Motherless Mothering

For as long as I can remember, there have been these moments in my life where I’ve felt short-changed in the mother department. The time away from home when she was in jail from the repeated DUIs; the home repair project that she was too drunk to help with when things went awry; the day I moved out of my family of origin’s home in high school because it was too painful to be there anymore; the scathing attacks she randomly delivered by phone while I was away at college. They all hurt in such a profound way, yet I didn’t fully understand it at the time.

Sometimes what ultimately defines one relationship is another relationship. My perspective really began to take shape when I was away at college where I saw other mother-daughter relationships evolving before my eyes. I watched friends call their moms and talk about their new roommates, interesting classes, and sometimes even dates with that cute guy down the hall. I saw them returning back to campus after a long holiday weekend away armed with clean laundry, groceries, and happy hearts. I envied the amazing care packages, cards and birthday gifts that showed up at the dorm. Seeing this incredible bond that some of my friends had with their moms left an awful ache in my heart.  

Fast forward to now, me in my own season of motherhood, and that ache in my heart has never been resolved.

Years later, my mother passed away. It was a strange sense of reality when I realized that my life didn’t actually look any different after she was gone. She’s no less available to be a mom to me now than when she was alive. I never had the support I needed and desperately wanted from her. At least now when people ask if my mother is around to help with my kids, I can say that she died, rather than having to explain that we just don’t have a relationship.

 I’m certain she never set out to hurt me. I know now that she did the best she could with what she had. I believe that she wanted to be a good mother. I also know now that for whatever reason, she couldn’t be. Sadly my mom’s addiction had taken over her life and over time it made having a relationship with her too painful for me. Eventually I reached a point where I had to walk away from the relationship in the interest of self preservation. With that, I put even more miles between us, but the the truth was that the distance was already there. Although that was a difficult decision to come to, it was that decision that gave me the freedom to move forward toward the life I was meant to live.

Having never had a positive role model of a mother, I live with constant fear that I’m doing it all wrong. There have been so many times that I have wondered how my mom handled certain things or what I was like at the current age of my child, but I have no one to ask. My kids adore my husband’s parents and I dread the day that they realize I too have parents and start to ask questions about them. How will I explain that they were not well enough to be in my life - or theirs?  I see friends’ moms showing up to help out after a birth or to babysit the kids for a long weekend so the parents can get away alone together and I know I’ll never have that kind of support.

She may have died a few years before I became a mom, but even if she were still alive, it’s probably safe to assume that kind of support still wouldn’t exist for me.

And it hurts. I want a mom, too.

 Some days it gets to me. Some days I feel like I’ve been cheated. I still feel envy of the friends who mom’s show up in ways I’ve never experienced from my own family of origin. And some days I wonder why I got dealt this hand. But then on some days, on the good days, I can see that I was dealt this hand because I am strong enough to overcome it and be a great mom anyway.

And so are you, mama.

I know I am not alone in this struggle, but if you’re anything like me it probably still feels so hard to talk about it. And whether you came to this life of motherless mothering through distance, death or the dissolving of a relationship, I imagine some of us are struggling with many of the same challenges that come with it. We may not have all the answers today. Hell, we may not ever have all the answers. But having been through what we’ve been through, I have no doubt we’ll all figure it out and rock this motherhood thing anyway.