"How I learned to be a mother, without my mother."

How to mother without your mother.

I still remember the day I found out I was pregnant with my first, now five and a half.

My partner and I had stopped being ‘careful’ and at 9am on a workday I was buying an early pregnancy test and peeing on it in the communal office toilets – how Ally McBeal. I had to restrain myself from letting out a squeal when it was positive and sat at my desk feeling like I was going to burst, along with wanting to vomit into my bin. Sounds magical doesn’t it?

But then reality set in – how was I going to do this without mum?

Mum died when I was 23 after a 10-year battle with the C word. My world imploded and I was totally devastated. Who would I scoff cheese with until I felt sick? Who would tell me I looked utterly ridiculous without reducing me to tears or teach me how to make the perfect G&T (decent gin, ice and lots of lemon)? What I didn’t think was ‘who will hold my hand through labour or answer frantic calls in the middle of the night when my nipples burned like the fires of hell’.

parenting advice from your mum
Author Katie Nixon with her mother. Image via

Fast-forward six years and there I was on my back, strapped to monitors trying to push out my darling daughter wishing that Mum was there. The feeling continued after birth too when I struggled with breast-feeding − it hurt so bad, I couldn’t get comfortable, was she getting enough? I knew my mum breast fed, but she was no longer there to ask.

Then came the constant reminders that I had no one to tell me what I was like as a baby, a toddler and now little girl – do we have the same traits? Same temper? Did I talk/walk early? There are a million questions I wish I’d asked when she was still here.


My husband is a brilliant dad and great at wiping away the tears (floods of) but he had his mum and dad, who were, and still are, amazing and absolutely besotted with their grandchild (now grandchildren), but they weren’t mine and somehow it’s just different. Friends I grew up with then had babies and their mums were always there changing nappies, bringing round food, picking up the pieces – I was jealous and sad. Luckily my step-dad is still very much around and he loves my children as grandchildren, but there are daily reminders that one person is still very much missing. Like calling to tell her that my daughter has now started reading, sending her photos of the kids on a day out, asking for much-needed advice on how to tackle a tricky eater or potty train my two and a half year-old son.

parenting advice from your mum
Katie Nixon with her mother. Image via

Despite all of this, I know now that my successes as a mother are down to her; I just wish she was here to share my journey. If you find yourself facing a similar situation, here are a few things that helped me in the dark days when nothing could fill that m-shaped void…

1. Talk it out, cry, shout, take some time out.

Being a mum is tiring, especially with your first when you have no idea what you’re doing. Take a step back, enjoy the little things – with or without your mum it goes by too quickly. I also find the occasional scream into a pillow helps.


2. Read some parenting books and find one that suits your parenting style.

I was the first out of my group of close friends to have a baby so felt a bit adrift. Two books helped me know that some of my feelings were normal – was my vagina going to resemble a bucket after birth and my over-whelming guilt at not being able to breast feed, the stuff you talk to your mum about:

The Rough Guide to Pregnancy & Birth, by Kaz Cooke
Your Baby Week by Week: the ultimate guide to caring for your new baby, by Dr Caroline Fertleman and Simone Cave

Katie Nixon’s recommended reads.

3. Ask for help. I am so bad at this.

Friends and family have to put me in a headlock to accept help, like when my step-sister turned up at my house with lunch, changed a nappy and thrust my daughter onto my boob for a feed (when I was still trying to breast feed) all within two hours. You have a new baby everyone will be desperate to see, but sometimes you just need someone to put a wash on or make you lunch because you can’t find the time to cook something more substantial than three-minute noodles with no real vegetable content…

4. Meet other mums.

My post-natal group saved me from more than one total meltdown. You’re in it together, you share stories you wouldn’t tell your best friends (until they have babies) and you regularly see their boobs. I still see most of them now, just not so much of their boobs.

5. Talk to your kids about ‘the one who is missing’.

Both of mine know about Nanna Jenny. They know she lives in the sky and that is just the way it is. We talk about her and look at photos of her, not all the time, not in a creepy way, but just enough to make her present in our lives.

A version of this article originally appeared on

Katie Nixon is a part-time estate agent (the good kind) for Mi-Move Ltd, freelance writer and volunteer at a children’s charity. She loves red wine (especially Malbec), cold, sunny days and weekend adventures with her husband and two children.

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