The Mamas

What I Learned About Kids, Class, and Race from Moms Not Like Me

About the Book

Can white moms and Black moms ever truly be friends? Not just mom friends, but like really real friends? And does it matter?

“Utterly addictive . . . Through her sharp wit and dynamic anecdotal storytelling, Helena Andrews-Dyer shines a light on the cultural differences that separate Black and white mothers.”—Tia Williams, New York Times bestselling author of Seven Days in June

Helena Andrews-Dyer lives in a “hot” Washington, D.C., neighborhood, which means picturesque row houses and plenty of gentrification. After having her first child, she joined the local mom group—“the Mamas”—and quickly realized that being one of the only Black mothers in the mix was a mixed bag. The racial, cultural, and socioeconomic differences were made clear almost immediately. But spending time in what she calls “the Polly Pocket world of postracial parenting” was a welcome reprieve. Then George Floyd happened. A man was murdered, a man who called out for his mama. And suddenly, the Mamas hit different. Though they were alike in some ways—they want their kids to be safe; they think their husbands are lazy; they work too much and feel guilty about it—Andrews-Dyer realized she had an entirely different set of problems that her neighborhood mom friends could never truly understand.

In The Mamas, Andrews-Dyer chronicles the particular challenges she faces in a group where systemic racism can be solved with an Excel spreadsheet and where she, a Black, professional, Ivy League–educated mom, is overcompensating with every move. Andrews-Dyer grapples with her own inner tensions, like “Why do I never leave the house with the baby and without my wedding ring?” and “Why did every name we considered for our kids have to pass the résumé test?” Throw in a global pandemic and a nationwide movement for social justice, and Andrews-Dyer ultimately tries to find out if moms from different backgrounds can truly understand one another.

With sharp wit and refreshing honesty, The Mamas explores the contradictions and community of motherhood—white and Black and everything—against the backdrop of the rapidly changing world.
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Praise for The Mamas

“Fans of Andrews-Dyer . . . expect blunt observations and crisp opinions, and The Mamas does not disappoint. In prose full of quips and asides, the reader rides shotgun as Andrews-Dyer careens toward and makes her getaway from the moms she both needs and at times despises.”The Washington Post

“As a Black mama experienced in the ways of white mom groups, I felt so seen by The Mamas. I highlighted whole paragraphs, I punched the air, and I may have shouted ‘Preach!’ more than a few times. Through her sharp wit and dynamic anecdotal storytelling, Helena Andrews-Dyer shines a light on the cultural differences that separate Black and white mothers—challenges that are often invisible to non-Black moms—and this central tension makes for an utterly addictive read. Brava!”—Tia Williams, New York Times bestselling author of Seven Days in June

“Helena Andrews-Dyer is one of our generation’s sharpest voices. The Mamas captures the unique anxieties of Black motherhood with humor and sensitivity, expertly tapping into the alternating feelings of inadequacy and superior competency that define just how we mother.”—Jamilah Lemieux, co-host of the Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast

“I devoured The Mamas, laughing and shouting with recognition the whole way through. Navigating the high anxiety of Black motherhood at the intersections of class, race, and social media should come with a manual, and Andrews-Dyer has generously given us that: a smart, hilarious, irresistible read that’s memoir, social science, history, and your most honest group chat all in one.”—Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

“[A] candid take on race, class, and motherhood. . . . [Andrews-Dyer] mixes in some sharp reporting on topics including the importance of talking to kids about race. This frank portrait of motherhood hits all the marks.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Andrews-Dyer examines modern motherhood and the contours of community with sharp and honest commentary.”Arlington Magazine
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The Mamas

Chapter 1


It sounds so self-­helpy, right? Mom group. So desperate. So fluorescent overhead lighting. So awkward folding-­chair circles in Baptist church basements, with Styrofoam-­flavored coffee. Women taking polite turns speaking their “truths” about cracked nipples, nutty grandmas, shitty babies, and FUPAs. I mean, in the end that’s pretty much it. A bunch of strangers banding together to struggle through their shared obsession. “Group” as a verb. How super lame. How very uncool or urban or whatever random adjective got snipped from an old copy of O: The Oprah Magazine and glued to my mom vision board. There are so many stories we tell ourselves about who we are, who we’re supposed to be, and who we should be with. To me “mom groups” always sounded like something for white women, period. But why? Are Black women not moms? Do we not love a good group?

To get to the bottom of those questions I asked my Black friends who are moms and who also happen to live all over the country to weigh in via a completely unscientific Google survey, because I was tired of texting. The responses I got from these women who unfortunately don’t live down the street, and therefore can’t be in my day-­to-­day mom clique, were equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. One mom called her local group a “nice sanity check” and repeated the African proverb, “It takes a village.” She had intentionally joined a group specifically designed “for Black mommas.” Another mom, who knitted together an informal Black mom group, still said the very term was like nails on a chalkboard—­“sounds like a bunch of white women doing stuff to make the world in the shape they want it for their specific kid.” When asked who exactly “mom groups” were for, one mother answered, “Stay-­at-­home/gently employed white women who make Goldfish crackers from scratch and decorate their front porches for every season.” This same mom admitted that “it would be nice to have women to get advice from and vent with” but her “wack” schedule wouldn’t allow it, plus she didn’t feel like being “judged by type A women.” That was the general perception of the women who populate the twenty-­first-­century baby bee. When I mentioned maybe possibly joining my friendly neighborhood mom group, my day ones scoffed—­like literally scoffed—­at the idea. “For what?” But for real, wasn’t I too, ummm, Black for this? Is that a thing? Didn’t I know my own kind of people with babies? What would eleven-­year-­old Helena, who vowed never to let the sixth grade Stepford-­wives-­in-­training make her feel small again, say about all this? Would she high-­five me or slap some sense into me?

It began innocently enough.

After I got pregnant with my first daughter, Sally, one of my colleagues at The Washington Post, told me about this Facebook group I had to join: Bloomingdale Mamas. It was for all the ladies “in our hood,” a zip code that was basically gentrification ground zero. We had been living in a cute condo in Bloomingdale for three years, and three-­quarters of my take-­home pay. Then two lines on a pregnancy test meant more space, and Rob and I managed to find a former party house to rent that had room for a baby. There were deep black gouges in the dining room floor, caused by either a pissed-­off dragon or DJ equipment. No two doors were the same in size, functionality, or style. One closet smelled murder-­y. And all the windows on the first floor were more decorative than operable.

But it had a “finished basement” for my mom, who planned on moving in to help us save money on daycare for a few months. (Who were we kidding? We were never going to be able to afford daycare.) The new house was on a quiet street curved like a rainbow and lined with single family homes. The block was dotted with elm and red maple trees—­I know this because I looked them up. Grown-­ups know the names of trees. One giant American elm shot up some sixty feet right in front of our house like a gnarly hand pulling down the sky. Tree-­lined. That’s a thing. We could carefully step out onto the rotting wood of our Wardman-­style porch and hear birdsong instead of the homeless-­man a cappella group in residence at the last condo we rented. It felt suburban. It felt like a step up, even with all the cracks. It felt like the kind of place parents would live.

So, the Bloomingdale Mamas, the online chrysalis from which I would emerge transformed. Because if it was all about the mothers of the neighborhood—­the perfect backdrop to the family photos of the future—­then I was all in. I had to be. Wasn’t this my identity now? Helena, soon-­to-be mother. Helena, in charge of vacuuming a three-­story house and looking out onto our malaria swamp of a backyard and envisioning children therein. Helena, the grown. I joined the Mamas a full five months before my firstborn arrived.

After sending the group’s moderator a message with an embarrassing exclamation-­point-­to-sentence ratio, this was my first post: “Lost Keys: I’m blaming my preggo brain on losing our old house keys somewhere along First Street between Channing and Florida NW. If anyone happens upon them (they’ve got about four actual keys, one black electronic key and a Washington Post key ring) please ping me. Thanks!” I was announcing myself. Pregnant. Check. Lives in a house not an apartment. Check. Has a big important job. Check. Is very fun and self-­deprecating. Check. What was happening to me? Was I so desperate for validation from randos? Yes, yes I was. Thankfully, that post got zero likes, hearts, sad faces, or comments, which further proves the theory that obsessively checking Facebook does not make the comments come faster. I found my keys in the front yard later that day, but I kept it pushing. The Facebook group was still a nut that needed cracking into.

Plus, there were the offshoots to consider. There was a neighborhood parent email listserv that required your full government name and address to join lest you be some outside-­the-­zip interloper sneakily devouring posts about the local soccer league and summer nanny shares. There was even another spin-­off Facebook group aimed at “new moms” who wanted to “meet up” once the weather got nice, and an additional email list for the same. Workouts in the park for the shrinking of postbaby bodies. Library story time you had to get tickets for in advance. There was also a new language to learn—­FS (for sale), FFPPU (free for porch pick up), and ISO (in search of)—­because the baby-­crap black market is booming among folks who could definitely afford to click “buy now.” Plus, loads of advice (all fervently solicited) to comb through about sleep training, pumping, and “school lottery-­ing.” There were hundreds of members, more moms than I knew existed in our two-­by-­thirteen-­block wedge of Washington, and hardly any of them Black, which was eerie considering we lived in walking distance of Howard University. The Facebook group was like an alternative dimension where the realities of the world outside rarely made an appearance, except in the annual Fourth of July posts entitled “Fireworks or Gunshots?”

Once Sally landed on solid ground, lurking online became my favorite maternity-­leave pastime aside from, you know, taking care of her. I’d logged on from the maternity ward right after my daughter was born, despite my best efforts to stay off the internet for six weeks in accordance with my “confinement”—­Chinese postpartum practice I learned about on the internet. But there I was in my hospital bed, thumbing through post after post as if they were puzzle pieces that, collected together, might make this whole motherhood thing make sense. And there I was at home on our hand-­me-­down couch with a tiny Sally nestled in the crook of one arm while I stared at the palm-sized idiot box cradled in my other hand. This wasn’t neglect, okay? This was me learning—­as vital as the baby books stacked in a totem pole by my side of the bed.

But as much as I craved my daily (fine, hourly) peeks into the lives of women who looked nothing like me but were living near parallel lives to mine (married, working, crashing), I also resented their freedom. I don’t know what else to call it. Here was a forum for all things big and small—­clothing swaps, home-­renovation advice, wake times—­that was clearly so necessary, a ray of light for creepo postpartum Gollums like myself. But it was also so blindingly white, and so unaware or unconcerned or even to blame for that fact. What was I doing caring so much about these thumbnails? Was I buying into the lily-­white version of motherhood or disrupting the feed with my presence? Oh, the internal conflict!

About the Author

Helena Andrews-Dyer
Helena Andrews-Dyer is a senior culture writer at The Washington Post. She is the author of Reclaiming Her Time as well as Bitch Is the New Black, which was optioned by Shonda Rhimes. Her work has appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Glamour, and The New York Times, among other publications. Andrews-Dyer has appeared on ABC’s Nightline, CBS’s This Morning, CNN, MSNBC, SiriusXM, NPR, and NY1. She lives in Washington, D.C. More by Helena Andrews-Dyer
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