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Loss and Parenting: When the Mommyless become Mommies

I’m so excited to bring you a guest post today by one of my favorite bloggers, Lauren Thompson from Loving Marshall. I just love following Lauren’s life as she writes with great candor about motherhood, and what it’s like to be a motherless mother. 

Today’s post is the kickoff of a new monthly series about Loss and Parenting – how different types of loss affects the way we love and mother our children. 

Enjoy!

When the mommy-less become mommies…

I lost my mom unexpectedly when I was 10 years old. Very unexpectedly. She died in her sleep at the age of 40, so I went to bed one night in September with a mother, and I woke up the next morning without one.

It has been 21 years since I became a motherless daughter, and I am fortunate to have a father who fought for my emotional survival, as well as many strong women who stepped in to help make growing up less awkward.

As with many women who lose their moms at a young age, my grief cycles in and out, most often reappearing during significant life changes—going to college, moving to a new place, getting married.

When I had my son, something really beautiful happened. As I tried to wrap my mind around how much I loved this little life that was given to me, I was steamrolled (no other word can adequately describe how powerful this was) with the realization of just how much my mother must have loved me.

when the mommyless become mommies

And as I continue to grow as a mom, I find myself connecting to my own mother in new ways, asking new questions, embracing a curiosity about her all over again.

I have also identified some parenting patterns that directly relate to my experience as a motherless daughter. You may identify with these habits even if you have not experienced early mother loss, but I am certain that my inclination to fall into these tendencies are very much due to my loss experience.

 1.  I tend to reach out to my peers for parenting advice and support rather than my parental figures.

As I mentioned before, I was fortunate to have many strong women step in to help mother me as I grew up. My best friend’s mom, my stepmom, and my mother-in-law were, and still are, constant sources of comfort and strength. However, I still felt less awkward talking about “girl things” with my peers, and that has spilled over into my parenting. I am much more likely to seek advice from other moms than to ask the “mothers” in my life. This is especially strange, because despite that my mom friends are all rock stars, the “mothers” have actually raised children from birth to adulthood.  They have exponentially more experience, but I still seek out my peers. Or Google.

 2.     My anxiety about potential, unexpected “disasters” takes my overprotectiveness to an extreme.

Because I experienced something very rare and very traumatic—the autopsy was inconclusive, so no closure there—I am convinced that more rare, traumatic disasters are lurking around every corner. It is difficult for me to not hover at playgrounds, to not interrupt my husband with petitions of concern when he’s “play wrestling” with our son, to not check on Marshall 20 times throughout the night to make sure he’s still breathing. Seemingly normal activities, like my husband carrying Marshall on his shoulders, or watching Marshall ride his push bike, require a lot of calming breaths and pep talks on my part.

3.     I can live “in the moment” a little too much at times.

At the same time, because I am well acquainted with the “life is short” mantra, I tend to really value the present. I am grateful for afternoons of building Lego towers, cuddles on the couch, and extra goodnight kisses. What can be wrong with that, right? Well, I tend to use that reasoning to excuse inconsistent parenting. I will feel motivated to establish a bedtime routine, only to break it because “What if this is our last night on Earth and I didn’t rub his back until he fell asleep?” “What if this is our last hour together, and goodness gracious he just wants to watch one more Curious George. Is that too much to ask?” I succumb to “just one more” a lot. I also interrupt our play times with extra hugs and kisses, to an awkward extreme. I have a feeling Marshall is going to address that one in the near future.

I wish I could report that this awareness erased all of my anxiety and inconsistent habits, but it didn’t. I can say that recognizing these patterns has been immensely helpful, though. Knowing this about myself, naming it, talking about it, struggling with it—I become a little better of a mom every day. And that’s all I’m asking for.

Our relationship with our mothers – whether they’ve passed on or they’re here on this earth – affect the way we mother. What experiences with your own mother – a traumatic loss or otherwise – have shaped your parenting style?

 I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Lauren Thompson is a writer and blogger in Seattle, as well as a mother to the adorable Marshall. She tells her story of learning how to mother after experiencing the loss of her own, leaving out none of the deliciously messy day-to-day adventures. 

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24 Comments

  1. Janelle @ The Smudge Curve on January 27, 2014 at 11:16 am

    I lost my mom at 19 and my dad at 21, so I really identify with this post. It’s comforting, in a strange way, to read that there are others in a similar boat as me.

    • Lauren on January 27, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Hi Janelle. Thanks so much for reading and sharing about your own loss. I also find it comforting to connect with others that have had a similar experience. It makes me feel more “normal,” and that helps. Thanks again for reaching out.

  2. Lauren on January 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Thanks, Carly, for sharing my story, and I’m looking forward to our monthly series on parenting and loss. I’m especially looking forward to connecting with others who have experienced loss, to hear their perspective.

  3. Lauren on January 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Thanks, Carly, for sharing my story, and I’m looking forward to our monthly series on parenting and loss. I’m especially looking forward to connecting with others who have experienced loss, to hear their perspective.

  4. Janine Huldie on January 27, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Lauren, thank you for always being so open and forthcoming on your loss. still have both my parents, but my dad recently had a heart attack and stroke, so I am beginning to realize how short life really is and how precious each moment also is, too. That said, I know I mentioned this in my recent post, but I was definitely shaped as person and now as mother from my own experiences with my mother and I am more like her then I ever thought I could be. So definitely couldn’t agree more with you on that if I tried.

    • Lauren on January 27, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks for your encouraging words, as always, Janine! I really liked that post about your journey with your mom and how that shaped you. That was fun to read. Hope your dad is recovering well! That must have been scary.

  5. Janine Huldie on January 27, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Lauren, thank you for always being so open and forthcoming on your loss. still have both my parents, but my dad recently had a heart attack and stroke, so I am beginning to realize how short life really is and how precious each moment also is, too. That said, I know I mentioned this in my recent post, but I was definitely shaped as person and now as mother from my own experiences with my mother and I am more like her then I ever thought I could be. So definitely couldn’t agree more with you on that if I tried.

  6. Mary on January 27, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Lauren, thanks for being courageous enough to share this with other younger mothers. I know you from our mother loss facebook group; we’ve “talked” there before. I’m one of those moms who also lost her mother when she was 10 and to my 10 year old mind it was unexpected. She’d been sick my whole life but she went to the hospital one week and never came home. I woke up one day and Daddy said she had died. For me, I also lost my father that day as he “checked out” emotionally so I tell people I have been on my own pretty much since I was 10.

    My children are grown now (medical student, a teacher, and a “yet to find her way” 24 year old 🙂 but I did similar things to what you did. The only thing I did differently was to seek out moms of older children, mainly because my peers’ children were much older than mine (we experienced infertility twice – another loss for another time).

    But the over protectiveness and the experiencing all you can? There are downsides I’m sure. But as I said, I did those and my children love one another like I’ve never seen other grown siblings do and they are so amazingly well rounded that I marvel that God allowed me the privilege of raising such beautiful people.

    Thanks again, Lauren. See you over at FB.

    • Lauren on January 27, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      Such a beautiful comment, Mary! Thanks for sharing. Hearing your parenting story gives me hope. I’ve also gotten some feedback on my own Facebook page that many moms, even the ones whose moms are still alive, seek out peers for parenting advice. Interesting! Thanks again for your insightful thoughts.

      • Mary on January 27, 2014 at 3:16 pm

        Lauren, it could have also been because I was (in the 1980’s) considered an “older” mom (I didn’t have my first child until I was 31). So most “peers” had teens. So I tended to look to people 10+ years older than me for direction. Also, growing up as I did, I often found myself comfortable with older adults as well as my own age. I’ve always enjoyed mixed age groups. In fact, in the small group Bible study we are in we range from mid 30’s to mid 60’s. 🙂 Kind of fun to get other perspectives.

        Just know that you are doing things the best way for you and your child. Don’t doubt your parenting! I think it sounds like you’re doing great!

  7. Mary on January 27, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Lauren, thanks for being courageous enough to share this with other younger mothers. I know you from our mother loss facebook group; we’ve “talked” there before. I’m one of those moms who also lost her mother when she was 10 and to my 10 year old mind it was unexpected. She’d been sick my whole life but she went to the hospital one week and never came home. I woke up one day and Daddy said she had died. For me, I also lost my father that day as he “checked out” emotionally so I tell people I have been on my own pretty much since I was 10.

    My children are grown now (medical student, a teacher, and a “yet to find her way” 24 year old 🙂 but I did similar things to what you did. The only thing I did differently was to seek out moms of older children, mainly because my peers’ children were much older than mine (we experienced infertility twice – another loss for another time).

    But the over protectiveness and the experiencing all you can? There are downsides I’m sure. But as I said, I did those and my children love one another like I’ve never seen other grown siblings do and they are so amazingly well rounded that I marvel that God allowed me the privilege of raising such beautiful people.

    Thanks again, Lauren. See you over at FB.

    • Lauren on January 27, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      Such a beautiful comment, Mary! Thanks for sharing. Hearing your parenting story gives me hope. I’ve also gotten some feedback on my own Facebook page that many moms, even the ones whose moms are still alive, seek out peers for parenting advice. Interesting! Thanks again for your insightful thoughts.

      • Mary on January 27, 2014 at 3:16 pm

        Lauren, it could have also been because I was (in the 1980’s) considered an “older” mom (I didn’t have my first child until I was 31). So most “peers” had teens. So I tended to look to people 10+ years older than me for direction. Also, growing up as I did, I often found myself comfortable with older adults as well as my own age. I’ve always enjoyed mixed age groups. In fact, in the small group Bible study we are in we range from mid 30’s to mid 60’s. 🙂 Kind of fun to get other perspectives.

        Just know that you are doing things the best way for you and your child. Don’t doubt your parenting! I think it sounds like you’re doing great!

  8. Danielle on January 27, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Wow – this was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this story. I can very much relate to being “in the moment” with my children. Without question, I break a lot of societal rules, in favor of extra time with my kids. They have turned out very okay so far, and are so affectionate in return. If only we could slow the big clock down sometimes 😉

    • Lauren on January 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Thanks so much, Danielle. I wish that clock would slow down too—it all happens so fast!

  9. Danielle on January 27, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Wow – this was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this story. I can very much relate to being “in the moment” with my children. Without question, I break a lot of societal rules, in favor of extra time with my kids. They have turned out very okay so far, and are so affectionate in return. If only we could slow the big clock down sometimes 😉

    • Lauren on January 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Thanks so much, Danielle. I wish that clock would slow down too—it all happens so fast!

  10. Claire on January 29, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Hi Lauren,
    Thank you for this post, it is beautiful. My own mother lost her parents at 15 and 22, and I think it really affected the way she parented.
    My husband has literally just lost his father last weekend at 24, and we are in the midst of a lot of grief and pain, while I am 4 months pregnant. Although this is about mothers, I believe this will come to mean a lot to him too as a fatherless father. So thank you for sharing, it helps us to be aware of what is to come.
    Claire

    • Lauren on January 29, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Claire,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. You are absolutely right–I think we can all relate to loss, whether it be mothers or fathers. It’s all so very hard. Peace to you and your husband as you grieve, and all best wishes as you prepare for a new little one.

      Lauren

  11. Tamara on January 29, 2014 at 5:20 am

    Oh, this rings so true to me. I lost my father unexpectedly at nearly four. We did know what it was, but I still have been fearing unexpected crisis for my whole life. And watching my daughter with my husband has been really healing for me, but also shows me what I didn’t have.

  12. Tamara on January 29, 2014 at 5:20 am

    Oh, this rings so true to me. I lost my father unexpectedly at nearly four. We did know what it was, but I still have been fearing unexpected crisis for my whole life. And watching my daughter with my husband has been really healing for me, but also shows me what I didn’t have.

    • Lauren on January 29, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      Unexpected crisis–that is such a good way of putting it. YES.

      I’m right there with you on the healing but still hurting part of it. It’s so true. Holding my little guy makes me realize how much my mom loved me, but at the same time, is a reminder that she’s not here.

      Thanks for sharing. I always love your insightful comments.

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