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Missing Mom - Contributor, Jennifer L. Peterson

young girl looking longingly out a window

On this Mother’s Day, Linda and I wanted to acknowledge that not everyone experiences the 

stereotypical image of a mother-daughter relationship–close, warm, sharing, loving. It certainly is an ideal relationship.

Everybody has a mother, at least in the biological sense. We all have a person that we came through. And yet, for many, that ongoing relationship with mother was missing for some reason. Adoption. Death. Emotional unavailability. 

That loss can bring feelings that are mixed, complicated, overwhelming, deep, even ambivalent. If you have a missing mom, know you’re not alone. 

Missing a Mom Through Adoption

In many respects, adoption is the addition of a mother. The adoptive mother is, ideally, one who fully steps into the role of mother with all the associated elements of nurturing, compassion, guiding. But for the adoptee, there can be a sense of “Why?” That is a pain that can linger even when there is a wonderfully loving mother supporting the child. 

I asked my friend, Jennifer, if she would share her experience.  Here’s her story in her words…The loss of my birth mother by my adoption was, for me, a traumatic but pre-verbal event. I mourned her for years even though I didn’t come to understand this grief or its cause until I was well into my 20s. Depression became my norm, triggered by another seemingly unremarkable, but personally significant, loss as a 13 year old. I barely remember my teenage and early college years; I was just trying so hard to hold it together day by day. 

Now, as an almost 51-year-old, I’m in a healthy and stable place. The depression is still real but managed with medication. A late in life diagnosis of ADHD and resulting medication have also helped immensely. I have done years of difficult work in therapy. Grief is also still real, and I feel it deeply at times, but it doesn’t control my life. I no longer feel like I’m trapped in a room, looking at a closed door and waiting for her open it and come back to me. I got up and left that room some years ago, and slammed the door out of which I exited. 

At this point in my life I no longer mourn my birth mother. She doesn’t want anything to do with me, and that no longer devastates me on the regular. 

I will probably always still feel the impacts of that early trauma and the resulting grief, but as far as my birth mother as the object of that grief, I’ve moved on to a place where this is her loss and not mine.


While being adopted does have an impact on life, it doesn’t have to define you.  Joy is possible.  Jennifer’s story illustrates that beautifully.  

Missing Mom through Death

I have another friend who lost her mom to cancer when she was young.  She often found herself at a loss of who to turn to for advice.  It became even more intense when her children were born.  Mom was missed when other mom’s were present for special school activities.  Other children made pictures for their mom.  Who would get hers?

One idea of a special box of “Things I want to share with Mom” could be created and added to over a lifetime.  Of course, nothing can take the place of the arms of love. 

Linda’s father lost his mother to death when he was 5 years old.  He was often told that he looked like his mother, and for a child, it was confusing.  He could neither confirm nor deny because he didn’t have a mental picture of her.  

This mother’s day if you are missing your mom, please know that we are sending love. 

Missing Mom through Emotional Unavailability

Linda referred to this as Schrodinger's mom, both there and not there at the same time.

Unfortunately, for far too many, growing up was fraught with angst and drama. It didn’t end when they became adults. However, as adults, the child now has more choices. They can choose to set boundaries, cut off communication, try to mend the relationship to become something more of what they crave. 

There can be internal conflict when you have not so fond memories of your childhood, yet now, when you have your own child, you want to create a world for them that is closer to the ideal. It might include a grandmother, or not. 

One coping mechanism is to find a mother-figure to have in their life. Sometimes this is a relative - an aunt, grandmother, sibling, or a coworker, friend, neighbor. It can be anyone who is willing to spend time with you, speak with you in a compassionate manner, and fill that nurturing role.  

For many, during all the Mother’s Day hype, this feeling of a missing mom is particularly poignant, as there’s a feeling that others won’t understand.  It’s not comfortable to share the dark experiences that are yours.  The bubbly joy around you doesn’t connect.  We understand.  And we send love to you as well.  

This Mother’s Day, if you feel bombarded with messages of ideal motherhood, and it’s hard for you, please know that you are not alone.  If you need someone to talk to today, to hold space with the complex feelings you have, HOLD Professional Listeners are available to you.  It can help to express your true feelings and emotions with a confidential and compassionate listener.  We have appointments via phone, zoom or text chat, in either 15, 30 or 45 minutes.  You can book online here.  We care, and we know that some days are harder than others.

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