My mom was my everything, and, even with her being severely ill for 20 years, she was the best mom I could have ever dreamed of and she was my best friend. I’m very scared that I won’t be able to be as good a mother to my daughter. I’m extremely close to my son, but I have no idea how to raise a daughter. Maybe I am overthinking things, but I don’t want to let my little girl down. I want to be a great mom; hell, I’ll settle for being just an OK mom to both my children.
I just really want and need my mom, and although it’s been over 12 years, I feel the pain of her loss more than ever now. I tried talking about it but was told it’s been so long that I need to get over it. I don’t normally feel this way, and I try to think of the happy times. I’m so scared that without my mom I won’t know what to do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I feel like I am going crazy overthinking this but my mom was my rock and I want to give to my daughter what my mom gave to me. Thank you for your time. — My Mother My Self
I remember you! And I remember the beautiful name of your baby you lost at birth and the other details you shared with me. I remember that you felt lost then and like you had let her down, and I told you that you hadn’t—that she was lucky to have you as her mom during her brief time on Earth, and I believe the baby girl you’re carrying now is equally lucky to have you.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a cafe and a woman just walked in with a tiny crying baby girl in a stroller. I looked up and the woman met my gaze, quickly apologized for her baby’s cries, and said she needed some coffee and they’d be gone soon. I told her her I wasn’t bothered at all and that her baby was adorable. “Oh, thanks,” she replied, “She’s four weeks old and I just needed to get out of the house. Everyone says the first few weeks are the hardest.” She looked both exhausted and exhilarated — like how I remember brand new motherhood feeling.
I didn’t tell her that sometimes it gets harder — that as hard as the sleep deprivation and hormone fluctuation is in the beginning and everything feeling totally new and foreign, there will probably be times in the future when her heart will break for her daughter and she’ll long for the days when the biggest challenge was getting her to sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time. What I told her instead is what I tell any new mom who is struggling: “The first six weeks are the hardest, and then it gets a little bit easier, and then after 12 weeks it gets a little easier again, and then every few weeks after that it keeps getting easier and easier.” And that’s all true. And it’s also true that experience breeds confidence and confidence makes experiences like motherhood a little easier. And it’s also true that there will be moments in the future that it won’t be easy — moments that will actually be harder than what she’s experiencing now, but the strength and confidence and bond with her daughter that she’s building now will get her through it, just as the strength and confidence you’ve built as a mother with get you through. In addition, you’ll have your mother’s legacy — the lessons she taught you and the love she shared and continues to give — to guide you through any challenges you face in raising your daughter. It sounds like she provided a wonderful model of motherhood — one you’ve already been following in your 13 years of being a mom.
The truth is, raising a daughter isn’t that different from raising a son. As a mother of both myself, I’ve found that rather than their gender, far bigger indicators of their differing needs are their personality traits and their respective interests, talents, and challenges. It’s a continual learning process — getting to know them, trying to assess and meet their needs. Does this sound familiar? It should. You’ve already been doing this for almost 13 years. And you grew up with a mother who did it with you. You’re going to be just fine.
Here’s the thing: Everything you think you need to raise your daughter you already have, including guidance from your mother through the love and lessons you learned from her. And the stuff you don’t yet know that you need to raise your daughter you’re going to figure out the same way your mother figured out what you needed and the same way you’ve figured out what your son needs and the same way all loving mothers figure out what all their kids need: by trial and error and doing the best they can do. When you need support, you will turn to your partner and your friends and the people you’ve always turned to for support. And when those people can’t give you the right support — like, when someone you care about says it’s been 12 years and you should just get over the death of your mother — you will seek support from someone else who might better understand how you’re feeling and what you need to hear. And you will, hopefully, forgive the people who don’t always have the right thing to say at the right time, including yourself.
There will be times, just as there always have been, that you make mistakes as a mother — when you say or do the wrong thing, when you disappoint, when you let impatience or sheer fatigue get the best of you — and it’s important to cut yourself slack. No mother is without flaws and mistakes — even your own, and yet you loved her fiercely. Fortunately, loving perfectly and doing everything the right way isn’t a prerequisite for a happy and fulfilling relationship. And one day, hopefully many decades in the future, when you pass on, the grief your children will feel, like the grief you rightfully still have over the loss of your own mom, will be a testament to your relationships with them and the perfectly imperfect love that sustained them.
Related: What We Wish We Would Have Known About New Motherhood and “How Do You Find Balance After You Have a Baby?”
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.