Motherhood – Helen Simpson

This Vintage Mini is five short stories, by Helen Simpson, on the theme of motherhood. The stories are beautiful and poetic, and really felt like they exposed some of the realities – both good and bad – of motherhood.


Lentils and Lilies is told from the perspective of a teenager. Her take on her own mother and the mother she encounters while she is skipping through her sunshine filled, idealistically viewed life is so damning. It brilliantly captures all that horrifies teenagers about adulthood, and being a mother, and me too if I’m honest!



In Cafe Society, two mums try to grab a coffee and a chat with a three and a half year old in tow. They barely have chance to exchange more than a few superficial words. Then they eventually give up and leave. The nightmare of sleeplessness, having given up jobs because the emotional and practical labour of running the household and the family, while also working in professional jobs full time, was too much.

The truly sad thing is we get these insights as things they are thinking to themselves because they don’t get chance, or feel like they are letting themselves down if they vocalise them, to the other woman. They aren’t close friends and so they are extra guarded with each other.

I’m so grateful that I had a group of other mums with babies the same age as mine who I met once a week. Looking back they were a lifeline and I love them for helping me through those fucking awful early days. I don’t make friends easily, so the fact that it was a regular meet up, every week, almost without fail, was essential. I always felt like I could be honest about whatever I was thinking or going through with my babes, and I felt honesty back. I’m definitely honest with other people now with respect to the difficulties of having small children. I don’t think it does anyone any favours to sanitise the experience. It’s ok to hate parts of it and to struggle. It’s bloody hard, and boring. So I’m on a bit of a one woman mission to break this particular taboo, especially with new parents who have just got that glazed, slightly demented, look about them.

So anyway, yes the experience of trying to continue to do normal things while having a demanding, whirlwind, toddler with you. Urgh.

Next is Hay Yeah Right Get A Life: Dorrie. A mum to three young kids, thinks about the lack of time she has for herself. She considers how time for herself is time taken away from the children and how this means she gets loaded with guilt.

I can’t see how the family would work if I let myself start wanting things again, thought Dorrie; give me an inch and I’d run a mile, that’s what I’m afraid of.

Her marriage is unhappy. Her husband is angry with her for losing herself, yet never takes the children on his own to allow her some breathing space. He’s angry that she doesn’t earn money and sees the the time coming where she can work for his business when the youngest starts a few hours at nursery. He doesn’t appreciate what she does and also doesn’t help. It’s so grim. And this one ends on a positive note. Sheeesh. Mega grim.

Heavy Weather is about a lady with a 3 month old and a 2 year old. To cut a longish story short, she’s fucking knackered.

The trouble with prolonged sleep deprivation was that it produced the same coarsening side effects of alcoholism. She was rotten with self-pity, swarming with irritability and despair.

Finally, we have Early One Morning. This one is genuinely quite sweet. Whilst also being about the waves of divorce that hit at different ages of the children! It’s set during a school run with a group of kids around 9/10.

They should make stories like these required reading before people decide to have children. So much reality. Waaaaahhhhh. It’s a brilliant little book and some of the stories will definitely stay with me.

7 thoughts on “Motherhood – Helen Simpson

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