Parenting without one’s own mother

The longer I'm a mother, the more I find myself leaning on the words and examples of my own mother. Long-forgotten memories emerge as I watch my kids do and say things I did and said as a child. The sense of continuity is so powerful at times I can't always distinguish where my experience ends and my memory begins.

I'm lucky to have had (and still have) a mother I love and admire; her presence in my life enriches my own parenting. And yet, so many must go on to raise their children without their own mothers alongside them. Where does one begin? How does one cope?

To begin to answer this question for herself and others, Karen Rani (Troll Baby) has started Motherless. The site is a forum for bloggers to write about the losses of their mothers, whether from death, abuse, mental illness, or other causes. She has been amazed by the tremendous response — the stories have been pouring in.

Coincidentally. I recently attended a literary salon at which Hope Edelman was discussing her newest book, Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become. She previously wrote about mother loss before she was a parent herself (Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss), but becoming a mother opened up entirely new territory. So many women in attendance had their own stories to share — I was taken aback by the emotion and courage in that room.

Edelman's book is geared toward women, but Karen hopes the Motherless site will be a place where both women and men can participate. If you have a story you'd like to share (anonymously or with attribution), send your submission to


  1. thordora says

    While this book didn’t provide me with any new insights, it was so NICE to hear the thoughts that bounce around my head coming from someone else-hearing someone else talk about how difficult it is to parent without the map of your mother…

    I recommend it for motherless daughters (and their partners) if for nothing else to have the security of knowing they aren’t alone.

  2. Pete says

    I’ll get my act together and post on there. Seems like they’re desperately in need of a male contributor.

    My mom passed weeks after I graduated from college, less than a month after my 22nd birthday. I think every day about my mom. I wish she could share these experiences, share how proud she is of my kids, tell me about what I was like at that age.

  3. Karen Rani says

    Pete – most definitely. Everyone is welcome to submit whatever they would like.

    Thank you Asha for posting about this site – it’s a true labour of love for me and I’m so glad it is helping others.

  4. Serena says

    Wow, I have to admit, as someone who’s about to become a mother (boy, how strange does that sound) and having lost mine back in 1998, suddenly, in a car accident, this whole thing makes me wonder that all along perhaps I shoudl have sought out others with similar experiences. There really is something missing when you can’t turn to your own mother for advice, and you haven’t found anyone else to replace that figure in your life. Perhaps instead of a mother figure, a sister figure would have made more sense. Thanks for the pointer. :)

  5. MotherPie says

    I read that book awhile back and could understand my grandmother better.

    I’m blessed to still have my mother and MIL.

    I never appreciated my mother as much as when I became a mother myself.

    The need for mother love never ever ever ever ends.

  6. Jason Dufair says

    I just finished reading Hope Edelman’s “Motherless Daughters” last night, my wife having died 6 weeks ago and having 2 daughters (8 and 2 – plus a son, 4). I wanted to understand what my daughters may be going through and what they may be facing. It’s been a rough road, both during my wife’s 17 month illness and since her death, but my kids are grieving well. I learned several things from the book: 1) Many (maybe most) fathers fall apart with the loss of their wives. I refuse to do that to my kids. They deserve better. I’ve always been a very involved father. Fathers need to do a better job of being intimately involved in their children’s lives, both for the now and for the worst case scenario of having to do it on their own. I also learned that 2) with a consistent, stable, loving adult in their lives, kids who lose a mother (or, presumably, a father) have a good chance of developing pretty normally. This was reassuring.

    It was a good book and I’m glad I read it. It is somewhat disappointing to find that there are few resources, online or in print, for fathers raising kids alone. If it weren’t for having to raise 3 young kids alone, I’d write a book or start a “widowed fathers” blog.

  7. Kristi says

    I’m very sorry to see that Karen’s sites no longer exist, and that the book is out of print (although there are at least used copies available.) I’d love to have the Motherless site as a resource, now that I’m realizing how my own mothering is affected by my own mother’s deep depression as I was growing up.

  8. fwc says

    Can you expound on your thought that your own mothering has been affected by your own mother’s depression while growing up?
    My mother died when I was 13 and now I am 43. It has been a long struggle at times but I am feeling some relief lately. Some of this new hope centers around anxiety and depression.