There is something particularly sinister about horror media centering around moms and motherhood. Traditionally, mothers are thought of as nurturing and kind, as the centers of our universe, places of safety, from the moment we’re born. When that dynamic is broken, when our trust in what we believe is a fundamental truth proves to be misplaced, a gripping unease sets in.
But what happens when the unease festers in the mother, too?
In my book, Graveyard of Lost Children, Olivia is hit from both sides—betrayal by her own mother at a young age that follows her to adulthood, and her fractured feelings as she becomes a mother in her own right. How can she possibly claw her way back to sanity when the dynamic between mother and daughter was broken from the beginning?
Stories that take us inside the minds of mothers and their families reveal hard truths and hidden wants, forcing us to confront the antiquated idea that once a woman becomes a mother, her identity, her life, is no longer her own. It shows us that even the simplest, most basic of relationships can be messy, complicated, and terrifying.
Following is a list of books featuring bad moms, imperfect moms, moms whose sanity slips at the birth of their children. Books that walk the razor-edge of what it means to be good mother.
The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker
Chrissie killed a boy when she was eight. What’s worse, she liked it. Now a mother herself and living under a false name, the past is catching up with her, threatening to take away the one thing she cares about – her daughter.
Mothered by Zoje Stage
Trapped in her new house with her mother during the COVID pandemic, Grace struggles to maintain the peace while cabin fever messes with her dreams. Then her mother levels a horrifying accusation, fracturing the fragile calm and forcing her to confront a past she thought she left behind.
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
Vera’s mother is dying. When she comes home to help sort through the house in preparation to sell it, memories come flooding back of the night her father was arrested, charged with serial murder. But her mother is acting strangely, and something appears to be visiting her at night from under her bed.
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
Following the birth of her first child, Megan finds a door to an upstairs house, in which lives a madwoman that only she can see. Caught in a supernatural power struggle between the madwoman and her lover, Megan must find a way to quiet the spirits or risk her life, and her daughter’s.
Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
Rhea is a good mother. A good wife. A good neighbor. When a new family moves in disrupting the power balance, she will stop at nothing to right this egregious wrong. Except a sink hole has opened up at the center of her world and if she’s not careful, she may just fall in.
Just like Mother by Anne Heltzel
When Maeve escaped a cult of mothers, her only regret was leaving her cousin, Andrea, behind. But then Andrea reaches out and the pair reunite, only to unearth memories long buried. Confronting them means reliving her past, but she must in order to survive to see the future.
The Push by Ashley Audrain
Blythe is determined to be the comforting mother she never had. But when her daughter violently acts out, Blythe wonders if something is wrong with her. Following the birth of her son, a shocking act changes everything she thought she knew about herself and her daughter.
Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
Abby is desperate for a mother figure, and so is thrilled when her mother-in-law, Laura, moves in. But Laura is cruel, and when she takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby, intent on destroying everything she loves.
The Need by Helen Phillips
Molly, alone with her two children, comes face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. The final reveal pushes Molly to the edge of sanity.