On mothering after mother loss

Mother and childOften a little girl wants to do things “just like Mommy.” Even as adults, we may long to share with our children the best of what we learned from our own parents — the holiday rituals, the standards, the discipline methods, the family hobbies. But for those who have suffered early mother loss (through death or dysfunction), such longings can bring us face to face with pain and conflict, and a particular kind of difficulty. 

“I don’t have a legacy I really want to pass on to my children,” we may think. “I feel like I’m making it up as I go along.” Although her bestselling book Motherless Daughters focuses primarily on the journeys of women whose mothers died young, many of Hope Edelman’s observations are also helpful to women whose mothers were alive but absent as nurturers. In both cases, the daughters have struggled to parent themselves. Sometimes the mother who has died — or, in the case of an abusive or neglectful mother, the one who never was — becomes a kind of guiding ideal in the daughter’s mind. Here’s an insightful passage on one of the ways this sort of idealization can trap us as we seek to parent our own children.

“When a daughter believes she was well mothered, she often tries to replicate specific parenting behaviors she remembers from her past. This allows her to identify positively with her mother, as well as to relive and perpetuate happy moments of her childhood. For many women, particularly those who’ve mourned their mothers, this approach can be both successful and fulfilling.

“Daughters who have idealized the lost mother, however, create a standard for parenting that is difficult, and occasionally impossible, for them to achieve. When comparing themselves to the idealized Good Mother, these daughters often interpret their own ‘shortcomings’ as evidence that they’re Bad Mothers. But mothers are perfect only in our minds.”

Keeping the impossibility of perfection in mind is essential as we seek to balance the often-conflicting needs of  self, children, and partner.  Gives us confidence that we can be good enough, and releases us from a relentless striving that wears us out.  Give yourself the gift of a little gentleness…


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