parent opinion

"The void is always there." What you know to be true if you grew up without your mum.

Alone, isolated and misunderstood are three words that come to mind when describing how I felt at the age of 23 when my mum passed away

She got sick when I was 21 and I quickly transitioned from a carefree, immature young woman with no responsibilities, to having the weight of the world on my shoulders.  

At 23, I had no choice but to grow up and be more of an adult than my friends who I could no longer really relate to. 

My brother is nine years younger than me and he was 14 years old at the time, meaning I had to take on a mother-like role. I wouldn’t change that though, because a beautiful sibling relationship has really blossomed. He is my best friend. 

But there is something very sobering about losing your mum so young. Before you’ve even had a chance to figure out who you are, you have to figure out who you are without your mum and that's incredibly challenging. 

I just longed to be around other women who also understood what it was like to lose their mum, because there is something so unique and profound about it.

That's why, after meeting my friend Eloise, who was 13 when her mother Janet passed away, we founded a community where women and girls could feel understood.

Eloise with her mother. Image: Supplied.

Motherless Daughters Australia has a network of more than 4000 women and girls who have the shared experience of being motherless. After discussing some of the most common thoughts and feelings we experience, here is what you may know to be true if you grew up without your mum.

***

ADVERTISEMENT

If you grew up without your mum, you’ll know that navigating your health and drawing on medical family history can be extremely hard or just plain impossible.

"Every time I am asked about maternal medical history, I have no idea and it's like a shot to my heart – bang, I am reminded again that a huge piece of me is missing," said Rebecca, motherless at three years old.

If you grew up without your mum, you may experience challenges such as not having someone to talk to about periods, sex and relationships. These challenges affect not only your experience with life but also those around you. 

Dads are fantastic at the tough events in life, but when it comes to discussing your period, it can become quite awkward and embarrassing for some teenagers. 

Elisha, motherless at 12, said: "Sometimes you’re forced to just figure these things alone."

If you grew up without your mum, you know that dad just doesn't cut it. Yes, he tries his best, but he's just not mum and we can't expect him to be. 

"Dads do their best to fill the shoes of mum, but it's not the same and it never will be," said Maddie, motherless at 15.

Maddie and her mother, Julie. Image: Supplied.

If you grew up without your mum, you may have had to take care of your younger siblings. Stepping up into a 'mother-like' role is a huge responsibility, particularly for those who are in their teens. 

As a teenager, you are meant to be out having fun with your friends, not stuck at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of your younger siblings. Each experience of mother loss is different, but many women can relate to having to step into this role to care for their younger siblings at some stage.

ADVERTISEMENT

If you grew up without your mum, you will understand how hard milestones are when they come around. Everyone wishes to have their mum at their school graduation and birthdays. 

There isn't anyone on earth who can fill those shoes and you feel like there is a part of you missing on those big days in particular. 

"No one ever wants to have to deal with anniversaries of their mother's death at such a young age," said Sarah, whose mother died when she was 13 years old.

You’ll know that adult milestones are so bittersweet: finding your life partner, getting engaged, wedding dress shopping, getting married and starting a family. 

You'll know that it is incredibly difficult to comprehend all or some of these things without your mum. 

Leonie, with her mum Pina. Image: Supplied.

"What are usually some of the happiest times of one's life are often overcome with sadness and pain. Although we try to enjoy them as best we can, the hole and void is always there," said Leonie, motherless since she was nine.

If you've lost your mum, you’ll know that seeing other girls with their mum, at any age, is hard. 

Depending on the day you’re having, we can feel very jealous. We try not to, but we can’t help it. 

We look at others with their mums and think about what we are missing out on, what would life be like with them still here? The ability to just call, text or visit.

ADVERTISEMENT

You’ll know that people who haven’t experienced mother loss just don’t get it, but it’s not their fault. Yes, there are some extremely compassionate and empathetic people out there, but they just can’t understand and we don’t want them to either, because it's painful and heartbreaking. 

Kara with her mother. Image: Supplied.

There are some who aren’t compassionate or understanding and they’ll expect you to be over it in a few months or to just stop talking about it completely.

Society just doesn’t deal with grief very well in general and unfortunately, people may treat you differently.

"You’ll have friends move away because you make them feel uncomfortable," Belinda, motherless at 23 years old, said. "That is their issue, not yours."

If you grew up without your mum, you'll know that forming and establishing your identity is difficult. 

You'll hear your mum in your head and you'll want to approach things the way she would. 

You might find yourself doing what you think your mum would want - and this may leave you confused as to what YOU really want. 

"Everything you approach changes, and the way you approach it changes. You mature faster, your perspective changes and you have to back yourself, because the ability to 'just ask mum' is no longer an option," said Lucinda, motherless at 19 years old.

Lucinda and her mother. Image: Supplied.

ADVERTISEMENT

You’ll know that early mother loss in particular, has a profound and long-lasting impact on almost every aspect of your life: from identity, to abandonment issues, relationships and friendships, the way you view the world, a fear of more loss, and an eerie and uncomfortable feeling as you approach the age your mum was when she died.

You might also worry about how to be a mother when you lost your own before having children.

Regardless of whether you grew up with or without your mum, you’ll know that her loss leaves you devastated. 

Usually, a mum is the one person who cares about every small facet of your existence, no matter how old you are. 

From the big achievements and celebrations of success, to being concerned about your UTI, to if and when you need a reminder to take your next lot of Panadol for the headache you told her you had 4 hours ago.

"The absence of her unconditional love, and the ability to just call and say hello or to ask for advice also dies with her," said Gracie, motherless at 23.

Finally, you’ll know that happiness and grief co-exist and that you are strong,

You can do life without her, not because you want to, but because you need to.

Motherless Daughters Australia is a not-for-profit organisation that represents, informs, supports and connects women and girls whose mothers have died, to help navigate the everyday and life’s key milestones without the support of their mothers.

MDA offers a number of key support services such as an online support group, children’s initiatives, fact sheets and face-to-face opportunities for women to connect.

00:00 / ???