Mother’s Day is the one day every year that we are all expected to take a few moments to appreciate the fine women who keep this world turning. Besides patting myself on the back, I’m one of the lucky mamas who can thank my own mother - whose positive attributes are too many to attempt listing. Have the rest of you noticed that once you have your own children, you learn to treasure your mother’s new role as the mama’s mother?

My mother morphed from being an exceptional mother into an exceptional grandmother of eleven. In my case, I scored the mom trifecta – she lives locally, has retired from the working world, and is genuinely invested in the lives of her grandchildren. Don’t get me wrong, she has a life of her own but these 11 little people take up some prime real estate in her heart. As the saying goes, your grandchildren are your reward for not killing your own children. And my mom enjoys this role to its fullest.

As I’ve met more and more mamas in my life, as a mom entrepreneur, mama blogger, mama of many, etc, I have also become increasingly fascinated by my peers who are raising their children without the support of their own mothers. One question always nags me: how do these motherless mamas do it?

There are three kinds of motherless mamas that I encountered when I posed the question:

1) Those whose mothers are geographically far away. I can relate to this one. I had my first three children halfway around the world and can distinctly remember what it was like to have three children under the age of three, while going through an autism diagnosis with the eldest. These are not remembered as my best days and certainly having my mom around would have helped. But, I did have her with me emotionally by way of phone calls every day discussing my son’s development and diagnosis. With this support, I didn’t actually feel isolated from her.
2) Those whose mothers are emotionally unavailable. I hear about this one occasionally – the mama whose own mother didn’t do a good job of getting it right. The result is a new mama trying to make her way through the journey of motherhood without having had a role model or given any amount of motherly support. Some women described having emotionally uninvolved or distant mothers more difficult than if their mothers were not actually alive. Complete absence would be easier than disinterest.
3) Those whose mothers who have passed away without ever having met their grandchildren. Speaking to mamas in this situation was the closest thing to emotional torture imaginable.

For those whose mothers have passed away, there are some very practical reasons to miss having their own moms around. Grandmothers are generally competent, helpful and can be implicitly trusted. There is no greater feeling than dropping children off at Grandma’s house and knowing you don’t have to give them a second thought – they are with the one person that you trust has a vested interest and love for them. And who else can you share endless amounts of boring information about your children with, if not your own mother? Regardless of how trivial the details, grandmothers listen intently. They savour the kind of details that are so mundane it would be too embarrassing to share them with even your best friend.

I also heard stories of some of the less obvious reasons motherless mamas can feel alone in their own mothering.

It had never occurred to me that their own baby and childhood histories seem to be lost or forgotten with the death of their mothers. There is no one around to say “your baby looks just like you at that age” or “she crawls in that funny way you did”. Sure, Grandpa may still be around but how much does he remember of your infancy? Those were the days when moms took full responsibility and dads didn’t have much time for babies. And so, details and history can be lost forever.

Some mamas reported that their widowed fathers were in so much pain over the loss of their wives that speaking her name was too painful. Her name also became taboo sometimes if dad re-married and new wife was uncomfortable speaking of the past. But where does this leave the motherless mama? She is left without a present day connection to her mother and is muted to ask questions.

It seems there are a lot of parents who are unjustly ripped off by the early death of a would-be-grandmother. I can only imagine what it would be like to be at the park or zoo and to witness active grandparents beaming as they enjoy the day with their grandchildren. Undoubtedly, one would look sadly at her own children, disappointed that they are deprived of what is an obviously special relationship. And what about those times when a new mother wants to turn to an elder for some parenting advice? Not having your mother to call upon with those everyday questions makes the life of a mama even more challenging.

This Mother’s Day I am going to spend less time thinking about the praise I should be getting for the job I do. Instead, I’m going to be especially thankful for my mother and I’m going to quietly celebrate the work of the motherless mamas out there. I truly do not know how you do it.


*Julie Cole is a co-founder of Mabel’s Labels Inc. (www.mabel.ca) and the proud mother of six.