Being A Mom Without A Mom

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My mom was a vital, treasured part of my early mamahood.

This bond took root in my own childhood as I was the grateful recipient of, and unknowingly absorbed the lessons from, her mommying. 

She was fully present, always loving (even when she was angry with us), and guided gently in ways that made us want to please her. My mom was involved with us, our friends and our schools. She listened and supported, even when she disagreed. She wouldn’t hide her dissenting opinion, but we knew she would love and support us no matter what.  

One snapshot from childhood that beautifully depicts my mom’s specialness is from when I was a teenager, 16 or 17. I’d been butting heads with my dad for some time and, while I was too scared to let loose in person, had written him a mean letter. I let my mom read it because I trusted her with my frustration. She expressed her understanding of my feelings, and then gently explained that if I gave my dad that letter I would hurt him deeply. That in spite of us not getting along, he loved me dearly. My mother explained that there might be a better way for me to share my feelings and work this out with him. I never gave him that letter.

That day my mom helped me to not only see beyond my own hurt and anger, but to see beyond others’ inflexibility and shortcomings. 

When I shared that I was pregnant with Mia, my mom was elated. She loved being a mom SO MUCH and she was beyond excited that I was going to get to experience this, and that she would be part of it all. I expressed my initial apprehension, unsure if I was ready for the change this would bring to my life. She listened, offered understanding, and reassured me that it would be better than I could imagine. She was right! She was my best friend throughout my pregnancy, answering my questions and calming my concerns by sharing her own experiences. 

We lived in Atlanta when Mia was born. While visits eased the distance, we all craved more of a connection. The pull to be near family increased when Mia was 2 1/2 years-old and our son was soon to be born. I rarely saw my mom’s face light up as much as it did when I shared that we would be moving back to the Chicago suburbs to be near my parents and my in-laws.   

Ben came into this world on Thanksgiving and my parents had the responsibility (gift) of making sure Mia felt loved and understood what was happening. 

My concerns of adding a second child to the blissful life we had were eased by my mom’s insight, reassurance and love. She and my dad spent lots of time with our family and with just the kids. Since David and I lived in Atlanta for 11 years, we fully appreciated the blessing of having our parents (and other family) nearby and truly a part of our lives.

But in 2003 when Mia was just 5 and Ben 2 1/2 years-old, our (and in particular MY) world was changed in ways I am still discovering today. My mom passed away 6 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.  

My loss was indescribably massive – I lost my mom, one of my best friends, role model, and Nana for Mia and Ben. For any moms who have had to raise children without your mom, I’m confident you can relate to this lost feeling. Reaching for the phone to call and ask a question, followed by the sinking feeling as you remember you can’t do this. Facing struggles that your husband, father or even friends could help with, but the help your soul craves is not within reach.  

Our moms walked the path we are now walking, and they know us in ways no one else quite can. Their perspective, wrapped in their unmatched love for us, soothes and enlightens us. Countless times I have reflected on what my mom would have thought, said or done.  

Two things have emerged as hidden gifts in all of this – the memories of my mom throughout my childhood, and my daughter. 

When we can draw upon our own childhood memories, we have a library of wisdom created by our moms. So when Mia experienced the usual friend drama around 5th grade and I wanted to ask my mom about similar stuff I’d experienced, I thought back to some conversations 10 year-old me had with my mom.  

When Ben had a large splinter that had somehow gotten infected and caused his knee to swell, I tapped into the memory bin and reviewed the steps we went through when my childhood friend had stepped on a fish bone at the beach.  

Often, my mom has been in my dreams, either with an answer I’d been seeking, a hug or squeeze of my hand to remind me that she’s always with me. While a far cry from hearing actual words or feeling her physical hug of support, these experiences feed my soul.

How has my daughter helped me cope with being a mom without my mom? As she has grown, I feel so much of my mom in Mia. How she might smile at me, give me a hug just when I need it, or share advice that could have easily come from my mom. I’ve experienced a crisis of confidence or two – Mia with her extraordinarily wise thoughts saw me through. 

Embracing motherhood without our moms can be daunting. There’s an emptiness that’s never completely filled. We need extra support from our husbands, dear friends, and if you are blessed to have them – sisters. As I’ve also discovered, our moms live on in us. And if we look closely, we might just find a little of our moms in our daughters, and that is a priceless gift. 

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