Struggles and Strategies for the Motherless and Unmothered

mother child chalkBeing without a mother is special kind of club. Only those that share the experience understand the profound ache for once what was or could have been.

Mothers are lost for a myriad of reasons – be it childbirth itself, accident, illness, poverty, circumstances of family, culture, or fate, and the like.

Mothers, though physically present, can, also, go missing by way of grief, addiction, depression, subjugation, psychiatric issues, and life doing life. These moms, for whatever set of reasons, are unable to mother. I call their children “unmothered.”

Being without a mom wears heavily on a soul. There is none of the expected nurturing, support, and guidance. You feel untethered and adrift without the emotional umbilicus of mother. Your world is slightly off its axis. There is something missing and that missing is mom.

For those oh-you-were-way-too-young-to-lose-your mother, sometimes a dad or a relative tries mightily to fill in the gap and other women step in and step up to offer motherly guidance and affection. And no matter now lovely and well-meaning they are and the myriad of kindnesses they heap upon you, it is still not enough. It can never be enough, because you want your mom — the mom that you hold in your heart — the mom that is supposed to be with you, right now, at this very moment.

This deep yearning can last a lifetime. You never feel quite right, quite whole. Something is always off. Not all of your life experiences match up with others. There is an unspoken language in those-folks-with-mothers club. You feel somewhat alien and sometimes, even, ashamed because of these differences. It feels so unfair. You are angry and hurt that you lost out on the very basic, most primal, and desperately coveted mother love.

For those who are unmothered, loving their moms can be complicated. These moms are not emotionally on the scene; they can be in and out the door. There are often adult concerns — such as medical, legal, or financial issues — that require you to grow up way too quickly. Frequently, you are the only adult in the room. There can be attendant craziness, high drama, and ongoing crises and emergencies. There can also be expansive relief — as well as guilt and grief for feeling that way — when this mom is no longer in your life.

The experience of being motherless and unmothered leaves its mark — glaringly obvious or subtle and just-below-the-surface. These life experiences also impart ways of being to those who grow up, literally or metaphorically, without a mom.

Here are some of the struggles of the motherless and the unmothered along a continuum. We human beings are rarely all of one thing or totally one side of an equation. The following are broad strokes for your consideration. Pending your age and the type of non-mothering you experienced, you may find yourself somewhere on the spectrum or, perhaps, you have worked through it all and can see how far you have progressed.

  1.  TRUST: TOO MUCH or TOO LITTLE

You trust indiscriminately everyone and everything, or you trust very few, if any at all. Because of the loss of the stabilizing and connecting influences of your mom, your sense of attachment along with concomitant trust and safety have been compromised.

The ideal would be to

  • learn discernment and distinction so that your choices are considered
  • learn how to protect yourself from the unwanted and unnecessary
  • learn how to create boundaries
  1.  SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY: SCATTERED or MISSION CONTROL

You can be very helpless, hapless, scattered, and inconsistent. The grounding from mothering has by-passed you completely. You can unconsciously be stuck in childhood. You may expect a grown-up or someone-in-shining-armor-or-a-steel-apron to come in and make it all better. Or you may feel you are “off the hook” and it is acceptable for your life to be in tatters because you have no mother. Or your life may be an ongoing tantrum to your wretched loss.

Conversely, you may be uber-responsible. You are capable and running mission control with nary a misstep. You have spent years of your life cleaning up messes and taking care of what needs to be done. You are good at doing this, and, usually very good of doing this all by yourself. Don’t worry about you; you can handle it all. Being in control has given you a sense of safety.  It is hard for you to ask for help, admit vulnerability, or show any kind of weakness. You are exceedingly self-reliant and frequently stubborn.

Clearly, the optimum here would be

  • grow up and take responsibility for your life
  • learn to trust yourself
  • learn to ask for help
  • relax your need to control
  • learn to accept your humanness
  • forgive yourself for your mistakes
  1.  HUMOR: SERIOUS or CLOWN

For some, there is precious little for you to crack a smile or find the humor in anything. Your life has been hard, upsetting, and disappointing. You are a serious person. In the extreme, you can be strident, inflexible, and rigid.

Others cope by finding the humor in almost everything. You can be the class clown, the smart-ass, or the wise-cracking one who can turn a room upside down with your well-timed comments. Your sarcasm is anger coming out sideways.

Further, the seriousness or more sarcastic side of your nature reflects your style in dealing with authority figures.

The more serious of the motherless and unmothered will do everything in their power to please authority figures. You want to make others happy and, by extension, happy with you. You want to be seen as the good person and receive approbation from those who rank above you.

The less serious and more comedic are likely to roll their eyes and make comments to authority figures. Their manner would suggest, “You’re not the boss of me”; they are not upended or rattled by the higher-ups perception of them. Interestingly, they may also be the superlative employee or student.

For an easier ride through life, you might consider the following:

  • learn to lighten up and laugh at yourself and the ironies of the world
  • share your heartache with others
  • adopt more of a middle ground position
  • learn to express your anger in a more direct manner
  • understand that you are not what you accomplish, but who you are
  • accept yourself
  1.  LOOKING FOR HOME

The unmothered and motherless are often searching for a sense of home. You can psychologically feel adrift in the world. No place feels quite right. You can frequently be peripatetic as you connect and disconnect with people and places looking for some unrealized sense of home.

Possible solutions:

  • Find the home within your heart. You will never go wanting.
  • Maintain your significant relationships, no matter how distant or proximate they are.
  • Understand that you can create a physical home with beauty, safety, and objects of memory wherever you live.
  • You can create yearly rituals that anchor you; for example: a summer weekend at the beach with good friends; a holiday shopping adventure in a neighboring town; a Halloween party or a spring brunch; a ping pong tournament, etc.
  • Look for ways to connect, i.e., book clubs, volunteer work, animal shelter, etc., and build relationships.
  • Look for what is meaningful to you and focus your energies there.
  1.  LEARNING HOW TO SELF-SOOTHE

It is difficult for the motherless and unmothered to soothe and comfort themselves. You are often excellent caretakers of others, but when it comes to self you can be discombobulated and seek to deal with your restless agitation via non-stop sleep, chronic activity, using substances or activities that distances you from your jangled feelings.

It’s time to practice:

  • Make a list of what makes you feel good in a sense-oriented way. For example, is it a bubble bath, a scented candle, a walk in the woods, playing with flowers, taking a run, fixing the most perfect sandwich, drinking a cappuccino, writing in a journal, or baking bread? Then pull from this list when you are frazzled.
  • Call a trusted friend. Go to a meeting. Share your feelings in a safe and appropriate way.
  • Play with your pet.
  • Make a list of what makes you feel safe and protected.
  • Create a safe place or sanctuary within your home.
  • No, really, stop, and take a breath. Stop and take a break.
  • As one mom told me, the majority of her everyday family problems were alleviated with a good, hot meal and a good night’s sleep. It is basic mothering – and it works.
  1.  DEALING WITH ABANDONMENT

No matter how you lost your mom, the profound sense of abandonment can leave a wake of unresolved feelings that require inner work, deep introspection, and often professional help.

Here is the slippery slope:

If you are abandoned by your mom (for whatever reason), you can feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. You are not OK; you are not worthy. If you are abandoned and not worthy, your thinking can take you to that treacherous black hole where you are convinced you are unlovable. If you are unlovable, there will be no one in your life to love you. You will always be alone. You are forever abandoned. This is excruciatingly painful and horrible circular thinking.

What to do?

  • Be brave and full of self-worth or, at the very least, act as if, and create a family of your heart. It is never too late to be connected — first to yourself and then to others. It is never too late to learn the valuable lessons of love. It is never too late to give yourself the elixir of mother love than escaped you in your earlier years.
  • Being unmothered and motherless teaches you — and yes, often the hard way — to trust yourself, to stand alone and claim your life, and to create your happiness without the anchor, cheering section, nurturing, and support of a mom. It is a process.

That said, the motherless and unmothered wounds, when healed, give you an unparalleled wisdom and compassion that can help change the world.

And for the record, the world is in desperate need of mother love to foster peace, understanding, and co-operation; to build bridges and share resources; and to create a world where children are safe, healthy, fed, and schooled. You just never realized that as a soul you signed up for the advance course in soul development and you are here, at this very moment in time, to make a profound difference in the well-being of the planet using every bit of your heart wisdom and experience. And the universe thanks you in advance for making sure the mother love does not get lost in the global shuffle.

 

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15 Responses to Struggles and Strategies for the Motherless and Unmothered

  1. Adele Ryan McDowell January 25, 2016 at 11:26 am #

    Dear dear Adult Adoptee, From my perspective, you certainly raised your hand for multiple advanced soul courses. Good God, you have walked through hell and back — and you survived. My heart goes out to you for what you have endured. Maybe in lieu of fixing, you might consider accepting teeny tiny bits of yourself, such as your ability to speak truth and name your hell. Thank you for writing. I am deeply touched by your response. And if you are open to the idea, I am asking my angels to send you, wherever you are, a bouquet of comfort and ease. Take precious care. And, for the record, you are worth it! Much love, Adele

  2. Adele Ryan McDowell January 25, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    Oh, dear one, sorry that you have to get up close and personal with trust and transparency. I,too, have faced that demon recently myself. It’s no fun. Take precious care and sending you much love and good juju as equanimity is restored. And, personally, chocolate helps,too.

  3. laura January 24, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

    You are a gift to the un mothered. And for those of us who were un mothered and un fathered – simply without rational, loving adults these traits are real. Glad I am not alone. I will use this as a touch stone to watch for the common themes. Trust too much? Yes, over and over and just recently. Feel like a jack ass? Yes. From your lips to gods ears that in this advanced course my life’s mission and purpose will come to reality. That is what I hope will help un do the un doing. Love me

  4. Adult Adoptee January 19, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

    I was given away by my birth mother at the age of 16 months. My adoptive mother died when I was 10, and I was handed over to a woman who detested and abused me. Fortunately, she died when I was 17, and a wonderful step-mother entered the picture a couple years later. She was the closest I’d had to a mother figure in years and I greatly appreciated our relationship. However, when my adoptive father died a few years ago, she moved on and I haven’t heard from her since.

    Motherless times four, and unmothered most of my life — I share most of the characteristics you list above, and have given up trying to fix them. The effort is too great, and I’m not worth it.

  5. Adele Ryan McDowell January 18, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

    My dear Jim, It warms my heart that this piece resonated so deeply with you. Your loss was not easy and, of course, you still wonder. Your mom’s death was a seminal puzzle piece that went missing and, as a consequence, created different relationships and pathways. Thanks for connecting. Take precious care and much, much love, Adele

  6. Jim Gunipero January 18, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    Hey Adele,

    Usually breeze through the columns but this one stopped me in my tracks. You well know that I have had an “interesting” life but this reflection on the emptiness left by a Mother’s loss when you are a young child resonated. No matter what has happened to myself, my Love Eileen, my children, siblings, father and step-mother, nothing has been able to “make it right”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a much happier man now than ever and very appreciative but the personality and character compensation has been a lifelong constant. I was extremely lucky to have both of my grandmothers into my 40’s and they did make a huge difference. Even with that I still wonder.

  7. Adele Ryan McDowell January 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    Thanks, LouLou! Glad you liked it.

  8. LouLou January 17, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    Advanced course of #Soul Development. So true. Thank You for sharing!

  9. Adele Ryan McDowell January 17, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Thanks, Meredith! It is, indeed, a very hard road for so many. But you would know that being a mom to many. xx

  10. Adele Ryan McDowell January 17, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    Oh, Na’ama, you melt me — such high praise. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing in assorted forms. I am honored and delighted. I have to admit it’s one of my favorite pieces of work. Much love, Adele

  11. Na'ama January 17, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Dearest Adele,
    What a loving, deepening, truth-bearing post! It applies to so many, in so many ways. Thank you for writing it, thank you for sharing it and making it available for more sharing–as I will be doing, and I am sure many others would, too. Much love your way, Na’ama

  12. meredith January 17, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    This is beautiful and it is brilliant. Thanks Adele for writing this. I’ve often thought we can go without a father, but if you don’t have a mom? It’s a hard road.

    love — meredith

  13. Adele Ryan McDowell January 17, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    Thanks so much, Lin. I’m glad it resonated. Much love to you. xx

  14. Lin Nesheim January 17, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

    As you know, I have been motherless for 45 years, I fall into the control freak divide. Thank you for explaining so much. This is a brilliant blog!

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