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Mommying without Mommy

Michal Eisikowitz

Whether they lost their mother at age six or sixteen, these women had to face the pain all over again when they started their own families. How losing a mother at a young age shapes the parent you become, and the challenges of raising children without a maternal guide.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

When Varda Hittman* spotted her daughter’s first tooth peeking out from her adorable grin, she wanted to pick up the phone and call her mother. But she couldn’t — her mother passed away when Varda was only twenty-five years old.

Like most motherless mothers, Varda feels her mother’s absence on an almost daily basis. “Half the joy of motherhood is sharing it with those you love. No one will delight over your son’s first word like your mother; no one will relish your daughter’s achievements more than she,” says Varda.

“The mother-daughter relationship is like no other,” writes Paige Tangney, MEd, a Washington-based counselor who leads support groups for motherless daughters. “With the death of her mother, the daughter has lost her caregiver, her guide to all things female, and in some cases a loving companion. This is a loss that will echo throughout her entire adult life.”

What are the day-to-day challenges of mothering without a mother? How do you cope when it seems as if everyone around you has a mom to turn to for advice and a helping hand? To answer these questions, Family First spoke with an inspiring group of motherless mothers.


The Pain that Never Disappears

Most of us recognize that it’s excruciating for a child or teenager to lose a parent. But once the orphan marries and has children of her own, we are somehow comforted by the fact that she now has her own family and that the loss is no longer acute.

This assumption, asserts Hope Edelman in her bestselling book Motherless Mothers, is almost always untrue.

While conducting thousands of interviews with women whose moms passed away years earlier — some in early childhood or adolescence — Ms. Edelman discovered that for many, being thrust into the role of mother reawakened their pain.

“As my family grew and the issues became more complicated, my mother’s loss became harder to deal with,” says Naomi Sauer,* whose mother succumbed to a deadly illness when Naomi was still in her teens. “The challenges of motherhood just exacerbated my pain.”

Ms. Edelman, who herself became an orphan at age seventeen, remembers a poignant moment just after her first daughter’s birth: “I would sit in the rocking chair nursing her in the dim morning hours, watching the sun slowly rise over Los Angeles down the hill. I was so tired. So tired. So full of uncertainty about this new role, so impossibly sad that I didn’t have a mother to help me figure it out.”

As she watched her friends turn to their mothers for reliable child care, moral support, and parenting advice, Ms. Edelman began to mourn her mother on an entirely new level — as an absent grandmother.

For Hadassah Apter,* who lost her mother just before her twentieth birthday, it’s not the actual advice that she lacks; it’s the person dispensing it. “There’s no shortage of information today,” she concedes. “I can always go online, and I have plenty of other people to turn to. But when push comes to shove, you want to hear your mother’s calm voice saying ‘sheifeleh, feeling that way is totally normal ...’ ”

Varda voices similar sentiments. Parenting her lively brood is a challenge, and she often longs for some empowering words of encouragement. “I miss having my mother tell me, ‘You’re doing a great job! You’re a wonderful mother!’ Even if others could tell me this, it would never be as meaningful as it would coming from my mother.”


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