When Hope Edelman, author of the New York Times bestseller Motherless Daughters, became a parent, she found herself revisiting the loss of her mother in ways she had never anticipated. Now the mother of two young girls, Edelman set out to learn how the loss of a mother to death or abandonment can affect the ways women raise their own children.
In Motherless Mothers, Edelman uses her own story as a prism to reveal the unique anxieties and desires that these women experience as they raise their children without the help of a living maternal guide. In an impeccably researched, luminously written book enriched by the voices of the mothers themselves—and filled with practical insight and advice from experienced professionals—she examines their parenting choices, their triumphs, and their fears, and offers motherless mothers the guidance and support they want and need.
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About the Author
Hope Edelman has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Motherless Daughters and its companion volume, Letters from Motherless Daughters. She lives in Topanga Canyon, California, with her husband and their two daughters.
Read an Excerpt
Motherless MothersHow Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become
By Hope Edelman
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Hope Edelman
All right reserved.
Motherhood and Mourning
The Power to Heal
It's 7:40 A.M., and the house is cranked up to full volume. We've got twenty minutes till Maya and Uzi have to leave for the bus stop, then another half hour before I drive Eden down to preschool. Between now and then, I've got a snack bag and a lunchbox to prepare, a backpack to fill, breakfast dishes to rinse, two kids and one adult to dress, and two heads of hair to brush. Three, if you include mine, but sometimes that one gets skipped.
"Mom!" Maya shouts from upstairs. "Where are my pink high-tops?"
"In the basket by the front door! Bring a hair clip when you come down!"
Uzi walks down the stairs, rubbing his freshly shaved chin. He stops in front of Eden's chair and kisses her on the top of her head.
"Twenty minutes," I tell him.
"You need help with that?" He nods toward the array of bread and turkey breast slices and condiments spread across the kitchen counter. I consider the offer. If he makes Eden's lunch, I can brew a cup of tea for myself. Otherwise, I won't bother. But I'm the one who knows exactly how to cut the crust off Eden's bread, and how many slices of turkey touse. Those are the details mothers know. From first through eleventh grade, my mother made my sandwich every morning. That's what mothers do.
"I'll do it," I say.
"Have you seen my wallet?" Uzi asks.
"It's probably still in your pants from yesterday."
Maya catapults into the kitchen, pink high-top sneakers on her feet. "Mom!" she says. "Where's my hair clip with the gold bow on it?"
"On the counter in your bathroom, where you left it last night."
Homework. Snack bag. Backpack. The gold barrette, a zip-up sweatshirt, a good-bye kiss for Uzi and they're out the door. I lift Eden out of her chair and shift her to my right hip.
"Made it," I say.
"Made it," she says.
"Whew," I say.
"Whoo," she says.
When I went to school in a New York suburb, the bus picked me up at 8:05 A.M. Every morning, when I walked out the door at 8:04, I stopped on the front step and stuck my head back inside for a final good-bye. It was a little ritual I had.
"Mom!" I'd shout. "Good-bye!"
"Have a good day!" she'd call back from inside.
If she told me to have a good day, I had a good day. If she didn't, my day turned out bad. I'm still not quite sure how that worked, but it was true.
Now I'm the mother left in the sudden vacuum of silence when a child leaves for school. How can that be, when I'm still the daughter stuck in the good-bye?
Eden and I stand quietly in the living room and listen to the soft ticking of the kitchen clock. It's not over yet.
We hear the explosion of noise before we see her. The front door bursts open and Maya hurls herself into the room, a four-foot cyclone of brown curls and pink sneakers and Helly Kitty backpack.
"Mom!" she gasps, making an urgent beeline for us. "I forgot hug and kiss."
I lean down so she can grab my neck. We kiss on the mouth, and she plants one on Eden's forehead. "Bye," she says, hurrying back out the door.
"Have a great day!" I call after her.
"Bye, Maya!" Eden shouts.
"I will!" Maya yells from the front path.
Uzi opens the car's back door for her and I watch them drive off between the palm trees that line our driveway. It's more than two thousand feet down to the bus stop on Pacific Coast Highway, a fifteen-minute drive. When I was a kid, the bus stopped right in front of our house. And palm trees! To get to the nearest palm tree, we had to take a three-hour flight.
Eden and I wave through the window as Uzi's car winds down the hill and out of sight. Every morning it's the same routine. And every morning it ends with the same sweet, odd feeling of wonder, how in this house in the Santa Monica mountains, this place of wildfires and hot tubs and no snow, my California daughters manage to bring the best parts of my mother right back to me.
What is it about motherhood that's so healing for a motherless daughter, mending something inside her in a place deeper than scalpels or medication or therapy can reach? Many of the women interviewed for this book spoke of motherhood as an experience that restored their equilibrium, their self-esteem, or their faith. "Having my kids is like discovering the missing link," explains thirty-five-year-old Sharon, a mother of two who was eleven when her own mother died. "There's a completeness in my life that wasn't there before."
"The first time my son put his hand in my hand when we were walking," remembers thirty-eight-year-old Corinne, who lost both parents by age eleven, "and the first time he ran to me and threw his arms around my neck, showing that he preferred me over anyone else, for him to love me back so uninhibitedly and unconditionally, filled some part of me that I didn't expect would ever be filled again."
It paints a rosy view of motherhood, but there's more than just a simple idealization going on herealthough God knows our culture tacks enough of that onto mothers these days. For these daughters, motherhood is the final repair in their process of mourning and recovery from early mother loss. What was broken in their pasts is once again made whole; what was subtracted has been added back again.
When motherhood interfaces with the long-term mourning process, the result is exponential. Becoming a mother can give a motherless daughter access to a more enhanced, more insightful, deeper, richer, and, in some cases, ultimate phase of mourning for her mother, one that may initially be painful but eventually leads her to a more mature and peaceful acceptance of both her loss and herself.
Excerpted from Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman Copyright ©2006 by Hope Edelman. Excerpted by permission.
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“A wonderful new book...it will help you and make you cry.”
Reading Group Guide
When Hope Edelman finished writing Motherless Daughters, she thought she had said all she could about the long-term effects of early mother loss. Published in 1994, the book touched a nerve in women across the country and went on to become an enduring New York Times bestseller. Edelman, who was seventeen when her own mother died, told the collective story of mother loss with such candor, empathy, and informed wisdom that she quickly became a widely recognized expert on the topic.
But when she became a parent, she found herself revisiting her loss in ways she had never anticipated. Now the mother of two young girls, Edelman set out to learn how the loss of a mother to death or abandonment can affect the ways women raise their own children. From her exhaustive investigation, including a survey of more than one thousand women, comes Motherless Mothers, the enlightening and inspiring next step in the motherless journey.
Questions for Discussion
Question: 1. Why is pregnancy an especially overwhelming experience for motherless mothers, and how does the prospect of a new mother-child relationship in their lives affect many of these women?
2. How does the experience of having lost a mother impact the emotions of first-time mothers, and how does it tend to influence their treatment of their newborns?
3. How does the author's decision to use examples from her life—including facts about the loss of her mother and details about her relationship with her two young daughters and her husband—to examine the many parenting challenges faced by motherless mothers impact your reading experience?
4. Why are motherless mothers especially vulnerable to feelings of guilt and anxiety when issues involving separation from their children arise in their everyday lives, and how does the author suggest they might deal productively with these feelings ?
5. Why do motherless mothers tend to be overprotective of their children, and how does this overly protective attitude connect to their own desire to protect themselves from future loss?
6. What do studies reveal about the importance of maternal grandmothers, and how significant is this absence for the children of motherless mothers?
7. How can anxiety about death be good for one's psychological health, according to the author, and how does this anxiety manifest itself in motherless mothers?
8. How does the early loss of a parent help motherless mothers to emotionally identify with their children?
9. Why might the conflict, rebellion, and rejection so typical in relationships with adolescent children be especially difficult and problematic for motherless mothers?
10. How does the survey that the author includes in the index of the book reveal a clear picture of the motherless mothers interviewed for this book? Were there any other questions you would have liked seen added to the survey? Which ones?