Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Mom With No Mom

My own mother died when I was 19, two years before I was married, and nearly 4 years before my first child was born. Of course, my experience is far from unique. Every year, millions of women face the transition to motherhood without their own mothers’ support. Some mothers and daughters are separated by death, others by distance, and others by barriers more emotional than physical. Whatever the reason, not having your own mom nearby during those first few weeks is particularly painful. For most of us, the stress, lack of sleep, and pain in those unending first days seem to arouse a childlike need for someone to reassure and care for us. While friends or other family members may do their best to step into that caretaker’s role, there seems to be a perception (real or not) that their efforts just don’t measure up. Now, before you think this post might be too depressing to read, I want you know that there are steps you can take to prepare for the inevitable challenges. So, if you, like me, are (or will be) a motherless mother, here are some tips to help you make the rough road ahead a little easier to navigate.

Accept Help

Depending on the circumstances of your separation from your own mother, you may have grown into a woman who prides herself on her self-reliance. If so, I’ve got 3 words for you. Get over it! Remember, your newborn is likely to wake every 1 to 2 hours, around the clock! Your baby is going to need to be fed, changed, dressed, held, and loved no matter how tired you become. Even after the first few months, there will be days (and nights) when you’ll need support. If you rarely ask for or accept help, this is the one time in your life when help is essential. What’s more, other parents will want to help you as part of the unwritten “pay it forward” rule that seems nearly universal among young families. Given a chance, many people will reach out happily to new mothers in extraordinary ways. For example, a few days after I brought my daughter home from the hospital, my landlady, sensing my exhaustion, slept on my couch one night to help my husband and I get a little more precious sleep. Friends and co-workers dropped off meals for two weeks and many did the dishes before they left. Asking for help does not mean you are a bad parent or a weak person; asking for help will give you the time needed to begin your relationship with your new baby.

Apart from physical help (with groceries, chores, and diaper changes), it is important that you build a trusted network of friends and family that can be relied on when you need to talk, ask questions, or share the joys and fears that come with being a parent.

Learn As Much As You Can

Stress is often the result when we feel out of control or when we don’t understand what is happening to us. Ask your doctor and trusted friends for recommendations for books, blogs (like this one!), videos, and articles about babies, parenting, and special topics like infant first aid and child development. Take a class if you have the time! As you know, a baby’s behavior can seem mysterious and overwhelming. The more you know about why your baby cries and wakes, the more confidence you’ll have in your parenting. One word of caution, it is always wise to double check your facts when you make the big parenting decisions. As you can tell from this blog, there are a lot of myths about babies out there.

Allow Yourself Some Time to Grieve

No matter why you are separated from your mother, be sure to give yourself the time to grieve the loss of that unique relationship. The first few days at home can be particularly challenging when you don’t have the idealized experience shared by new mothers with intact families excitedly gathering around to celebrate the baby. The major holidays, and especially Mother’s Day can be tough too. It may help to start some new holiday traditions that you can look forward to as your new baby grows.

Undoubtedly, there will be tough times when it will be important for you to talk about your feelings with those you love and trust. If you find yourself struggling with your feelings or your connection with your baby, be sure to talk to your doctor or therapist.

Be a Parenting “Pioneer”

Many women look to their own mothers as role models to guide their parenting style. However, motherless mothers may have lost their own mothers so early in life, that they have no recollection of how they were raised. There are also many women whose own mothers were unable to serve as healthy role models. Without role models and positive examples, motherless mothers must be like pioneers, facing each new challenge with courage and an open mind. If you are a parenting “pioneer,” find women you admire, or even better, women with children you admire and ask them for advice and direction when you feel you might lose your way. Don't ever feel that you have to be a perfect parent. Trust me; they don't exist. Just keep in mind that whatever your own childhood experience, you have the power to start fresh with your own children.

Next Time: It’s time for another baby quiz!


  1. Hi Dr. Heinig,

    I am a motherless mother too....and also a parentless parent. My father died before my daughter was born and when my son was only 18 months old. I am doing research about parenting without both parents and am writing a book about it. Thanks for your postings and blog.

  2. Thank you for letting us know that you're a "Secrets" reader. I know that many motherless mothers feel quite alone and it is always helpful to know that we are not. Your situation, without your dad, is all the more challenging. We wish you all the best with your important work.

  3. I also lost my mother when l was 6 months pregnant with my son. I was 19, only child and completly devestated. My son cryed alot , and this time was very stressful and bewildering for me. (This was all over 35 years ago now, but the memorys are still very raw)I basically survived and healed myself over those very tough times.If anyone finds themselves in the same situation as l was. I would be really willing to give any advise.

  4. hi,

    I am a motherless mom too.My mom passed away 3 years back due to cancer.I had no clue how the initial days would be with a baby.And my baby had colic at 5 weeks.I was so drained and felt helpless.Finally I accpeted help.I am of kind who would never ask for help.Thanks for this blog.Makes me feel I am not alone.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. It is so important for all new moms to ask for help especially when they don't have their own mothers at their side. I'm glad you were able to get the help you needed, though I understand how tough that can be. Take care.