Emily Flake’s Mama Tried, reviewed.

The Perfect Child-Rearing Guide for People Who Start Giggling When They Hear Rearing

The Perfect Child-Rearing Guide for People Who Start Giggling When They Hear Rearing

Reading between the lines.
Dec. 3 2015 10:00 AM

The First Parenting Book That Truly Understands Me

It’s Emily Flake’s sharp and funny cartoon guide to modern child-rearing. Heh … rearing.

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Illustration by Emily Flake

As the co-host of a parenting podcast, I’ve become very attuned to a particular mode of discussion about what it’s like to raise children. I think of it as Loving Desperation: The tone that I and all my friends maintain, in which we acknowledge up front that we love our children with all our hearts and would throw ourselves in front of buses for them, while also making clear that they are awful and we are awful and everything is often awful. I find this conversational mode incredibly satisfying and reassuring; indeed, the surest sign that I won’t get along with other parents, no matter how cool or funny or shmancy they seem, is if they are unable to slip into Loving Desperational patter with me. “She’s a pretty great kid,” I say of my daughter. “I mean, she’s a monster who’s devouring my soul and spirit piece by piece, but I love her.” Horrified stare? See ya later, pal. A laugh of recognition and an “Awww, she’s such a cute li’l destroyer of worlds”? Let’s be parent-friends.

All this is to say that I want to be parent-friends with cartoonist Emily Flake. Her book, Mama Tried: Dispatches From the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting, captures Loving Desperation better than any other book I’ve read. A combination of clever essays (tackling pregnancy, postpartum sex, breast-feeding, and every other hot-button issue) and extremely deadpan cartoons, Mama Tried is not afraid to tell the terrifying truth about child-rearing. (Yes, mothers, you will pee all the time by accident in your third trimester! Yes, dads, you should learn to appreciate a resentful postpartum hand job!) But it’s also suffused with a real love for the weird emotional roller coaster that is the universal yet personal task of bringing life into the world. I really loved Mama Tried, which pulls off the neat trick of making you look at your own parenting more closely—while not making you feel too guilty at what you discover. We’re very pleased to have Emily Flake illustrating the December issue of the Slate Book Review.

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Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s culture department. He is writing a book called How to Be a Family and co-writing, with Isaac Butler, an oral history of Angels in America.