Having your own child can stir up a lot of feelings about your own mother. There is a fairly predominant fantasy that you and your mother will bond and feel connected once you yourself have become a mother. For many women this is reality. Their mothers are available, connected to them and their children, and able to provide support.
What happens when women do not grow up with a mother figure (perhaps feeling abandoned from early childhood), have experienced the death of their mother, or have an intrusive, emotionally unavailable, or abusive mother? These women may experience great loss around having children when faced with parenting without their own mother’s support. For these women, childbirth is often a time in which unexpected grief surfaces. It takes many women by surprise. The loss is palpable.
For many expecting mothers, pregnancy and child birth is a time filled with happiness and hope. It is often a time of reflection. One of our primary methods of learning is by the internalization of past experiences. In childhoods where abuse was prevalent, a child’s mother may have been a scary and an unsafe person but the only mother this child knew (the experience of abuse may have been normalized for the child- the mother is an object of both love and fear). There may be fear for new mothers with a history of childhood abuse about becoming a perpetrator of abuse themselves or of overcompensating by doing everything “right.” For women who grew up without a mother, they may not have had opportunities to internalize a mother (what it means to be a mother, how to be a mother). In either case, these new moms reflect back and see no role model for how to mother or have had a negative internalization of their own mother. They have to reinvent the wheel. These new mothers have the task of figuring out how to parent without their mother’s guidance and support. A positive internal representation of their mother may not exist. These mothers may feel lost.
It is important to reflect on your past and present experience with your mother. To heal from past disappointments and loss allows for more possibility for you as a mother. It allows for past cycles to be broken, for less projection of your feelings onto your child, and for fear and anxiety to be less present in your own experience as a mother. As for redefining motherhood, you can explore what unique qualities you bring to parenting. You are not your mother. You may have to reinvent how to be the mother you would like to be and give yourself permission to sometimes stumble along the way. Your lot as mother is not to remain lost or stuck. With insight and patience, you can find your way.