Interview by Morgan Baker
When I met Ann Batchelder and heard about her book, I was instantly interested. Once I started turning its pages and reading her story, I knew I had met a friend.
While Ann’s memoir, Craving Spring: A mother’s quest, a daughter’s depression, and the Greek myth that brought them together (Legacy Book Press, 2023) seems to be about her daughter’s journey with mental health and addiction, the book is really about Ann and her journey as a mother. It didn’t matter that I don’t share the same experiences with Ann. I am also a mother and met her, as such, on the page. Ann’s journey is similar to many mothers as we try to be “good” mothers and help our children navigate their challenges, whatever they may be.
But what Ann learned, and helped me to see, is how important it is to let go of our need for perfection and of running interference for our children. We can’t be good or perfect mothers, and we can’t fix our children’s concerns. But we can respond to and support them, as they navigate their own lives. By letting go of this, our identities also have room to shift and evolve, and maybe mothers won’t feel isolated and judged. We are more than mothers. Ann’s memoir invites you in to a safe community where no one judges. Anyone who has struggled with caring for a child will find a friend in Ann.
Morgan Baker: What inspired you to write this story? It takes a long time to get a book done and out, so what kept you going?
Ann Batchelder: I don’t know that I felt inspired as much as compelled. I did a lot of journaling over ten years. Then I started taking some classes, and started fashioning some of the journaling into articles and essays, learning how to write creatively. It wasn’t until the pandemic that I tried to write a book.
At first, I wanted to talk about what it was like to be a mother with a teenager who had depression and addiction. As I wrote it, I realized that the story was really about me. It wasn’t until I started writing that I understood, that I was the focus. That it was my journey. I also didn’t want to write an exposé on the horrors of addiction. There are plenty of books like that. I wanted to talk about it from a mother’s perspective, and what I’ve learned and gained in the process of being honest about myself in relation to raising a teenager who is in trouble.
I was doing a lot of interpersonal work throughout that whole period and I was gaining a lot of wisdom I wanted to share. When I came across the Greek myth (Demeter and Persephone) it all came together. We need more women’s wisdom books.
MB: I want to talk about the myth. But one of the things I found as a theme throughout the book was the idea of control and chaos, trying to control a life. You talked about letting go. How did you get to the point that you were able to let go, because I think a lot of mothers, including me, think of the role of mother as someone who can fix things.
AB: When you try to be a “good” mother, you also run the risk of being a “bad” mother. So first you have to let go of perfectionism. I didn’t understand what letting go meant. I thought it meant I would relinquish responsibility for whatever was happening with my child. Instead, I learned to let go of my fear. I then understood I could be more supportive of her by managing my anxiety.
I had to let go of trying to control the outcome of that process so that she was free to determine her own life. I had to let go of my identity—of being a good mother based on the success or failure of my children.
Another part of my book, is about transitioning from one phase of motherhood to the next. You have to step back and let go. But then what do you do with yourself? Where do you go with that? Mothers are kind of made to be creative. We create these children. We create things. The nurturing, the creating. Where do you take that energy? Where do you put it?
MB: You talk about scars, that Olivia has both physical and emotional scars. What are your scars?
AB: Oh, what a good question. I think one of the hardest things for me growing up was not being seen. I had two older brothers who overshadowed me, and I didn’t feel understood. I was the black sheep in the family. I felt that whatever I was doing was wrong or different. That kind of carried over into my adult life – not being heard, not being understood, not being recognized for my own value. It horrified me that I was repeating that with my child. But I wasn’t really seeing her because I was so afraid of her depression and of me not being able to fix it. So that was one scar.
I didn’t feel that my parents necessarily showed up for me. So, I overreacted and did too much for my kids. But even then, I worried that I wasn’t going to be enough for them. That was another scar.
MB: I’m also curious about the myth you wove into the memoir. I have to admit, when I first heard about it I wondered how it was going to work, but it does and it adds a whole other level to the memoir. How did the myth help you heal or grow?
AB: It wasn’t until I read the Greek myth about Demeter and Persephone that I found the courage I needed to trust myself.
Here was an ancient mother whose daughter was captured and dragged to hell. Demeter totally freaked out. She was a mess. She didn’t eat or drink or bathe and couldn’t do her work. All she thought about was rescuing her child. That was my experience, too. I wondered, How did she get through this? As I studied the myth, it became the blueprint I needed for my own transition from raising a troubled teen to guiding a young adult. It gave me permission to advocate for my daughter when she couldn’t help herself yet know when to let go when she became stronger. And, thanks to this story, I learned to trust myself without expecting to be the perfect mother.
You only have control of your own response. If you can change that, you can shift the relationship, you don’t have to control what’s happening with your child.
MB: Mothers judge each other. There’s so much, you know, mother-shaming out there, and so I was wondering how we can learn for mothers, in particular to have compassion for ourselves but also for other mothers.
AB: The best way toward healing and for mothers not to feel isolated when they’re facing trauma is through compassion. Writing this book was like opening a door, like saying, “Let me show you what the journey was like for me, so that you don’t have to feel alone.” Because in the process, I learned so many wonderful things about my daughter and about myself and we’ve grown closer because of it. There are opportunities to grow with trauma.
Mental illness is not like COVID. You don’t have to be afraid of catching it. You can extend a smile or a hug, or even just not walking away from someone can make a huge difference. And I think that’s one of the things that we need. There’s been a lot written about teenage mental health recently, about young people dealing with anxiety and depression. But very little has been written about what the parents go through. I think that the more we can all extend compassion for each other, the less isolated families are going to feel, and the more willing they are going to be to get help and not feel ashamed.
MB: I’m curious as to how you would define a good mother versus the perfect mother. You say early in the book that you thought you were a good mother, but Olivia’s struggles challenged that narrative. Can you elaborate?
AB: Well, I don’t even like the term good mother anymore. I would say my goal right now is to be a skillful mother. I hope I’m developing the skills to respond authentically in the moment as opposed to feeling regret about the past, or worry about the future, but to really try to be present with any given situation. As situations change, you have to change. There isn’t a hard and fast rule for everything. Now, I try to take a deep breath, not let my emotions take over, and respond from my heart and my intention.
“I don’t even like the term good mother anymore. I would say my goal right now is to be a skillful mother.”—Ann Batchelder
“I don’t even like the term good mother anymore. I would say my goal right now is to be a skillful mother.”—Ann Batchelder
MB: Can you speak to the idea that you can’t cure someone else’s addiction?
AB: It is important to understand the nature of addiction recovery versus recovering from many other illnesses. It’s never a linear progression. It has its ups and downs. Staying on the path of recovery is not the same as having everything all better. Recovery is more like having to adjust and having to constantly reconnect with what you want for yourself. Once someone understands something about themselves, they can never unlearn it. I have to trust that truth with my child and with myself. Each step of self-discovery is another step forward.
On some level, everyone is on the spectrum of addiction. We are attached to wanting things to go our way. This is why the title of my book is Craving Spring. We want things to be spring-like when the flowers are blooming, and the kids are happy, and everything’s going well, and then winter happens. But then spring comes again. So, trusting the natural cycle of life is what helps us not feel anxious all the time when setbacks happen.
MB: I love the title and how it’s tied to the forward motion of the book and life. I also love the cover. Can you tell me how the cover came to be because I think it was a real journey to get to this point? It’s a beautiful cover and does give the reader this feeling of hope.
AB: I love the cover, too, and it really fits with the title. I was dealing with a kind of dark, depressing subject and at first I had an image for the cover that was a bit too edgy. But the story is ultimately an uplifting one. I needed something more positive if I wanted to entice readers. I found a photo I’d taken of an orchid in our dining room in the dead of winter. That’s really the essence of this book. It’s about hope, and believing in the possibility of spring in the middle of winter.
MB: You use the term craving spring in the book. It’s really nice because you’ve seen the cover, you get the overall theme and then it’s laid out for you. In terms of writing, I’m going to ask some questions I’ve been asked. How did your family feel about you writing about them?
AB: My son is hardly in the book, so I don’t think it’s a big deal for him. He didn’t want to read it until he could hold a printed final copy. I was quite nervous giving my husband the book initially, but he was extremely generous with his comments. He didn’t seem to have a problem with any of it except, he said, “I have one correction.” I thought oh no, what’s he going to say? He said, “when you drive from Asheville to Nashville, it’s not route 26. It’s route 40.” That was it! He’s been terrific. He’s been really supportive and sees it as an important and brave story.
MB: I think writing about other people is challenging. They haven’t asked to be written about. Did you find that hard?
AB: There aren’t that many other incidental people in the story. It’s mainly about my relationship with myself and with my daughter. And another person who comes up a lot is the sponsor I had in Al-Anon. I did send her those pages and she was fine.
I was very nervous to have my daughter read it. I told her I would edit whatever she wanted me to change. She was fine with everything. In fact, at the end of reading it, she said, “This is a love letter to me, isn’t it?” It wasn’t easy for her, but she’s at a point in her recovery that she’s not ashamed to say, hey, I went through this and I’m OK with it.
MB: What are some of the take-aways you learned from writing the book, that you hope readers will respond to?
AB: One of the things that really challenges mothers is learning compassion for themselves. It’s easy to be compassionate about our children, but not for ourselves.
If the reader is a mother who’s dealing with a troubled teenager, I hope they feel less isolated, and for people who don’t understand what it’s like, I hope they can feel more compassion.
It’s also about understanding the stages of motherhood, that motherhood is a series of transitions. You have to change as your child changes, and there has to be honest communication between a mother and daughter. In the end, my book is about encouraging women to trust themselves.