Julie, wife and mom of 5 boys, and Lisa, wife and mom of 2 girls, both lost their own mothers before their children were born. They had this conversation on what Mother’s Day means to them.
L: Like me, you’ve never had your mom around on Mother’s Day when you’ve been a mother. How does that feel, has it changed over the many years you’ve been a mom?
J: Since my mom died when I was 12, I hated Mother’s Day. I tried to avoid it as much as I could every year. Especially those painful teen years when there would be Mother-Daughter brunches that I could not attend. Since I first became a mother, this day has changed completely for me. I allow that day to be about me and my family and less about the pain of living without my own mother. My husband has always been great about encouraging the kids to make it a really special day for me. And because I am still healthy and able to watch my kids grow up longer than my mom had a chance to, I see it as a great privilege to just be here and be their mom. I guess I’m trying to say that I’m making the most of my time here on earth with my kids since I know it could change tomorrow. These days it’s one of my favorites of the year.
J: How do you feel about Mother’s day? Do you have a hard time celebrating it? Do you think of your own mom on that day or do you focus more on being a mother yourself?
L: I was 29 when my mom died of breast cancer at age 57. We were very close. She died 10 days before my first child Anna was born, so the idea of motherhood at that time was overwhelming. Those first Mother’s Days after Anna was born were both lovely and heart-wrenching. On the one hand, Anna saved me. I was full of gratitude for this little person who reminded me that life is beautiful, and it goes on. But I couldn’t help feel deserted when I needed my mom most – during a time of grief and to help me navigate life as a new mom. As the years went by, the grief softened, as did my own thoughts about Mother’s Day. Now I celebrate both myself and my mom by enjoying my kids and by remembering how I was mothered by such a lovely soul. I also celebrate my amazing maternal line — Grandma Anna, Grandma Ella, my mom, me, my girls … How blessed I am to be in that lineage! On Mother’s Day I prefer to be quiet and contemplative, planting flowers, taking a family bike ride, relaxing. Sometimes I just want to be alone, sans kids! Although this year, we’ll attend Listen to Your Mother as a family. I know that will be powerful.
L: What memories of your own mom come up for you on Mother’s Day, or on any day you’re thinking about mothering?
J: Because I spent many years trying to forget it was Mother’s Day as a coping mechanism I have to admit I don’t often think of my own mother on Mother’s Day. Maybe also, because I choose to live more in the present than in the past. But I will say, just like anyone else who is a parent, I often think about “what Mom would do,” I do things differently or exactly the same as my mom did when she was healthy. Because many of my most recent memories of her are of her illness I have to make more of an effort to focus on the memories I want to remember, ones of her smiling, having fun with all of us, the cookies she baked for us and her laugh. I loved to hear her laugh.
J: Do you parent like your mom did? Do you carry on some of the same traditions or philosophies your mom had?
L: I can’t help but parent like my own mother, maybe even more so since I lost her. When she died, I did all I could to keep her memory alive, including adopt her parenting style. My mom, her name was Sue, could be stern, but for the most part she listened and mirrored my feelings. She let me make my own decisions and mistakes, and her most often-used phrase to me as I became an adolescent was, “Use good judgment.” She let me figure things out by myself while still being there to ground and love me. What a great lesson! I’ve adopted that hands-off yet supportive style. And she was so funny. I’m told I have a great sense of humor! But my mom was very quiet. I have my dad’s temper and impatience balanced with my mom’s calming presence. My mom was also, at times, unsure of herself. I feel that same lack of confidence as a mom like, “What the heck am I doing?!” But I’m guessing all parents feel that way, and her showing me her insecurity was actually a gift, like saying, “Hey, I’m human. It’s okay to make mistakes.”
L: How does it feel to be a mom without your own mom to be there for you, give advice and support you? Do you think you’d be a different kind of mother if she were still here?
J: I think because I became so independent without a mom, asking for help, support or advice was very hard for me at first when I became a mom. I had done everything on my own for 10 years before I had kids, why would I ask for help? But what has been amazing for me is developing a community around me that gives me the support and love and advice that I need. I have so many dear, close mom friends that I can turn to. Some are further in the parenting journey than I am and others are in the same place as me. I depend on their wisdom, their own experiences and most importantly that they accept and love me for who I am in my own flawed way. Any of them are there for me if I need help. I KNOW I would be a different mom if she were still here. I appreciate my kids and my health so much more because I know how that can change. I enjoy packing their lunches, going on field trips and being there for my kids because there was no one who was there for me in those times. Because I didn’t have a mom I can parent in a way that honors her and also gives me a chance to get a do-over. Doing the things with my kids that I didn’t get to have for my own childhood is very special to me. If my mom were still here, I know I would have taken a lot of this for granted. We are shaped by our experiences, especially painful ones. I am grateful that the experience of great loss made me a more loving, compassionate and grateful human being. I am fully aware that for some, there can be an opposite effect.
J: Do you think you are a different kind of mom (or human being) because you lost your mom before you got to really be a mom yourself?
L: Losing a parent at any age is devastating. I also lost my dad 6 years ago. It shapes you in ways you don’t even understand. It has fortified me and made me independent and more in tune with my spirit and the big picture, and that’s certainly affected my parenting. I am probably a little bit more in touch with sorrow, but frankly that is not bad. It gives me access to a fuller range of emotions and fuller life experience. And I can empathize with people going through difficult times. I’ve found a deep compassion for myself and others that I may not have had, had I not suffered such immense losses. I think the other big difference is how close I am to my sister, who’s also a mom of 2. We have a crazy tight bond. It’s a real gift to be a sister and have a sister like Heather. We walk hand-in-hand on our parenting journeys, supporting each other. I don’t know if we would have been this close if we had both parents here today.
L: Do you remember celebrating mother’s day with your mom? Was it a special day? What did you guys do? And how do you currently celebrate?
J: I remember that it was more about honoring our grandmas, so she always seemed to share the day with her mother and mother-in-law. It was more of honoring all mothers in the family instead of just her. It was not so much of an immediate family event as it was our extended family as a whole. Because she was sick for a number of years, the last few with her were very sad, as I know she was thinking it may be her last. These days my husband and the kids make me breakfast in bed, where I open up their homemade gifts (yes even my teens go this route sometimes). We go to church as a family, then out to brunch. The afternoon is often spent doing something outside. I don’t care what we do, as long as we spend time together as a family.
J: What have you missed most of not having your mom as you have walked through your own parenting journey?
L: I miss a lot! I used to hear friends talking about their mothers – going on vacation with them, having them watch or teach or mentor their children – and I’d get jealous. The envy has subsided, but I still feel a big hole in my life. At first, I selfishly missed the help I could have had from my mom when my kids were young. Now it hits me most when I think about what my children are missing , not having their Grandma Sue, who would have been a wonderful influence and loving grandparent. When my mom was very sick, she’d quietly talk about how she was going to buy a pony and a cart for her “Anna Sue” (my mom knew I was pregnant). She would have shared so much of her beautiful self with my children. She was a teacher for 30 years. She loved kids. She loved reading, being outdoors, gardening, laughing … my kids would have been so enriched by her. On my own parenting journey, I miss her advice. Still, I can channel her voice and usually it’s saying, “Lisa, you got this. Follow your instincts.” I am so lucky to have my own personal cheerleader in my mind, telling me I am worthy, capable and wonderful.