My mom was an essential, treasured part of my early motherhood. This bond took root in my own childhood as I was the grateful recipient of and unknowingly absorbed the lessons from, her mothering.
She was fully present, always loving (even when she was angry with us), gently guided us 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. 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 if I gave my dad the letter I would hurt him deeply. That in spite of us not getting along, he loved me dearly. 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 my daughter, my mom was elated.
She loved being a mom SO MUCH and was beyond excited that I was going 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 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 with these things.
We lived in Atlanta when our daughter was born. While visits eased the distance, we all craved more of a connection. The pull to be near family increased when she was two 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 them and my in-laws.
Our son came into this world on Thanksgiving and my parents stayed with our daughter and ensured she felt loved and understood what was happening.
My concerns about 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 my husband and I had spent 11 years in Atlanta, we fully appreciated the blessing of having our parents (and other family) nearby and truly a part of our lives.
But in 2003, when our daughter was just five and our son two, our (and in particular MY) world was changed in ways I am still discovering today.
My mom passed away six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
My loss was indescribably massive—I lost my mom, one of my best friends, my role model, and Nana for my children. For any mom who has had to raise children without her 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 have 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 my daughter experienced friend drama in middle school and I wanted to ask my mom about similar stuff I’d experienced, I thought back to some conversations 12-year-old me had with my mom.
When my son 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 fishbone 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 she’s always with me.
While a far cry from hearing actual words or feeling her physical hug, 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 my daughter. 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—my daughter 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.
Previously published on the author’s blog