Mar 17, 2011

Motherless Daughters' Guides: Please Share Your Ideas

In the 17 years since Motherless Daughters was first published I've heard from thousands of readers who've written in to share their individual stories. Among the many common experiences we share, one tends to surface frequently: without a mother, many of us feel we lack much of the basic information women need and that women with mothers naturally possess and we don't know who or how to ask.

I think of a woman I met back in the early 1990s, whose story appears in the first edition of Motherless Daughters, who told me about stealing an etiquette book from her local library when she was about eleven and reading it cover-to-cover when she got home because she was so hungry for information about how to be a woman, and so afraid of doing the wrong things, after her mother died when she was nine. All these years that story has stuck with me and it's no less poignant or heartbreaking now than it was eighteen years ago. I thought of it again the other night as I was explaining the elusive rules about thank-you notes to my thirteen-year-old daughter. If I weren't here to tell her, how would she know when to send them or what to write? Would she even know she was supposed to send thank-you notes at all?

Motherless Daughters was meant to be an overview book that identified and explained a phenomenon rather than a self-help book or how-to manual. But lately I've been wondering if, in addition, motherless girls and women would also benefit from short, very practical guidebooks to navigating some of the situations and life events that mothers typically teach daughters how to manage or actually steer them through. And of course, plenty of women with mothers don't get what they feel they need from them, so these guides might be helpful for them, too.

At the very bottom of this page I've made a list of the subjects that come up most in reader mail, and for which motherless women often feel in need of guidance or advice. Would you be willing to take a look and let me know which would be or would have been most useful for you? Please scroll all the way down to find the poll and to vote. This will give me an idea of which one(s) to start with or if this is even a good idea. (The titles listed in the polls are only placeholders at the moment to convey the main ideas; hopefully I'll come up with better ones later, or please suggest one or more that you like.) And please feel free to suggest guides that aren't on the list, or comments about the idea in general in the comments section below.

Would you buy any of these guides for yourself? For someone you know? Would you like to see several bundled together in a set? How would you like the information to be presented? Or do you feel that Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers have already covered this material sufficiently for you?

Very much looking forward to your thoughts,
Hope

31 comments:

Leslie Rosenthal said...

The one that I needed the most, that you don't mention is one about being a mother at all! Since my mother died when I was so young, I never really knew what it was supposed to feel like, or what I was supposed to do! I got the mechanics of parenting...but had a great deal of difficulty navigating the emotional waters. It took many years, and several children before I had the confidence to say, "I don't know if this is how she would have done it, but I'm doing okay." And at first, I desperately needed some sort of role model, or guide to coach me along!

Elissa Berman said...

What is challenging about something like this - is while on one hand I would love the "rule book," on the other hand I know intuitively there is no one way to get through anything. I could have had my mother right there when my twins were born and I believe (as I work with mothers who have their mothers and those who dont) that I still would have been clueless and terrified. Nothing and no one can really prepare you for that time right after children are born - only walking through it prepares you for the chance to do it again.
There is no handbook that could have helped me for the first time my daughter went under anethesia. I wanted my mom there, bottom line. I wanted someone else to hold her shoes...
Nothing would have prepared me for having a special needs child - and now a special needs pre-teen - and I read voraciously, but having there is nothing that is a saave for loss of presence.
I think we all write this "book" for ourselves and for our daughters, if that makes sense. I so love the work you do, have read your books and continue to follow the blog. Your first book, made me feel "normal" for the first time in my life and I reccomend it now, as a therapist to moms I work with. Thank you, so very much.
Elissa Berman

Hope Edelman said...

Very much agreed, Elissa--the emotional territory is so highly individual. This is exactly why I try to shy away from self-help-ese. Yet silly as I know it may sound, the books I needed the most were the really simple ones about cooking and housekeeping that brought all kinds of highly practical information together in one place. How do you bake a potato? When can you bandage a cut yourself and when do you need to go to the ER? I know this info is available in other books and online, but centralizing it in one place for younger women might be useful. And while I know that many living mothers don't teach their daughters these things--the comfort of getting the information through and from a community of other women without mothers may alleviate some of the feelings of loss. Hmm...now I'm thinking that it might be good to have an advisory board of older motherless daughters sharing their tips with the younger ones, a form of mentoring through a book. What do you think?

Hope Edelman said...

Leslie, have you read Motherless Mothers? It covers the topic very fully and is also divided into sections about pregnancy, postpartum, infancy, toddler years, school years, teen years, etc. Some Motherless Mothers support groups have started as a result. Because yes, support is very much needed at this time.

Sophie said...

The Guide is a brilliant idea! I just voted on your blog but the most critical years I think are Teen Years (physiological changes, hygiene, preparing for your first period, losing your virginity or abstaining, having a boyfriend vs friends with benefits, cyberspace reputation) and Birthing Years (powerful connection from womb to womb, generation to generation). Personally for me the first year of grief was the most difficult from the moment my mom's body stopped breathing (how do I pick a casket or what do I write on her tombstone?) to how do I buy acid free boxes at the Container Store to store my mom's St John & Chanel clothes when it feels like burying her in the coffin all over again even after 5 years had passed. Blessings on this wonderful Guide...Sophie Paik

Anonymous said...

Hope, I loved Motherless Mothers. My biggest challenges around becoming motherless as a teenager have centered around women; I feel I don't understand the unspoken rules women hold each other to. Not that I don't love women and have relationships with them -- but often the ones I am close to are others, like myself, who don't have the rule book and have consequently been tossed out by the undamaged, i.e. regular, women. It's like we are sort of lost and can't truly avail ourselves to the world of women because we'll make a mistake and be left, again. And again and again, and it's somehow our fault for trespassing or doing something that is obviously unacceptable to everyone -- everyone that is, but us.
Thanks for your work. Off to walk with one of my motherless girlfriends. It's another strange consequence to me of being motherless that often I am called upon to play that role for other motherless women.
My therapist, my surrogate mother (I finally found one thirty years later) does the job for me. I have learned a LOT!

Rachel said...

I was actually thinking about this the other day. My brother who is 31 is getting married over the summer, and I'm so curious as to how he put together the guest list. My mom died about 7 months ago, and she was the keeper of those things. I know my dad is useless in those situations, and I cant help but wonder how many people are about to be offended by being left off the list.

I find that the thing I need help with the most is every day life choices I have to make. Right now i'm trying to decide between 2 life changing options, and all I can think is I want my mom. She would know which option was best for me. Or the other day when I had to fill out my medical history. I would have called her from the waiting room and had her tell me the answers to all the questions. She was the keeper of so much information that I never had the chance to get from her. Can you write a guidebook about those things?

Kristie said...

Oh how I wish you'd been around 20 years ago...

In retrospect, the most practical of your suggestions on your poll would have been the one about running a house. I had no idea how to cook or do laundry (my 2 year old already helps me fold now, and as soon as she's tall enough to reach the counter I'm going to buy her a cookbook...). I also could have used a book on how to deal with my dad after my mom died--what's normal, what's not, when to ask for help, etc.

Thanks :)

Liz said...

My mom died when I was 14, its funny now but I did not know how to buy a bra. I thought that If I'm a "C" at 16, I'll be a "C"forever. Eventually I was wearing a 44C, too bad I'm only 36' around. I finally figured out the secret.
PS, my clothes fit much better now :)

Jen Bilik said...

I love this idea, Hope. The guides I checked were very much around the age I was when my mother died (21) - i.e., I didn't need it for teen years, but would have for pregnancy, etc. Here are some topics that also would have helped me: Motherless Daughter's Guide to Getting Along with Your Father (perhaps with difficult father types, ranging from very difficult to not so difficult); getting along with siblings; keeping your nuclear family in touch as everyone gets older, b/c the mother is the glue; keeping the extended family in touch, etc. Basically, I feel like our family kind of exploded after my mother died, and my mother was the buffer and the glue, so a bit of help and guidance there, while perhaps a bit more complex than the other topics, could be additional fodder.

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure why I didn’t read your book 20 years ago but at least I have been blessed enough to find you now. I remember reading the line in Motherless Daughters, “I want my mother, I want my mother, I want my mother now.” I literally started to melt down. I needed my mother so badly that there is not one single area of my life that wasn’t affected
by this loss. It was more complex that my mother was alive but in a sense dead because I had lost her to brain damage from abuse. Everything was challenging for me. I didn't even know how to bake a potato or cook pasta and had to ask a friend questions about basic life. I think a guide to cooking would be most helpful. I recall being at my best friend’s house in junior high eating dinner when her father said to his wife “Please teach hannah how to butter her bread the correct way.” She tore off a piece of bread, applied a little butter, then set the knife down. This is a stellar idea Hope.
I loved Motherless Daughters. Thank you for continuing to be conscious and caring for the girls out there who haven’t been blessed with mothers like you.

hannahkozak.wordpress.com

Theresa Ratti said...

Hi Hope,
I'm just finishing up my dissertation about Motherless Daughters and their education. Or how mother-loss impacts an adolescent daughters education. From doing a small study (only 11 women were interviewed) there is a halt or extension in time for many of the women. For others it was a dream lost, and they waded through college, slowly not accomplishing what they and their mom had wanted them to do.
If you want more info let me know.
Theresa Ratti

Anonymous said...

Hope, I did not see your list and would like all kinds of help to get around and do normal things...

My request, and this one might be too hard to crystalize but Gosh, I don't know how to be a daughter in law or really how to trust older women...

I see that i ask often for too much or too little. (too much scares them off, too little leaves me anguished)

i dont think it could be dealt with easily but its a constant challenge in my life

Just Jayne... said...

Having lost my mother very young, I always felt like I didn't know how to do "womanly or motherly" things. One time a friend said to me, "you're loading the dishwasher wrong" I broke down and said "Sorry, I never had a mother to teach me." That's a simple yet truthful example of how I have felt most of my life. I have always purposefully observed other women (friends, grandmothers, aunts, etc.) to see what and how they do things, even the very simple things. I'd love to have a "how to" or "guide" book which is basically what mothers would say for every stage/decade of life. Not that we would always agree with our mothers, but I still would like to hear all the advise, instructions, etc. Obviously, not about how to load a dishwasher, but about life. For example, don't look for love in all the wrong places; find the type of man that will, when you have children expect, now that you're 50 and your children are/will be leaving...
Just reading/listening to all the advise (all in one place) would be really neat.

Just Jayne... said...

I just saw this on Youtube and thought...I would have loved this advice when I was a motherless teen:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-SI388mfic&feature=player_embedded#at=152

S said...

Responding to:
"Hmm...now I'm thinking that it might be good to have an advisory board of older motherless daughters sharing their tips with the younger ones, a form of mentoring through a book. What do you think?"

Hope - A GREAT idea. Throughout my motherless life, I have been blessed to find older women to talk to and ask questions of. Although it certainly doesn't fill the gap, it has helped me IMMENSELY.

Now at 52, I long to help others who have experienced early mother-loss. I have participated in leadership roles for grief groups & mother-loss groups, etc. I know of several young girls beginning this journey and I don't seem to be much help. They know I've walked their walk, but they still keep their distance. I just have felt they weren't "ready". If there was a place where the "ready" ones good go for mentoring, I'M IN!!!

I hope you decide to go forward with this. And on a personal note, way back when "Motherless Daughters" was published, it saved my sanity. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

Maryann said...

Hope, I like the comment by 'S'...."have an advisory board of older motherless daughters sharing their tips with the younger ones, a form of mentoring through a book. What do you think?", etc....

I am 48 years old and lost my mother to cancer when I was 19(she was 48). In my mid 30's, a 'Motherless Daughters' group therapy 10 week session was introduced at our church. I jumped in without hesitancy. As it turns out, I had been avoiding 'falling in love' because of my fear of hurt/loss/pain. Finally after I broke up with yet another nice man, I realized--just at the time this group was offered, that I needed help. Good place to start. It was a painful but much required step in the healing process. Both your book 'Motherless Daughters'and the girls in this particular group were eye-openers. Everything I read and heard was all too familiar. I just couldn't believe 'everyone' had the same thoughts, fears, hopes as myself! What a revelation.
I have always wanted to do more... give in some way. I think the time is right for some type of follow-up book and to reiterate, potentially a board comprised of us Motherless Daughters (as adults) as an integral part of the next project?
I never married or had children of my own. Once I finished the group session, it took a few years to 'get it right', then it was a matter of 'finding' Mr. Right (or more realistically, Mr. 'close to it').
I have been engaged since mid 2010. This is the closest I have ever come to marriage. Unfortunately, I won't have a child of my own, as it's probably a tad too late for that, however, I have been a wonderful aunt and mentor to my niece and four nephews through the years. I am at the point in my life, that I would love to have a child of my own (with my soon to be husband).
My dream and desire for the upcoming years is to continue to have a positive impact on girls and teenagers who have lost their mother. I am looking for other avenues by which to do so.
Thanks for having this blog!
Maryann

Jaclyn said...

Oh my gosh HOPE!!!!! I started doing exactly this myself! When my mother died last year (I was 23, making me 24 now) I thought to myself, "Now what am I going to do?" I felt as though there was so much I hadn't absorbed and didn't know in all of those basic categories of life.

I took a journal and started filling it with advice my mother gave me ("Go when you can, not when you have to!" was a familiar one. I hated it when she said it, but the phrase did save me when I was traveling alone many-a-time.), advice that I would give a daughter in case I passed away early (amazing what we start thinking of), and magazine clippings of things that I would help me in life-- things that I would have asked my mother how to do, such as preserving herbs and getting out stains. There's even a clipping about thank you notes, as a gentle reminder.

Anonymous said...

This would be nice. i lost my mother 16 years ago at the age of 15 and like all the other postings, it still affects me. Advice on how to grieve, especially when everyone else doesn't and won't allow you to; relationships - family, friends, dating - how to get through the endings, forgive and find new beginnings; self care; housekeeping; creating a schedule; hospitality; general etiquette; what's grief and what's typical for girls/women my age developmentally/mentally/physically/etc; goal setting; getting past failed goals and dreams that never come true; acceptance; how to help others when you can't seem to help yourself...

As others said, it's the lack of support that is the biggest loss and issue, but it's still a good idea.

smiles said...

i have been a motherless daughter for about 5 months, and right now i would love a guide on how to find a mentor or a surrogate mother, and how to trust them (always been the biggest issue for me). also i would like a guide for who do you call or what do you do in situations where you would have called your mom.

Maryann said...

Smiles,
How old are you and which state do you reside?
Maryann

smiles said...

20, Alberta Canada

Jami said...

these guides are a great idea! I dont know that any one guide would have helped me, but they certainly could not hurt. I was 16 when my mom died and recently I was trying to explain to my boyfriend how different life was for me after that event. I spent years watching how other people did certain things so that I could learn from them. It seemed there was something big that I missed out on because my mom died before I even graduated high school and I still had so much to learn from her. I was too independent to ask others for help on how to do something so instead I watched and observed others. I think the toughest thing is getting through the life events without mom. A guide on "getting through life events" (graduation, college, marriage, birth, divorce, etc) would have been great - almost like a resource guide or compilation of the more detailed topics you have listed in the poll.

Maryann said...

Smiles: Sorry! I haven't been back on the site since I reached out to you--was doing some business travel. Alberta Canada, if you lived closer we could connect. Google around in your area. You may have already done so? Here's my email if you would like to continue talking: maryann_somma@yahoo.com

kir155 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirsten said...

First off thank you so much for writing Motherless Daughters .... I'm a college student now but I lost my mom when I was 9, I know I could definitely use a guide like book because there are so many things a mom is supposed to teach their daughter, but so many daughters miss out on those lessons. There are so many things that my friends will be doing and I'll ask where did they learn that and they will be like "oh, my mom taught me." I often think of how nice it would be to have something to refer to so that I would know these little lessons too.

Anonymous said...

Dear Hope,

Thank you for your books and blog.

Growing up without a daughter is a sensitive subject to me. My mother left me with my father when I was 3 years old. Although he did the best he could (and I'm thankful for that), a father simply cannot replace a mother.

I discovered that during high-school (goofy cloths), university (creepy boyfriends), living on my own (a million household questions), married life (self-esteem issues) and becoming a mother (postpartum depression).
Now that my children have become older, the 'motherhood panic' slowly starts to fade away. But it's still there - shimmering.

My mother is alive. She is (somewhere) out there, but it's hard to form and maintain a bond. And even harder to take care of myself, my work and my beautiful family. Even though - on the surface - things are going well (I run my own business, my children are doing well, I'm active in the community)... I often fight against feelings of self-hate. It's a lifelong struggle, I'm afraid. (although yoga and meditation helps)

Am I the only motherless daughter whose mother is still alive? I sometimes think I am...

Kind regards,

Anonymous mother-of-two from Northern Europe

Rach said...

This is a brilliant idea that you've brought up. I like the idea of having a how-to book that is specifically for motherless daughters. This would make me feel better about using any how-to book. I get really sad when I realize that my mom couldn't be around long enough to teach me to sew, crochet, or tend a garden. It would be awesome to have a compilation of instructions on things like these from fellow motherless daughters (who managed to acquire these skills one way or another).
I know you touched on this in Motherless Mothers, but a whole book dedicated to pregnancy and birthing for a motherless daughter would be amazing too. Like a special companion just for us.
Just tuned in to your blog, glad I found it!

Anonymous said...

Hope: I want to reach out to anyone who lives in the Orange County area (California) and let them know that we just started a Meet-up group for what we call 'Daughters' .

Our first get-together is Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. in Irvine (right off the 405).
If anyone is interested: http://www.meetup.com/Daughters/

Elizabeth said...

I love ALL of these and I would buy them in a set. My mother died a few months after I turned 13. I'm 20 now and, dear lord, HOW did I manage to navigate my teens without my mom? I definitely wore my training bras for two years too long, and my first visit to the gynecologist with the stirrups and whatchamacallit? the speculum? Yeah. Didn't know THAT was what happened at the OB/GYN. If you can only publish one of these I think the teen years are crucial and you could probably combine that with the college years/early 20s. Planning my wedding and being pregnant are also things I'm completely dreading having to do without a mother so books on those would be extremely helpful.

mel said...

hi there, i am about to go buy your book. even at 28, a guide of some sort would be greatly appreciated. i would buy it...
my mom died when i was 18, its been 10 years, but i found myself sobbing in the bathroom today at work, just out of the blue considering i hardly behave like this i thought long and hard about why. i have an aunt that i guess must be trying to be a sort of mother figure for me, she tried to lecture me about the way i carry myself, basically pointed out the way in which i carry myself might be seen as a little "slutty" this comment hurt to the core and words my mother would never use in any way or shape with me...because when i did have my mother she was more focused on instilling in us a good sense of self and to be happy and not worry about what others think. i am far from slutty, i have only had 2 serious boyfriends, not promiscious, and extremely responsible, i am a well put together person, and now i had this person telling me i should try to tone down on my loudness in case i embarress my dad (who by the way thinks i behave and dress just fine)
i mean, when she lectured me i guess i was defensive and telling her that i was not brought up to care about what others thought of me and to just be happy, and on top of that i am 28!
but today at the office i started crying like a toddler in the toilet and i realized something-- i missed my mother so much it made me sob. i needed her to validate for me that i am not the way my aunt says i behave and even if so, i should not worry...i know my aunt just cares about me and does not want people to speak badly of me, but i realized my deeper issue was not having my mom around. i would like a guide so i know how to handle situations like this...even some basic things i cant do...i feel even at 28 like some small lost little girl, because my mom never got a chance to show me a lot, even though she died when i was 19, she was sickly from the time i was 15 with cancer. please i really need this guide...
i feel like i have no one to protect me and remind me i am fine the way i am...