Crystal Godfrey LaPoint’s tender story in When My Mommy Cries is one that has needed to be told for some time now. Like any good children’s author, LaPoint is able to succinctly express her theme, which is the subtitle of the book: “a story to help families cope with sadness.”
LaPoint herself has a history of depression. She grew up in a family in which the disorder was commonplace, and in her adult life she was forced to endure domestic and sexual violence. With this in mind, it is no wonder LaPoint saw this void in the world of children’s literature.
Depression does not befall only certain types of families. It does not discriminate. LaPoint’s story therefore is capable of speaking to any race, gender, creed or sexual orientation. Coupled with Crystal Eldridge’s beautiful illustrations, When My Mommy Cries is a powerful tale that cuts to the reader’s heart.
Perhaps the most brilliant part about When My Mommy Cries is that its only two characters are nameless. In this way, we are not at all distracted from the central message by attributing our own prejudices to the characters. They are archetypes, and they are meant to be. By virtue of this decision, the story, again, becomes eminently relatable.
The story is told in first person, and it opens with the daughter coming home from school to find her mother in her bathrobe, crying on the sofa. “Her hair was crumpled like her face, / and she seemed so far away.” When the daughter tries to help her mother, she is virtually ignored, as her mother tries to hide the pain in her eyes. Again, the tale is worth quoting: “Yet in the awkward silence… / I saw them just the same.”
The next few pages feature the daughter informing us how her mother’s love is unwavering; she loves her daughter no matter what the situation.
Then one night the daughter hears her mother crying from her bedroom. Afraid to go inside, she finally musters up the courage to witness the sight. When she lays eyes on her mother, she is begged to come over for a hug. At this point, her mother reassures her of her undying love: “‘My baby, please don’t be afraid. / I am always, always here. / Sometimes I just get really sad. / There’s no reason — it’s never you’” (Italics in text).
The most poignant page of the book features a gorgeous illustration of both characters crying while holding each another. “And as we sat there, I can’t say / just who was rocking who.”
Following this catharsis, the mother is now open with her daughter about her depression. But that doesn’t mean the daughter can always help. Clearly, it is hard on her, even at this point, when her mother is sad. “…it’s lonely when I can’t [help].”
The story ends on a tender note, as the daughter affirms to us her newfound perspective: “I love her on the good days / when our world feels safe and true, / just the same as on our saddest days. / And she always loves me, too” (Italics in text).
When My Mommy Cries without question achieves its goal of, in LaPoint’s words, helping “families cope with sadness.” It is interesting to note that LaPoint deliberately presents us with a single mother. There is no mention of any father figure, and the daughter appears to be an only child. Seeing as children’s literature is concerned with brevity, it makes sense that LaPoint does not complicate the story with secondary characters. This is commendable, as their inclusion would only detract from the story’s core message: people—in this case, mothers—get depressed, and it is not a reflection on their children.
From some of the illustrations, it appears that the daughter is around 6 or 7 years old. If this is the case, again, LaPoint should be commended for her thoughtfulness. Sure, we can read this story to our 4-year-olds, but it is doubtful they will comprehend the underlying message, no matter how explicit it appears to us. A 6- or 7-year-old, however, is at the age where signs of empathy start to emerge. Their self-awareness has blossomed enough that they can actually display physical acts of compassion. They can see and feel the pain in others. In this way, When My Mommy Cries is both accurate and realistic in its portrayal.
The book also comes with an accompanying CD, which features a teaching guide as well as a musical number composed by LaPoint herself.
When My Mommy Cries is semi-autobiographical. And it shows. The tone and style of the writing drip with love and care. Moreover, Eldridge’s illustrations are a perfect companion for LaPoint’s heartwarming tale. As the author remarks: “May [this book] help all who read it find deeper empathy for others, gentler patience with themselves, and greater wisdom for facing life’s struggles with the children they love.” LaPoint can rest assured it does.
Psych Central's Recommendation: Worth Your Time! +++Your Recommendation (if you've read this book):
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Berkowitz, D. (2012). When My Mommy Cries. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/when-my-mommy-cries/00011174
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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