Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Motherless Mothers: Maternally Bereaved Women in Their Everyday Roles as Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Motherless Mothers: Maternally Bereaved Women in Their Everyday Roles as Mothers

Article excerpt

Abstract: Motherless mothers are women who lose their mothers to death prior to having their children, and therefore raise their children without the maternal support and guidance afforded to many women whose mothers are still alive (Edelman, 2006). A qualitative research design was used to gain an in-depth understanding of the everyday experiences faced by motherless mothers. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 10 motherless mothers. Four major themes emerged including grief, support, absence of knowledge, and changes to self following loss. Results provide insight into the ongoing influence a mother's death can have on a daughter's life and draw distinction to specific issues faced by motherless mothers in their everyday mother roles. Results of this research also have implications for clinicians and others working with maternally bereaved women who are entering or experiencing the mother role.

Keywords: bereavement, grief, mothering, motherless mothers, mother loss

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The transition to motherhood is a major event in a woman's development (Mercer, 2004), with childrearing being viewed as one of the most fulfilling yet challenging responsibilities of adult life. The early days of parenting can be stressful (Hogg & Worth, 2009) and overwhelming, and research has highlighted the importance of an external source of support in helping buffer the demands of childrearing (Nystrom & Ohrling, 2004). The emotional and practical support provided by grandparents, in particular the maternal grandmother, has been shown to be particularly beneficial to mothers of young children (Mitchell &C Green, 2002). For example, Cronin (2003) found maternal grandmothers play pivotal roles as sources of informal childcare, and in helping daughters foster positive maternal identities through emotional support, advice and guidance. Further, Cronin also found maternal grandmother support to be the only source of support that is consistent and ongoing, with support from other sources (such as friends) tending to be periodic and diminishing over time. Although maternal grandmothers can be an important source of both practical and emotional support for daughters during their childrearing years, not all women have the support of their mothers when they have their children. The absence of maternal grandmother support can occur for a number of reasons (for example geographical distance, or illness) however for some women, their mothers pass away prior to them entering motherhood--which raises the issue of how women who lose their mothers to death prior to having their children experience the mother role.

The death of a mother is often considered a defining moment in a daughter's life as, from the point of the mother's death, the daughter loses her primary guide, source of identification, and role model for many issues associated with being female (Chodorow, 1978; Edelman, 1994; Pill & Zabin, 1997). Traditionally, bereavement over the loss of a loved one has been viewed as a finite process involving a series of emotional 'stages' with the belief being grief becomes resolved once all the stages have been completed (Kubler-Ross, 1969). Researchers have since challenged this view, suggesting bereavement is more of an ongoing cyclical process that is revisited and accommodated by the mourner as they develop and mature through life (Silverman, 2000). Rando (1993) suggests that as the bereaved find ways to continue their lives without their loved one, it is also common for resurgences of acute grief to occur. Termed 'sudden temporary upsurgences of grief, or STUG reactions' (p. 64), these brief periods of renewed grief are typically triggered by precipitants such as previously shared experiences, anniversaries, developmental milestones and family occasions. For a daughter who has lost her mother to death, the process of mourning is likely to be reactivated as she develops and matures through life (Pill & Zabin, 1997). …

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