5 Reasons You Should Read “Operating Instructions”

By Jennifer Curry, Core Writer

Mothering is hard. No matter how prepared you think you are to be a parent, there will come a day when you question everything you thought you knew. And, you will feel like you are the only one feeling that way. This is where Anne Lamott’s memoir, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, comes in to remind you that you are not alone.

I have been a fan of Anne Lamott’s writing for years; I have read her memoirs on faith and writing but not this one. I wish I had read it when my children were in their infancy, but even now with a first grader and a preschooler, I was still able to appreciate Lamott’s experience as a new mom.

For those unfamiliar with Lamott, she is direct and humorous and poignant. But, she is also crass and political. Therefore, you should anticipate parts of the book that will make you feel uncomfortable, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. But, whether you agree with her views or not, you will appreciate her honesty.

  1. This book is perfect for…

Pregnant moms. First-time moms. Single moms. Moms dealing with substance abuse. Moms having babies later in life. Moms with colicky babies. Moms struggling with postpartum depression. Moms who feel tired, overwhelmed, and cranky. Moms who need a laugh. Moms who need to feel less alone. Moms who prefer honesty over picture-perfect social media posts. Moms who have lost someone they love. Moms who alternate between feeling like they want to give it all up and who are overwhelmed with love for their babies.

  1. This book is special because…

This memoir is a journal of her first year as a mom – a single (sober) alcoholic mom dealing with what appears to be postpartum depression. Her one (and only) child was born in 1989, so this memoir was a bit revolutionary when it was first printed. This was long before mom blogs or open discussions of postpartum depression. And, in this journal, Lamott does not hold anything back telling readers humorous anecdotes (like having a postpartum inflatable doughnut stuck to her behind at a church service, to her darkest middle-of-the-night thoughts).

Lamott says things that will shock you…but they may also be things you have thought and are ashamed to admit. She talks about the horrible feelings she has when she is sleep deprived and depressed. But, she also talks about how she gets out of those dark places with the help of her unique tribe.

While the memoir is about her son’s first year, Lamott does not just discuss her son. She talks about the other aspects of her life that are weighing on her heart, including men she considers dating and her best friend’s cancer diagnosis. As most moms recognize, just because you had a baby does not mean the world stops turning.

  1. This book will teach you…

You are not alone. You are not crazy. You do need to ask for help from time to time – and you do need to accept help when it is given. You are doing something hard and something amazing. You will survive the sleep deprivation and the endless breastfeeding. Your life will change, and you will change. You will learn things about yourself and what you are capable of that will make you proud and fearful. You will love deeper than you ever thought possible.

  1. Quotes to make you laugh or hang on the bathroom mirror

“I have four friends who had babies right around the time I did, all very eccentric and powerful women, and I do not believe that any of them are having these awful thoughts. Of course, I know they’re not all being Donna Reed either, but one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage” (pg. 37).

“The colic was very bad last night. Actually, it is bad almost every night now. Everyone is supportive and encouraging, but the colic still makes me feel like a shitty mother, not to mention impotent and lost and nuts. I can handle crying for a long time, but then I feel like I’m going to fall over the precipice into total psychosis” (pg. 48).

“I’m going to have an awards banquet for my body when all of this is over” (pg. 59).

“Sam sleeps for four hours at a time now, which is one of the main reasons I’ve decided to keep him” (pg. 80).

“He slept through the night, from 11:30 until 7:00 this morning. It was very confusing at first. My initial thought was that he had died. Then I actually let out a whoop and have been moving joyfully around the house like Julie Andrews on the mountainside in The Sound of Music ever since” (pg. 108).

“[…] there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child” (pg. 214).

  1. Honest reflections

I wish I would have read this book years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. This is not because my experience was just like Lamott’s, but because it is eye-opening and honest. She pulls back the curtains on how difficult and crazy that first year can be – especially for those suffering from postpartum depression. The book will make you more empathetic to others experiencing postpartum depression.

Not everyone will relate to her story or agree with her views, and many readers will be shocked at how she voices her innermost thoughts, but every reader will walk away recognizing the resiliency of mothers.

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