Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothering When You Don't Have a Mom

It's Mother's Day.

Four sisters I knew from college lost their mother suddenly a year ago. It still utterly breaks my heart and yet lifts my soul to watch their faith in Jesus through this journey of living with pain as they and I ache, waiting for that better day when they will see her again. One of those sisters is a mom to three kids who are now without their beautiful grandmother who adored them and poured her heart into them. And all the other grandchildren to come will never know her in person - though her legacy, stories and heart will be passed on to them. I can’t help but think ahead to the day the other three sisters may become mommas and be without a mom to call, let alone all the other life experiences they are now facing without her. It wasn’t meant to be this way.

It’s supposed to be like the cute photo of freshly manicured toes on my facebook feed today. A sweet soon-to-be mom getting a pedicure with her own mom a few days before her baby arrives. Mom is there to be mom to the soon-to-be mom and to help for those first crazy days with that new, sweet little baby. That is beautiful and just so right. And yet, to see it as it is supposed to be, when it is far from what I’ve experienced, brings my heart’s void poignantly to the surface. Tears came to my eyes - a mix of joy at the goodness in that scene and yet also deep sorrow for the void in my own mothering experience.

Mothering without a mom is hard. 

There's more than one way to lose your mom. Beyond physical death, there can be loss and brokenness in emotional, mental, or relational ways, the end result of which is the loss of a loving mother figure in your life. I lost my own mom when I was about thirteen years old. It's a long and complicated story that would take more time and space to tell properly than I have here, but suffice it to say that my mom was not at all able to be a mother to me from that time on. 

We were just at that glorious stage where our relationship was taking a delightful turn towards friendship when I lost her. All my teenage years and since have been lived without a mother figure in my life. I left home at sixteen, had a job, and paid rent. I knew the value of a dollar, having to buy essentials like deodorant and toothpaste while I wished I could be like my friends, spending my money on whatever I wanted to. I went to college, met an amazing man and got engaged. Planning my wedding was bittersweet. It was the best thing I ever did to marry my husband; but if I’m honest, the whole process of the wedding was deeply painful. I remember going to my dorm room to cry as I’d see other engaged girls get to go wedding dress shopping with their mom. They didn’t bear life alone and had mom there to show them the way, give advice, and delight with them in their joy. I just felt overwhelmed with all the details and alone. I always had to try to figure life out on my own, which most of the time felt like I didn’t have anything figured out at all. I remember penning this poem during that time:

Fly, caterpillar, fly!
It’s not your time, but it must be
Not because your chrysalis has formed you,
But that it has been broken.
Face the wind with your weak wings
And learn to make it in this world.
I feel my deformities every day
And it aches in every crooked joint.
These scars on my wings
Feel more like gushing wounds in my heart.
And they all soar and are beautiful
While I try to take flight here below
Wondering if I’ll ever see the heights they behold.

Now that I am a mother myself, the aching for my own mom has not lessened, but perhaps increased in some ways. I feel the void of a grandmother figure in my children’s lives. My sweet mother-in-law passed away from a long battle with cancer and went home to be with Jesus when our first was just ten months old. I treasure the photos and videos we have of her with him. I feel her loss regularly - for me and for my kids who don’t understand yet what they’re missing.  

And yet! In Christ, there is always a beautiful side to a painful tale for “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). There is a depth of riches I have gained through the pain of not having a mother that in the end I wouldn’t trade back if I was given the chance. It was through losing her that I sought God earnestly for the first time, and learned in my heart what I’d known in my head for so many years - my desperate need of a perfect Saviour and a loving Father. 

Even to this day, living without her draws me to depend upon my Lord daily and find Him enough in a way I perhaps wouldn’t if I had her here. And while there is much of my mom I do not know or remember any more, one thing I do know - the greatest thing she wanted was for her children to know Jesus. There is no way I could know Him as deeply as I’ve experienced if it had not been through this road, even though it’s felt too much to bear at times. Also, when you lose someone that pivotal in your life it expands your heart of compassion for others who experience loss - to just be with them in their grief (and what a gift that can be in the midst of empty platitudes). 

My mom wasn’t there when my son or daughter came into this world. I’ve never had her to take a night shift when they woke up crying or give me an afternoon off to catch a nap or just do something for me. She can’t give my husband and I date nights. And I can’t call her when my kids are bickering endlessly and I feel about to lose my mind; wondering if I’m doing this mommying thing right at all. 

But my Father is there. He is with me. In my weakest moments sometimes I’m tempted to say it’s not enough - and even then He’s usually so gracious in sending someone or something to remind me He loves me, He understands, He hurts with me, and He strengthens me with the truth that His grace has been and will every day continue to be sufficient. There is a day coming when every void in my heart will be filled and I will see myself and my own momma healed and whole.

So for any other mommas out there today feeling even more acutely the emptiness in your heart today where your own mom should be, I'm thinking of and praying for you. It's hard, and it's okay to feel that. And for those mommas who are blessed with a loving mom in your life, rejoice, enjoy, and treasure that precious blessing! My hope and prayer is to be that for my kids as many days as I am given.


  1. Beautiful. I don't want to take what I have for granted! Big hugs xx
    P.S. As far as I'm concerned you are doing an amazing job mommying and you are a great inspiration for me :)

  2. What an amazing story. I feel your loss having lost my dad at 5 years old. I remember feeling the pain of his absence as I walked down the aisle at my wedding. You are doing a great job of mothering, you have a beautiful family and it is such a pleasure watching them grow and flourish!

    1. Aw. Thanks Malaika! My heart goes out to you. I didn't know you lost your dad. Thank you for your sweet and encouraging words. I'm glad our little ones are growing up alongside each other!