To the Moms Who Didn’t Have a Mom …

To the Moms Who Didn't Have a Mom ...

I’d love to reach out to all the moms out there who maybe didn’t have a mom. Or at least not the kind you’d ever call Mom. You didn’t have a Mom who would put a band-aid on your knee when you fell skating, or maybe you never even got to skate with her. You didn’t have the kind of Mom you could go to when you broke your ceramic candlestick in second grade, or when your friend didn’t invite you to her sleepover party, or when you got your period. She wasn’t there for you – at least not in the way you needed – when you got married, and she certainly wasn’t there for you when the baby came helping teach you how to nurse, doing the extra laundry and getting some groceries.

And yet, here you are, grown up, with a family all your own. Now YOU are Mom. And maybe sometimes it feels confusing. How do you lead someone down a path on which no one ever lead you? It can feel like you are carrying the weight of not just the childhood you want to give your child, but also the weight of the childhood you never had but always longed for. And now that magical childhood is here but it’s someone else’s – your child’s. And weirdly you find yourself jealous sometimes. How come they get this amazing care you never did? And sometimes you find yourself at a loss. Wanting to give them just the right kind of leadership and love but quite literally not knowing what to do. It’s not in your bones. No one ever put it there.

What you need to know is this … You were worthy of love always. You were worth band-aids and Kleenex and messy kitchens full of birthday dinners and all of it. And if you didn’t get it, it’s not because of you. It’s because maybe your Mom never got it and didn’t know how to pass it on. Maybe she was ill and couldn’t. Maybe she was working to make ends meet and didn’t have the support she needed to give you what you needed. Chances are she probably needed a lot more help and support too.

See, we aren’t meant to walk this journey alone. And when we try to, everyone suffers. And yet, we have this idea that we will somehow just know how to parent. That loving our children automatically comes with the ability to parent them. But as with most things in life, parenting is something we learn. Either we learn it as a child, receiving the love and care in such a way that we are able to pass it on because in our bones we know it. Or we know it in our hearts but not in our bones, and then we have to learn how to transmit it. Or, some of us are busy unlearning what we learned so we can re-learn something new entirely.

Learning is no shame. It is an honor, a bravery. An act of courage that says I know what I got, but I am more than that. I have a dream in my heart that is bigger than my reality. And I am going to be brave enough to learn how to make it happen. I am going to rewrite that which was written down before me and handed to me. I will make it my story, and then it will be my children’s. And they will make it theirs.

So if this is you, please know that you aren’t alone. And that if it is not all coming naturally, be kind to yourself. It is simply an invitation to go inside, get clear on what you do want your life to look like. What kind of mom do you want to be, regardless of what you were handed? Because it is possible to rewrite the future. And in so doing, you also get to heal the past.


About the author: Abigail Wald

Abigail is the mom of two terrific guys, 8 and 10. She assumed she would know how to parent them just because she loved them, and was surprised to learn that love is not enough, and that parenting lovingly and effectively actually requires a set of skills you can learn! After many years of research, these days she is a certified Hand in Hand Parenting Consultant. She is deeply passionate about sharing these amazing and counterintuitive tools with parents and loves that they are as supportive to the parents as they are to the kids! She can be reached at RealTimeParenting.com. She is kind, funny, and honest, and will give you a free 15 minutes any day to listen to your story and help in whatever way she can. 

7 Comments

Linda

Thank you, I grew up in foster care and none of the “mother’s” were motherly.

Reply
Sim

So very beautiful written. I got goosebumps when I ready I was worthy of love always.

You nailed it – How very odd that sometimes I feel jealous of the great childhood that I’m creating for my wonderful children.

How painful it is sometimes to remember I never went skating, shopping for clothes or to the movies with my mum but I also tell a better story now. The lack in my childhood has meaning now.

It made me desire to give my children the best I could and while she never put a bandaid on my knee, that also made me much stronger and self reliant.

I try and balance the two extremes with my own children. I show them unconditional love, support and fun but also the ability to find their own strength from backing away when it’s just a bandaid they need. Sometimes I swing from one extreme to the other but that’s OK. I dont be perfect.

You see I’m not only self soothing here but reminding anyone reading this that being there for our children and bonding with them can be enough.

I use articles like these to see where I’m at. So far I’m feeling great about my role as mum. I hope I end up like the mum above ^^^ who’s wonderful mothering created a new cycle of happiness and hopefully will give my daughters some kind of understanding what they can achieve as a mother in the future. They have the blue print now and I’m sure they will get better and better as the generations are created.

The new cycle started with us ladies (and gents). Be very proud.

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Lisa

Thank you for your article. I suffered not only from unloving parents.. Because I never knew what real love is.. I married a man who just like my parents for 29 years.
Now I am still trying to amend my relationship with my young adult kids. It is never to late to learn how to show love from your heart and I still believe that I will be loved and experience the true love relationship in the future.

Reply
Judy

This hit me so hard! I would have loved to hear these words when I was raising my children. As a mother who didn’t have a mother emotionally – sometimes I was at a loss when raising my own children. I did know however that I couldn’t go very wrong if I did everything with a loving heart. I now have two adult children who are raising their children and I couldn’t be more proud of the job I did and they job they are doing! Thank- you for your wise words – may they help another motherless mother raising children today!

Reply
Melissa

Thank you so much for your response you took the words right of my head. I am raising 4,8,10,12. I find it reassuring that although I am clueless most often my heart is full of love and that is enough

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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