Inside the Mind of a Motherless Mother

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If you know a mom who lost her own mom at a young age, she’s probably still fighting a battle that you may or may not see. 

She may have been feeling just fine for years before becoming pregnant, when it suddenly dawned on her that she didn’t have her mom around to ask questions about her experiences with pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum. Women tend to compare themselves to their mothers at these momentous occasions, and though she may have plenty of other women in her life to talk to about these topics, she likely feels the absence of her mother through it all. 

Once she has a baby in her arms, she may look at that baby and feel chills run down her spine as she reflects on the idea that her own mother once held her the same way. She wishes she could just have a few last words with her mom to say, “Wow. I get it now. Thank you.”

She may have an overwhelming fear of leaving her own children motherless and she may approach life with more fear and reservation than you were expecting from her. Something that sounds exciting to you, like an adults-only vacation, might cripple her with fear of the unknown and she may come up with excuses not to go, afraid to admit that she sees it as too risky. She knows it’s not logical and understands anything can happen in any place at any time, but she wants to feel in control because there was a time in her younger years when she had no control.

She may be subconsciously preparing her family for her untimely departure. She might do it in a variety of ways. She probably encourages early independence in her children, to a fault. She might keep great records of milestones, through an excessive number of baby books, journals, or photo albums, as a safeguard in case her children have questions about their early days when she’s not around to answer them. She might stress about organizing her children’s belongings, with the fear that someone may have to step in her absence and figure out where everything they need is kept. 

When her partner or children go somewhere without her, she may get anxious if they are late coming home, and she may wonder if they are in fact coming home. She’s felt abandoned before and she knows that anyone she loves could leave her at any time.

She might be dreading the conversation with her children when she has to explain that they never got to meet her mother. That feeling of dread probably has something to do with the fact that she knows her children could connect the dots, and ultimately ask whether or not it’s possible that she could also die young. She doesn’t feel prepared to have that conversation.

When she approaches the age her mom was at a diagnosis or time of death, she has a difficult time seeing past that number, not knowing if she will outlive her own mother. She might also feel the same about her children reaching the age she was when these things happened to her mom, realizing just how young and still reliant on her mother she was at the time.

She might look at the relationship you have with your mom and she may feel a twinge of jealousy, wishing she knew what her adult relationship with her mom could have looked like. Believe it or not, she might even be jealous when you have a complaint about something your mom did or said. She may look at your mom as a grandmother and question what her own mother would have been like as a grandmother. 

These thoughts might be uncomfortable for you, but they are normal for her. If you want to support her, be gentle with her and patient when she seems reserved. She has good days and bad days, just as you do. Motherhood can be challenging for all mothers. Without her own mom being around to help her, the community of other women she surrounds herself with takes on extra importance. She probably wants you- her stepmother, aunt, grandmother, in-law, friend, or whatever else your relationship is to her- to know all of this, but has a tough time saying it. If you’re there with her through the ups and downs, you are appreciated and loved more than she may ever be able to tell you. 

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Sarah is a Massachusetts native, currently living with her husband and two young children, ages 4 and 1, in the same North Attleboro neighborhood where she and her husband grew up. When her daughter was born in 2014, she left the workforce and decided to stay home, while also building up a portrait photography business, capturing the bump through baby phase of life. Now with two kids in tow, the days are busier and the nights are more sleepless than she ever imagined possible. When she musters up enough energy, she gets the kids outside to play, visit local parks and farmers markets, and help out with tending to the gardens. Other times, though, she can be found hiding in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee and eating the very same snacks she denied her children five minutes prior. This mom gig is no joke and she is just trying to find some balance in what she does.