Rebecca Stone is overwhelmed by motherhood. That’s not unusual for a first-time mother, but Rebecca’s position may be: She’s a poet with a well-to-do husband, and she has the resources to do something about it. At the hospital, she turns to Priscilla Johnson, who helps Rebecca and her newborn son, Jacob, adjust to breastfeeding. Before long, Rebecca insists Priscilla leave the hospital and become Jacob’s nanny.
It’s a near-perfect fit. Rebecca is able to resume her work as a poet—that is, sitting quietly and thinking until the words come. Oblivious to the power dynamics at play between a black woman and her white employer, Rebecca sees Priscilla as a confidante. Then Priscilla gets pregnant and dies during childbirth. Rebecca steps in to adopt her baby, Andrew, and the uneven dynamics of their relationship are now unavoidable.
In That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam (Rich and Pretty) delves into the complexities of female friendship and motherhood. Rebecca struggles to figure out whether she and Priscilla’s adult daughter, Cheryl, are friends or relatives. The women meet for regular play dates with their children, and Rebecca is often startled by Cheryl’s directness. Cheryl is quick to note that, no matter what Rebecca claims to think about race, Jacob and Andrew are different in ways big and small. Coconut oil isn’t enough to moisturize Andrew’s skin, for example, and the world will perceive him differently than it does Jacob. Rebecca is forced to reckon with the different worlds that her boys will face.
Alam explores these issues with grace, contrasting the experiences of these two women with those of Rebecca’s idol, Princess Diana. That Kind of Mother is a meditation on race and the challenges and joys of parenting.