I’m a motherless mother. Until the day that it happened, never in my life did I think that would be me. Never. I had always envisioned my mom helping out during those trying early days or being on the other end of the phone when I was having a meltdown because my child was melting down. I always knew she would be the one I called when my kid slipped in the tub and busted open her lip; she was a pediatrician after all. But, all those wishes aside, in real life, here I am, a mother to two beautiful girls without a mother of my own. My girls are young, two and four months. I’m not that old either. I’m thirty-one and some would say too young to have already lost a parent.

My mom passed away when I was twenty-six, my two younger sisters were twenty-two and twenty years old. She was forty-nine, a few months shy of her fiftieth. Colon cancer, stage four, diagnosed at the age of forty-seven. My mom and I didn’t always have the easiest relationship. She was highly analytical, as many doctors are, with a compassionate streak, while I was a highly sensitive child. You can see how those two wouldn’t really complement each other. I think at the ripe old age of twenty-three and a medical intern, the stress of a child she couldn’t  really relate to weighed heavily on her ability to properly connect and foster a nurturing relationship with me. As I got older, we grew to understand one another more and our relationship shifted and became more loving. When she got sick, I was one of her main caregivers, so we spent a lot more time together, and she got to know me more as an adult. I wish she were still here so we could continue that path.

All my mom wanted was to see her girls fall in love and have families. She wanted to be that super hands on grandma. Where she may have fallen short with me, she would have shone so brightly with her grandchildren. She was the aunt who would take her threenager nieces for a day so that their moms could do something they wanted or needed to do. She would have been the grandma who would take the kids overnight or for the weekend. She would have exposed them to art and culture, and take them to the opera so that I wouldn’t have to (I admit, I don’t love opera!). Of all the life phases for her to miss out on, this one, in which her daughters have young families, is probably the one she looked forward to the most. I was betting on her being here.

So, a motherless mother. That’s me. Maybe it’s you too if you find yourself reading this article. It’s a definition I had to come to terms with in many ways. I had to figure out a lot of this motherhood stuff on my own. Since my sisters did not live near me when my toddler was born, I was pretty much alone during the day in those first few days home from the hospital. I had stitches from a C-section and bloody nipples from a lip tied baby with reflux. I needed my mom. I’d love to be able to say that I was strong enough to not need her, but I cried for her countless times during those first few months of motherhood. Now I see that my strength was in needing her, missing her, and figuring out how to push forward anyway. That is the strength in every mother; pushing through pain and exhaustion. We do it for the children we have brought into this world and whom we love and protect fiercely. Moms are amazing!

What does motherless motherhood look like, you may ask? I think for every mother, whether her mom is in her life or not, motherhood looks different. But for me, it’s finding help that I can count on in every situation. It’s learning to trust my own instincts. It’s learning to surround my family with people we trust have our best interests at heart. For my family, and me that meant finding a nanny who feels familiar to us, who could become part of our family. We didn’t stop our search until we found her. She is our angel. It meant finding a mom tribe, a parent village, who would go to bat for us when things got tough. When my second daughter was born, our village stepped up in a big way. I could cry thinking about it. They brought over home-cooked meals or our restaurant favorites. They took our toddler out with them to whatever they were doing so that we could rest and bond with the new baby. One girlfriend helped me give my newborn a bath because I was too exhausted to remember how. Another held her while I rested. A few more did dishes and cleaned our kitchen. My sister drove an hour to take our toddler to her gym class. My other sister, heavily pregnant herself, calmed me down when the hormones were wreaking their emotional postpartum havoc on my mental state. My dad and step mom paid for someone to deep clean our house several times in the first few weeks. Without our village, we would not have survived.

On a practical level, it means vacations and date nights are more expensive and tougher on us since were not leaving our kids with grandma and grandpa. When we go away without the kids, our nanny stays with them because we don’t have family nearby that they can stay with. It means very little spontaneity because we can’t just drop the kiddos off with grandma and go out to dinner. If our nanny calls in sick, I stay home to take care of the girls. Our life outside of children is very planned and methodical. That’s not to say that those with moms don’t have to plan in the same way, but I do find myself jealous of friends who have a mom to lean on for childcare, moral, and emotional support. I’m jealous of those who still get to go shopping with their moms and call them when the baby won’t stop screaming. I thank my lucky stars I went into labor with my second baby while our nanny was already here since we didn’t have parents to call for backup, though I know my sisters and friends would have taken care of our toddler no questions asked.

I can’t really say that there’s a silver lining to going through motherhood without your mom. However, it taught me the power of female friendship and the fierce bond possible between sisters. Losing her and now parenting without her taught me that I’m tenacious as hell and can endure and grow from adversity. It challenged me to push my boundaries and comfort zone. It opened my heart to change the definition of family. For my husband, our girls, and me, family is those we’re related to by blood, but it also includes the family we have chosen; our friends. Most of all, it taught me to look at how I approach motherhood. I do my best to take the good parts of my mom and apply those to how I mother my kids. At the same time, I acknowledge my mom’s flaws and try to do better. For better or worse, she’s always with me in my decisions, in my toughest moments, and in every celebration our family has. My first baby shares her initials with her grandmother and I hope that both my girls can be their own versions of the powerhouse woman that she was.

Though everyone handles grief and parenting in their own way, here are some ideas for adjusting to mothering without a mom:

1. Grief counseling. Sometimes becoming a mother can bring up all the feelings of loss and grief you had when you first lost your mom. I know when my daughters were born, I mourned the grandma they would never have in my mom.

2. Surround yourself with love. As they say, find your tribe and love them hard. Women who are in the same phase as you will be one of your strongest sources of support and information. My sisters and mom friends held me up in some very weak moments. Lean on them!

3. Trust your gut. Mothers intuition is one of the strongest forces I have ever encountered. Not having your mom around doesn’t diminish this instinct, though it makes you rely on it much more.

4. Find and accept help whenever and wherever it is available. Friends, coworkers, cousins, siblings, step parents, hired help. Use them and then show them you appreciate their presence in your life.

5. Grow to accept this version of parenthood. Easier said than done, I know. It’s probably not how you envisioned it, but there’s beauty in honoring your mom through your actions and your relationship with your children. The job of every generation is to improve upon the previous one.


November 13, 2019