Once upon a time I thought I was tired.

I worked hard. I worked long hours, during term time at least. I loved my job and, as a teacher, I worked daily with groups of up to 31 children, who mostly did what I asked them to do.

Then I had children of my own and discovered what it really meant to be tired! I quickly realised that my concept of ‘hard work’, my feeling of responsibility to the hundreds of children I had taught and mentored, did not equal the awesome responsibility of raising a child. I genuinely believe that until you look after very small children 24/7 (whether this is as a parent, a grandparent or other caring role) you cannot comprehend the sheer relentlessness of their need.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I love my children, (though I often love them most when they are sleeping!) and I know that one day they will no longer need me, and I will miss them terribly.

In the meantime, the title of this brilliant collection of essays absolutely captures the essence of motherhood for me: it is the best most awful job.

What’s it about?

What it feels like to be a mother for these twenty mothers, who write from a variety of perspectives. The editor states clearly that, ‘The true, dirty business of motherhood is a constellation of experiences.’ and that no anthology can do justice to the ‘sheer diversity of motherhood’, but this collection is, ‘a snapshot of reality, told in twenty dazzling voices’.

It’s a timely offering, building on the awareness created by so-called Mummy bloggers like Gill Sims (of Peter and Jane brilliance, and author of ‘Why Mummy Drinks’), Sarah Turner (‘The Unmumsy Mum’) and Katie Kirby (‘Hurrah for Gin’), to name a few of my personal favourites. This is an awareness that, though mothers love their children deeply and feel privileged to raise them, it is equally true that raising children is often a repetitive, demanding, daunting, thankless and undervalued task (see also Naomi Stadlen’s wonderful ‘What Mothers Do’).

What’s it like?

Intimate. Honest. Frequently beautifully written.

From Javaria Akbar’s intense frustration at an unplanned pregnancy, (‘I had just about clawed my way out of the bottom of that lonely well of motherhood, locked my fingers into the ridges of the rocky ledge and felt the sun on my face,’) to Hollie McNish’s strident denouncement of a society that simply doesn’t consider the potential needs of parents, there’s a lot of anger in this collection, but perhaps the most incandescent with fury is Saima Mir’s excellent essay on maternal rage.

There was much I could empathise with in these essays, (Michelle Tea’s reflections on gender stereotyping in ‘Boys Will be Whatever’ felt like reading about my own journey,) but Mir’s awareness that she must not allow her rage to spill over her children was something that particularly resonated with me, as a fellow stay-at-home mum with a relatively short fuse! This honesty is powerful and invigorating; it’s intensely reassuring to know that, however you feel as a mother, you’re unlikely to be as alone as you may feel.

Final thoughts

Expect to find insightful essays from a wide range of mothers, all wrestling with different experiences of motherhood, from how a mother’s disability may affect her child, to how it feels to be a single or step parent, a mother of many or a mother who has lost a child. May has included writers who can share perspectives on how their race, religion, class and sexuality affect their parenting, and within the differences there are always glints of familiarity, of recognition.

Dominant feelings include guilt, frustration, love and gratitude: all these mothers recognise whole-heartedly that they are privileged and the relationship with their child/ren is considered a thing to marvel at. At the same time, there is a wonderful depth of honesty which makes these essays empowering and almost thrilling to read.

Imagine confiding your deepest feelings about your parenting to your best friend…and then publishing them. That’s what has happened here. Enjoy your privilege as a reader, drink in this breadth of experiences, and remember that motherhood is:

‘The best job in the world, and simultaneously the most awful. Because motherhood is everything at once: pleasure and pain, anger and tenderness, light and shade. In short, true love.’ – Katherine May

‘The Best Most Awful Job’,
edited by Katherine May,
2020, Elliott & Thompson, paperback
Thank you to Anne Cater and the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and a spot on the blog tour.

Want to know more? Follow the tour: