Motherless Mothering – Reflections on Being a Mother, Without One


This January marks ten years since I sat at my mom’s bedside in the hospital after she had a stroke and ultimately passed away. Grief has woven its way through the last decade in ways I wouldn’t expect. As I became a mother myself, the knife of loss has twisted in new ways. From thinking through how to incorporate my mom into my children’s birth – we settled on having her photo in the room and having a few meaningful songs on my birth playlist – it has not been the path I would have chosen. After about five years as a motherless mother, I’ve learned a few things and am still learning how to cope. If you are a motherless mother or dealing with the grief of losing a parent, know that it is SO HARD but you are not alone.

As I became a mother myself, the knife of loss has twisted in new ways.

The Mother-Daughter Relationship

I’ve learned I continue to learn that I can’t compare myself to other adult mothers and daughters. No, I can’t plan a family vacation that includes my mom. I didn’t have her here to support me with home-cooked meals after I delivered my kids. It’s easy to wish I had the same family structure like so many of my friends. But, just like the social media highlight reel we know exists, I also know that not every mother and daughter relationship is easy. I had an amazing mom for 32 years and she taught and equipped me with so much. That’s what helps me be the mom I am today. It stings to belong to this club but focusing on my gratitude for a great mother who taught me how to be a good mom is the best way to move forward.

motherlessDiscovering Her Legacy

I’m committed to helping my children know her legacy and I see it in them often. My daughter is obsessed with ladybugs just like my mom. My son always begs to take mom’s guitar off the wall and play it. I always wished that my kids had a special nickname to call my mom and then out of the blue my daughter started calling my mom “Abraca-Deborah” – which makes me think my daughter must know there is something magical about the grandmother she never met.

{Gone, But Not Forgotten :: Teaching Children About Family Members Who are No Longer Living}

Mysteriously, those ladybugs that my mom loves so much show up on our most important days. The day we purchased our home, a ladybug landed outside while we checked out the yard with our realtor. The day we dedicated our daughter at church, another ladybug. At our son’s 2nd birthday, another ladybug. We like to think it’s mom’s way of stopping in to say she is joining in on the fun. We also make a point to celebrate my mom’s birthday with a balloon or cupcakes in her honor. Don’t be afraid to speak of your loved ones often, display their photos and talk about their favorite hobbies and interests so your children know them, too.

When Your Kids Ask Questions

There are hard questions my children ask. I’ve taken the advice to respond only to what they ask and there is usually no need to elaborate on the more difficult topics of death and dying. Their questions often open up the door to talk about faith and heaven and how I know they will meet their grandma, Deborah, one day. My daughter’s childlike faith comes about in ways like wanting to take her new bounce house to heaven (like, today!) to show my mom.  While they haven’t met, she is in her thoughts. Engage with your kids as you see fit in these discussions. And, if you cry – that’s ok, too! Your kids love their mama – understanding that you miss yours only helps build their empathy.

Finding Support

I’ve managed to get through with support and lots of “me too!” moments with a few other friends who are mothering without their own mothers. Sometimes that’s over a glass of wine at someone’s home to just share our stories and sometimes it brings tears at a casual run-in with a friend coping with our similar struggles.  Hope Edelman has several books that are helpful. I also loved Allison Gilbert’s book Parentless Parents for parents who have lost both of their own parents. She has great ideas for preserving memories of loved ones and incorporating those into your life in her book Passed and Present. This is not an easy path, mama, but you are not alone.

If you want to connect further on this topic, feel free to reach out to me! And, if you have great ideas on how you honor your loved ones with your children, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


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