on how we experience the challenges and rewards of parenting. Here are some of our top picks.

Bad Mother, by Ayelet Waldman


Waldman is the poster child for the phenomenon of confessional motherhood writing. In this collection of 18 thoughtful essays, honesty is the name of the game. From her inability to breastfeed a fourth child with a malformed palate to the termination of a much-wanted fetus due to a genetic abnormality, there is no cobwebbed corner of the guilt and sense of failure that can accompany our parenting choices left un-scoured. An utterly refreshing read.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb


One woman’s experience both as a therapist and as somebody in therapy. It may not seem like a parenting book at first glance. But as psychologist, author, and mother, Lori Gottlieb acknowledges: “so much of who we are has to do with how we think about our own parents, and our own childhood, and then how we bring that to our own parenting and our own self-conception as parents.” Why we love it: Who doesn’t want an insider look into the world of psychology?

See Motherwell’s Q&A with author Lori Gottlieb here.
Read an excerpt from Maybe You should Talk To Someone here.

Once More We Saw Stars, by Jayson Greene

Jayson Greene, Once More We Saw the Stars Credit: Knopf

A stunning, and often-times harrowing, read about the unimaginable: the loss of a child. The story traces Greene’s experience of watching his two-year-old daughter die from a freak accident to ultimately finding the strength again to bring another baby into the world. Why we love it: it pushes the boundaries of what’s comfortable to think about. 

Maid, by Stephanie Land

Maid_HC_F1.inddA rich and nuanced account of life as a financially struggling single parent and a recent Barack Obama summer selectionWhy we love it: single motherhood is bloody hard, we need honest accounts of what it’s like, especially what it’s like without resources. 

Read Motherwell’s Q&A with author Stephanie Land here.

Educated, by Tara Westover


Westover grew up amongst Mormon fundamentalists, in a family who didn’t believe in state school or medicine, who didn’t even register her birth. Her memoir is the story of a quest to re-invent herself through education, an account of having to sever ties from the people she was closest to in order to experience a truer, fuller life. Why we love it: reading about what it means to live off the grid is as engrossing as it is shocking.

The Moment of Lift, by Melinda Gates

themomentofliftMother of three, philanthropist, and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Melinda Gates weaves personal anecdotes, data, and powerful stories about the women she’s talked to worldwide in this honest and inspirational account. She touches upon family planning, education and gender bias, among many other topics. Why we love it: it’s a manifesto about the importance of empowering women in their search for equal partnerships, infused with vulnerability.

Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes


I’m not saying MOTHERHOOD shouldn’t be praised. Motherhood should be praised. Motherhood is wonderful. I’m doing it. I think it’s great. There are all kinds of ways and reasons that mothers can and should be praised. But for cultivating a sense of invisibility, martyrdom and tirelessly working unnoticed and unsung? Those are not reasons. Read an excerpt from Year of Yes here.

The Shape of the Eye, by George Estreich


A stunning meditation on raising and loving a child with Down syndrome. The beauty and lyricism of the prose, alongside Estreich’s careful attention to detail, will sink deep into your bones and pull you through the story of Laura’s diagnosis and early years, her medical challenges and successes. Never overly sentimental and always vitally honest, this memoir will stay with you long after you close the covers.

To Siri, with Love, by Judith Newman


Witty, tender and informative in equal measures, Newman’s book is a window into life with a child with autism. Or, at least, one child with autism, as it is a deeply personal account of what it is like to be the mother of Gus—a twin, a trainspotter, a lover of repetition and, of course, Apple’s electronic assistant, Siri. Replete with gripping, granular details about the highs and lows of raising a non-neurotypical kid, by the last page you can’t help but feel a part of this delightfully quirky family.

Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo

threewomenA gripping, genre-bending account of female desire and the trauma that can often intersect with it, Three Women is one of the summer’s hottest reads for a reason. The book chronicles the real lives of Maggie, Lina, and Sloane as they grapple with their identities as sexual beings against the backdrop of the current American cultural landscape. Why we love it: it’s non-fiction that’s just as gripping as a novel.

My Heart Can’t Even Believe It, by Amy Silverman


Silverman’s daughter, Sophie, has Down Syndrome and this memoir tells the story that began unfolding the day she was born. It is an honest and touching look at the way life changes after such a diagnosis—the medical issues, the developmental stumbling blocks, the concerns for the future—but also the ways in which it doesn’t: a mother’s persistent support of her child. Read Motherwell’s excerpt of My Heart Can’t Even Believe It here.

Poor Your Soul, by Mira Ptacin

Poor Your Soul final cov

Even though she’d never missed a single dose of her birth control pill, at age 28, Mira Ptacin got pregnant. (“I am that 0.01%,” she writes.) Despite knowing the father, Andrew, for only three months, the couple decides to keep the baby and marry. However, at the twenty-week ultrasound, she and Andrew discover that the baby, a girl whom they’ve decided to name Lilly, has a constellation of birth defects that will make it impossible for her to survive outside the womb. See Motherwell’s Q&A with author Mira Ptacin here.

The Art of Waiting, by The Art of Waiting


Part memoir, part exploration of the medical and psychological toll infertility can take on a woman, this book is for anybody who has waited for a baby in any capacity. Boggs delves into the history of IVF, but she also traces her own winding path to motherhood, with beauty and poise and self-awareness throughout.

Note: We share the books we love—and we may receive a small compensation if you choose to buy.

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