This is Postpartum: Parenting Without Your Parents

A river of emotions flows through a home when a new baby arrives. The highs and lows sweep through the house as you navigate the shift in life, love and relationships. Many women turn to their mothers or men to their fathers at this time and some don’t have the option at all. The loss of a parent undoubtably impacts every aspect of your life, including your postpartum and parenthood. So once again, I turned to my reliable mom tribe for wisdom into the unseen, under-acknowledged world of parenting without your parents.

Parenting without your mother or father can bring a wide range of emotions. Previously dormant grief, anger, jealousy, and fear re-emerge. Some depict the experience as grieving their parent all over again with the loss raw and powerful once more. The need for your parent reignited and burning strong.

“In my head my mom had all the answers, whether true or not.” A friend describes her transition into motherhood without her mom beside her as she recalls a particularly difficult night with her newborn. “She’d be able to fix it all. She’d tell me I was doing a good job.”

Grieving can take many different forms. Grieving the loss of your own maternal support, connection, a grandparent for your children. It does eventually become a new normal, with death there is no going back, only forward and as you move forward it may become less about what you’re missing and more about what your parent and children are missing.

“When they do certain things that I know my mom would love, it stings. When they talk about how much they love her, it stings… My children will never truly experience a grandmother’s love in that way.”

Jealousy and anger rearing their faces when witnessing others with their families. One describes how she had to stop attending baby and me classes as several attendees brought their mothers and it was too difficult. It can be tough hearing stories or seeing grandparents taking the kids for a break or helping out postpartum, when it’s not something you will get to experience. Hearing stories of parents who have no interest in being apart of grandkids lives can be equally triggering. Don’t they realize how lucky they are to be alive for this?

You may find you have a fear of an early death or existential crisis, this can range from lasting weeks to a very dominant feeling in everyday life. Many mention that they have a strong desire to make sure their children always know how loved they are and write letters “just in case”.

There will be well-intentioned, but futile comments.

“I wish your mom was here for this.” No shit, no one wishes that more than me.

“Your mom would have loved them.” Not helpful, I want her here to love them.

“Your mom would have spoiled them.” Thanks for the reminder than she can’t.

If you’re walking along someone experiencing parenthood without a parent it’s not about trying to relieve the grief and loss. A simple, “I’m so sorry they’re gone. What can I do, how can I help?” can go a long way. You can help with any traditions that help keep their memory alive. More than anything, allow the process to happen. Hold space for the grief, anger, jealousy, fear and whatever else may arise.  

It’s important to acknowledge that both mothers and fathers experience and feel the loss in parenthood. Just as when the grief first arrived, reliving grief will be processed differently by each person. Mothers may notice more with the birth of their daughters, or fathers more with the birth of their sons, or maybe the sex doesn’t change anything at all for you. There is no guide and how you process is valid in whatever form it comes in. It’s an experience that shapes your parenthood, Motherless Mothers is a recommended book for those navigating motherhood without their mothers.

Many suggest that simply knowing that it was going to be a powerful experience may have helped them prepare a little more. To know this is a very real loss and grief, that it’s okay and you’ll be okay once again.

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