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.
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.
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.