I was the pregnant woman who devoured books on parenting. I was convinced that if I simply read enough books, I’d be armed to confront the problems of breastfeeding, sleep training, food introduction, and tantrums. (Probably the most dog-eared book of that first year of parenting was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It worked.) I soon discovered, however, in the course of birthing four more children, that while books could be helpful, they weren’t going to definitively answer every question I had.
That’s why this list below isn’t your average Mother’s Day Booklist. I haven’t included how-to books but rather, books to nourish your imagination for the good, long obedience of mothering children as well as books to figure out how to be a whole person apart from that role. I’ve also selected some titles that might be appropriate for women who aren’t wives and mothers and meet a day like Mother’s Day with grief and regret. (I hope you won’t mind if I start with my own.)
To begin, when I started writing Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith in 2012, I was the mother of five young children. The days were a strict cycle of rinse and repeat. For as grateful as I was to be at home my children, I also struggled to reconcile the rightfulness of desires that fell outside of my domestic obligations. I never intended this as a book for moms in particular, but as I’ve spoken on the topic to audiences of women across the North America, I see them nod (and cry) when I give them the permission to start talking to God about their desires. If you know a mother in your life who is in the thick of parenting and is trying to make sense of other callings, I hope you’ll consider recommending this.
After writing Teach Us to Want, I identified that my deepest longing was the longing for home. But did this simply mean my roles as wife and mother? Or, was God promising a home to his people that was bigger than marriage and motherhood? Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home is the book I wrote that explores home as the promise for all of God’s people—the married and the unmarried, the childless and the child-full. If you know someone in your life who might meet Mother’s Day with grief and disappointment, whose “home” today isn’t all she hoped it would be, I hope you’ll consider recommending this.
Here are some other titles (in short summary):
For moms with mental illness
Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy. "Breathtaking, moving, meaningful, and timely. Alia Joy writes with exquisite skill on topics like mental illness, suffering, poverty, and weakness; subjects we tend to turn from, and invites her readers in close to experience both the pain and joy through her honesty, warmth, and hard-won hope in God."—Vivian Mabuni, speaker and author of Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts
For moms with chronic pain
The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament by Aubrey Sampson. “In this vulnerable account of her own pain, Aubrey Sampson helps us believe that life can be hard . . . and God can still be good. Anchored in Scripture and enlivened by storytelling, this powerful book makes something lyrical of lament. And I suppose this, too, is a mystery―that the most beautiful songs are often born out of suffering. The Louder Song will be a pleasure to recommend and reread.” —me
For women with disappointment
Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give you What You Want by Ann Swindell. “Ann Swindell tells her story of waiting with winsome honesty. Readers who have fought secret battles will recognize her exhausting effort to avoid shame. Anyone who has prayed the same prayer for years will resonate with her struggle to be content in all circumstances while at the same time holding on to the hope of healing. Still Waiting helps the reader not only experience Swindell's story but lift our gaze from her life and our own to the healing love of Christ. —Betsy Childs Howard, Editor for the Gospel Coalition
For young moms:
Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, by Catherine McNiel. “Writing in the tradition of Brother Lawrence, Catherine McNiel shows readers how to keep company with God in the everyday. But she is no monastic. She is a mother, caught in the turbulence of life with small children. How I wish I’d had this book―and her example―when I was just beginning my journey into motherhood.” —me
Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. “Micha is singing the longings of all the tired mother pilgrims. Every word is like motherhood: elegant, earthy, loving, and present.”—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist
First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship by Shelly Wildman. "Shelly Wildman doesn't offer burdensome to-dos or simplistic 1-2-3 formulas. Rather, she calls parents to prayerful intentionality. Warmly, wryly opening her life to readers, Wildman gives us a window into godly parenting in the thick of soccer season, basketball tryouts, homework, and Sunday morning worship. Despite her many exemplary qualities, Wildman never claims to be a perfect mom―which must be why I love this book so much." —me
For moms of tweens:
A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Livingby Beth Bruno. "In her practical book, Beth Bruno helps mothers imagine their daughters' transition from girlhood to young adulthood differently, inspiring courage in place of fear, intentionality where there might otherwise be resignation. Besides offering wonderful recommendations of books and movies and activities to share together, Beth most importantly invites mothers into conversation and intimate relationship with their daughters. I only wish I'd read A VOICE BECOMING when my own two daughters were younger." —me
For moms in transition:
The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisionsby Emily Freeman. "Reading Emily P. Freeman I start to believe Jesus' promise more--that his yoke is easy and his burden light. The Next Right Thing delivers us from anxious hand-wringing over our uncertain futures." —me
For suburban moms:
Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Muchby Ashley Hales. "Ashley Hales stands in the bold tradition of the ancient prophets. In her book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, she exposes the tinseled temptations of the suburbs and calls us to Christ and his ways of generous self-sacrifice. The book’s vivid storytelling, biblical reflections, unabashed truth telling, and practical applications make it a worthy read for anyone no matter where they live." —me
For any life stage:
The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith For The Rest of Us by Erin Wasinger and Sarah Arthur. The Year of Small Things explores the yearlong experiment of two young families to implement twelve small practices of radical faith--things like simplicity, sustainability, and hospitality to the poor--not waiting until they were out of debt or the kids were out of diapers or God sent them elsewhere, but right now. "This is the best kind of spiritual formation book: serious and funny, smart and vulnerable--and, most useful of all, practical. Honestly, this is one of my favorite books this year." —me
Buy a book for a woman you love!