Being A Mom Without a Mom


The relationship between a mother and daughter is unlike any other. There is arguably no one else in the world who knows you so wholly and so intimately, sometimes better than you know yourself. Your mother saw you through every age and stage of life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you are lucky, she has been there for you through it all.

Some of us aren’t that lucky.

You may have a strained relationship with your mother or no relationship at all, or your mother may have passed away too soon. In any case, however flawed or perfect your mother is or was, there is a good chance you will gain a new appreciation for her when you become a mom yourself. At that instant, you feel like you are flying a plane without a manual. You’re teaching a new language with no prior lessons. You’re climbing a mountain with no shoes on your feet.

I know this because I’m a mom without a mom.

I had the privilege of my mother’s presence, guidance, and support for most of my life. My mother left us shortly after my first daughter was born. That’s when I got a crash course in what it’s like to be a mom without a mom.

A mom without a mom cares for a brand-new baby while still learning how to care for herself. Her whole heart goes into loving this perfect, sweet, tiny human, all the while nursing an invisible, yet deeply painful wound, each and every day.

Apart from those tumultuous teenage years when I gave her gray hairs on the daily (sorry, Mom) my mother and I had a bond that shifted between mother, mentor, and friend. Our reciprocal admiration and adulation for one another made us best friends.

And maybe it wasn’t always this way, as every relationship has its seasons, but this is how I choose to remember it.

Mother and daughter posing for a photo together outside on sidewalk

Marriage and family came to me late in life. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 33 and our first daughter arrived four years later when at age 37, I had what they called a “geriatric pregnancy”. Could there be a worse name for that? Never mind that I was in better physical health than ever before! Anyway, it’s hard not to wonder how things might have been different should I have had children earlier in life, when my mom was still here.

My mother passed away when my first daughter was nine months old. I feel joy that she was able to meet her granddaughter before cancer’s ugly grip took her from us. I feel pain every time I see the picture of my mother and my daughter together in my mom’s hospice bed, even though both of their smiles could light the night sky.

Baby meets Grandma

I have so many questions. Questions that I only want answered by my mother.

How do I take care of this baby?!

What do I do when she won’t eat?

What was my favorite food when I started eating?

How did you get me to take medicine when I needed to?

Did you sleep train me? I’m sure it wasn’t called that back then.

When should I worry? When should I not? Does the worry ever end?

I don’t want the answers my pediatrician can give me. That’s not the point.

Just like there’s no place like home, there’s no one like Mom. She’s always the first one I think to call, in times of happiness or stress. Five years later, I still want to send her that cute photo or tell her about the adorable thing my girls did. She never got to meet her second granddaughter, but they are so much alike. I get glimpses of my mom in her playful smile.


Holidays are so hard.

Growing up in quintessential suburban Connecticut, my house was decorated top to bottom complete with handmade (by her) Christmas curtains. It was a little crazy, if I’m being honest, but also so beautiful how much she loved the holidays and how both of my parents brought a touch of their own magic into our home. We always hosted our large family, one time putting together so many tables that we had to cover them in holiday wrapping paper!

My heart bursts with these happy recollections, but making the season merry and bright for my children when a part of me is so dull I can barely listen to The Nutcracker without bawling is excruciating.

I want to share this part of my life with my mom.

I know how truly blessed I am to have such fond memories and the ability to make new ones with my family. It just takes so much mental and emotional effort to exude happiness and strength some days that when pain overwhelms me, I can only let it in. I allow myself time to cry, and I don’t hide it from my children. The girls know how much I miss my mother, and they do their best to comfort me, just as I would have comforted her.

Being a mom without a mom makes you also consider how your children will remember you when you’re gone. I have many special heirlooms that give me comfort and make me feel closer to my mother when I’m dearly missing her.

My mom was a gifted artist. I have quilts, afghans, clothing, accessories, needlepoint, watercolors, and more, all handmade by her throughout her life. Some items she made specifically for me or my daughter, and some I inherited when she passed. Everything is displayed throughout my house and warms my heart with each use or passing. In the past, it was difficult for me to use some of these things, as I wanted to preserve them forever. I know now that she would be so happy to see us enjoying her creations, and it honors her memory to have them lovingly used rather than lovingly tucked away.

I am not as artistically talented, but I will be happy to pass on the things my mother made to my children, while also finding new ways to be there for my girls when I can’t be there in person anymore.

One of the best gifts I have ever received is a family cookbook. When I went away to college, I asked my parents to write down my favorite family recipes. They ended up making the sweetest cookbook including the recipes I asked for as well as pictures of us cooking together! I am already working on this project for each of my daughters.

Picture of cookbook with recipe on right page and photo of child making recipe on left

I also opened an email account for both girls, where I can send them pictures or notes relaying milestones or even just cute anecdotes. I try not to anticipate what they might think when they read them years from now. Hopefully, at the very least, they’ll know how lucky they are to have grown up in such a home full of love. In part, they can thank my mom for that.

Another tradition I carry on is Mother-Daughter Day

My mom and I used to go antiquing, do an activity similar to Paint and Sip, or go out for lunch and manicures. I now make it a point to have a special day with each girl individually doing whatever they want. One enjoys swimming at the gym and eating lunch at “the bagel restaurant”. The other chooses shopping or a movie.

I hit the jackpot with my very kind and loving mother-in-law. It is a pleasure to call her a friend and to have her presence in my daughters’ lives. She, too, understands though, that there’s no one like your own mama.

In an effort to find light in the darkness of grief, I’d like to think that being a mom without a mom might help me be a better mother.

Mother and two daughters posing for a photo together
Photo by Hillary Dubie Photography. Used with permission.

I do my best to be present, intuitive, and authentic. I look inward for answers and read the girls for their responses. Of course, I consult professionals as needed, but I’ve learned to trust myself and have faith in my instincts. My inner strength and wisdom are the results of my good upbringing, as well as the work I put in on my own.

I wish my mother was here every single day and am blessed we had the kind of relationship that makes me feel that way. She wasn’t a perfect mom, definitely wasn’t a saint, and is the reason behind my solid eye roll, but she was my best friend.

This perspective of being a mom without a mom reinforces just how special mother-daughter bonds are. I can only hope to be here for as long as possible to drive my daughters crazy and help them work on their own eye-rolling skills.


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