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Small Courage: Parenting Memoirs

A recommended reading list by Jane Byers, whose new queer parenting memoir is out now.

Book Cover Small Courage

Jane Byers' book is Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family, a thoughtful and heart-warming examination of love, queerness and what it means to be a family.

Here, she shares other parenting memoirs that have inspired her.


Book Cover Home ice

Home Ice, by Angie Abdou

This memoir by Fernie, BC–based novelist struck a chord with me. Both Angie Abdou and I are parents of sporty kids. Her romp through a year of her 10-year-old son playing minor hockey resonated with me, having played recreational hockey, but I hadn’t navigated the pitfalls of that mythical Canadian hockey-parent culture. I found myself bristling at the same things Abdou bristled at, and, as a former athlete, also being conflicted acknowledging the great things about sports and specifically team sports, but recognizing also the detrimental effects on our youth of a sport’s particular culture.

This memoir follows one hockey season, the divide-and-conquer parenting that often accompanies having a child in hockey, and the toll it takes on a relationship.


Book Cover Cmon Papa

C’Mon Papa, by Ryan Knighton

This heartwarming and funny memoir offered me a new perspective on parenting from a dad, and a blind dad at that. As a mom who parents with another mom, it was illuminating to read this perspective. I could relate to Knighton's feeling of helplessness. My own was driven by our 2-week overlap with foster parents and our kids who were at times inconsolable because we were foreign to them. As someone who has written about an experience most people don’t have—that of being adoptive and same-sex parents—I was enthralled by his insights and perspectives on the challenges of parenting without sight. No one led the way for us either. It was trial and error.

I finished this book heartened by the author’s humanity and the unique path he is forging with his daughter.


Book Cover The Suitcase and the Jar

The Suitcase and The Jar, by Becky Livingston

This meditation on loss and love struck to the heart of living with authenticity through what would be most parents’ worst fear, the death of their child. Its universality is in looking at what parenting means, what love is. Livingston goes on a metaphorical and literal journey around the world spreading her daughter’s ashes. As a parent, I think about what it would be to lose a child. Brene Brown talks about catastrophizing loss—those moments when we feel so much love for our children and then immediately imagine something awful happening to them because it is very difficult to feel that vulnerable. because its hard to sit with that much love.

Livingston sits with her experience and invites us to accompany us into the depths of love knowing at the other end there is inevitably loss for all of us no matter what. But perhaps it’s the love that matters along the way.


Book Cover Swelling With Pride

Swelling with Pride, edited by Sara Graefe

My personal essay that is included in this anthology became the catalyst for writing my memoir about parenting. I was both validated and moved by the diverse stories in this book, from the perspective of children growing up with queer parents, to moms who chose artificial insemination, and dads who chose surrogacy. These perspectives offer a glimpse into a question that most prospective parents don’t even ask themselves: the "how’"of starting a family.

The paths may be different but the end game of wholehearted loving and parenting is the same. The collective impact of these diverse stories is that it leaves the reader feeling there are many ways to become a family, both a universal and a specific journey.


Book Cover Dear Scarlet

Dear Scarlet, by Teresa Wong

This funny and heartbreaking graphic novel by Teresa Wong tells an important story, that of postpartum depression and recovery. She does this through a letter to her daughter, Scarlet. It is a reminder that we all have our own journeys and challenges with parenting. That it takes a village, that a supportive partner cannot be underestimated. The black and white drawings are well done. The story is told in a straightforward, intimate and beautiful way.


Book Cover the Boy in the Moon

The Boy In The Moon, by Ian Brown

This book is full of astute and nuanced questions that most of us never have to ask as parents. What is a child’s purpose? Would they be better off not surviving? The tenderness of the writing, the reflections and the relationship between Ian Brown and his son with a severe disability, stopped me in my tracks. Ian Brown is a journalist with the Globe and Mail and his writing prowess shines through. What he must have gone through to write this memoir is astonishing. It is one thing to live it, quite another to distill his experiences into beauty on the page. This book is all about those moments of connection between the writer and his son. His question, “If Walker (his son) is so insubstantial, why does he feel so important?” has left me thinking we all must ask this central question of our lives: If any of us are so insubstantial, why do we feel so important? Indeed.


Book Cover This is Happy

This is Happy, by Camilla Gibb

This 2015 memoir tells the story of this well-known novelist’s parenting journey by reaching back to talk about how she was parented, then detailing the harrowing present of being pregnant and newly single, not by her choosing. She takes us through the roller coaster of grief during pregnancy due to the circumstances of moving, finding a home, and being alone as the longed for family eludes her when her partner leaves early on in the pregnancy. She faces her demons and defines what happiness is for herself in the moments of connection with her young daughter. In building an unlikely community with her long-lost brother, her once emotionally distant mother, her nanny and nanny’s family, she finds her own path to happiness.


Book Cover Small Courage

About Small Courage:

Rarely do we know what life will hold. When starting the adoption process, Jane Byers and her wife could not have predicted the illuminating and challenging experience of living for two weeks with the Evangelical Christian foster parents of their soon-to-be adopted twins. Parenthood becomes even more daunting when homophobia threatens their beginnings as a family, seeping in from places both unexpected and familiar. But Jane and Amy are up for the challenge. In this moving and poetic memoir, Byers draws readers into her own tumultuous beginnings: her coming out years, finding love, and the start of her parenting journey. Love imprints itself where loneliness lived, but sometimes love, alone, is not enough to overcome trauma. Little did Byers know that her experiences when coming out was merely training for becoming an adoptive parent of racialized twins. Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family is a thoughtful and heart-warming examination of love, queerness and what it means to be a family.

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