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The Unmothered Mother

by Karin Mackay Feb 2008

“Any woman who does not have their mothers support during the crucial transitional stage of becoming a mother is bound to feel vulnerable, insecure and have a sensation of missing out on something whether it be real or imagined. They do not have the benefit of experiencing first hand the ancient wisdom that is surreptitiously stored in their mother’s actions, verbalizations or body language that has been passed down from thousands of generations before.

If the link to the birth mother is broken, a woman can feel a profound sense of loss, loneliness and isolation particularly when they experience any major life events such as marriage, the birth of their first child, their first child stating school or any other time when sharing joy and pain intimately is needed. Motherless daughters just don’t have that someone who supposedly loves them unconditionally that they can lean on. Even if the daughter has a surrogate mother who loves them dearly it is not the same as the bond between blood mother and daughter. The new mother will find her way but this is often at great personal cost as she may also be left with feelings of not being good enough, low self esteem, being over motherly and feeling overwhelmed when she has no back up support that many other mothers may take for granted.
One characteristic is that unmothered mothers are often very independent and have difficulty asking for help as help has possibly never been there for them in any reliable way. They may display outward strength but you can bet that inside they are very soft and vulnerable

The unmothered mother cannot intimately watch and know from one who has “done it before” even if she would have wanted to birth and mother very differently “her way” and change it all anyway. She still doesn’t have that knowing which is not spoken of or taught or read about in books but is absorbed through watching, feeling and sensing. She feels she has missed out on crucial information, even if she hasn’t, and will attempt to make up for it by wishing to be the perfect mother………., all loving, kind, caring, the cleanest, the best cook, and produce children that prove that she is doing all the right things or by reading everything she can get her hands on about “how to mother” and so on and so forth…….. She may even seek out other mothers, grandmothers, aunts of blood or in name only, to help her with her task. And she will find answers, and she will be able to be the almost perfect mother for a while but there will be a gap, a missing piece to the puzzle, a hole in her heart. She may feel “if a mother can’t love me then who can?”

She will want to be the perfect mother so she does not repeat the same mistakes with her own children, hoping desperately to break the cycle but there is an innate danger to her personal wellbeing because she carries the burden of the generation before her and the one that is to follow. She trying to be the bridge that closes the gap and creates connections and this may prove to be an arduous journey. In her perfect mother quest she is doomed to fail as she can never live up to her own expectations.

One day she may wake up and realize that to make up for her own lack of mothering she is mothering everyone else – her husband, her friends, her children and even acquaintances but she is not mothering herself. She has tried to gain love through mothering but cannot find it until she learns to mother herself. This can be an extremely painful realization because no matter which way she looks whether it is up the line to her elders or down the line to her children and grandchildren she has been the mother. This may be especially so if her mother was there physically but unable to be there emotionally, a double blow really because she is playing the mother but is really the daughter and may have had this relationship with her mother from a very young age.

The unmothered mother needs to accept that there is no such thing as the perfect mother, that she is loveable and worthwhile and deserves to be mothered herself, to be respected. She needs to find a way to heal the pain and the grief so that she can find within herself the nurturance to love herself, give time to herself and follow her own passions. She can do this by seeking other understanding women to share her story with respectfully, who will listen to and acknowledge her challenges without judgment. She needs to find another way to access her stored memory of the grandmother and mother memory through other mothers or older women to learn that they are probably not doing such a bad job of mothering their children after all and to just relax a little.
She needs to learn to give herself time to grieve every so often the loss of never having a mother, for the pain will never go away completely; but she also needs to learn that there is no need to carry your pain like a flag that identifies you. It may be time to move on from that so you can experience life more fully wholly and to allow yourself guiltless pleasure in filling your own cup to the brim with the amazing love and acceptance that you have been giving to others but now need to give to yourself.

And finally to appreciate your women friends that truly accept you as you really are as they are precious indeed.”

Toni Morrison, in an interview [with Bill Moyers in 1989]:

There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. . . . Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. . . . Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me -– whatever that was -– but somebody actually needed me to be that. . . . If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.”


othersThere is a core aspect of a woman’s psyche called the Mother Complex. This complex includes the Ambivilent Mother, Collapsed Mother, and the Unmothered Mother.  They represent the internalized versions of our own mother and the cultural ideas of motherhood.  We each have an unbroken chain of what it means to be a mother/woman within us. Part of our process as women is to identify, embrace, and claim our own individual female nature.