Mothers’ Day for the ‘unmothered mother’

If you’re reading this, the chances are that the title resonated with you. Thank you for taking the courage to read on. I’m hoping to be a warm and loving companion to you on this day that can hold so much emotion for so many. 

“Unmothered mothers are everywhere. Some of them are motherless, having lost their mothers to death or abandonment. Many, though, have a living and even an involved mother, but have not had the “good enough” mothering they needed.”

I have chosen to share the beautiful and openly vulnerable words from Jayne Joyce, as I couldn’t have described better myself what it means to be living on Earth without the presence and the PRESENCE of the very person who gave birth to us. Who gave life to us. 

Jayne goes onto sharing some psychological research studies with us that shed light on the EARLY impact on the type of mothering we receive:

“At least a third of young children assessed by Mary Ainsworth’s “strange situation” test do not have a secure attachment to their primary caregiver.[1] Their attachments are characterized by avoidance (“mother is unavailable—I’ve given up on her”), anxiety (“mother is unreliable – I’m not sure what response I’ll get”) or, in extreme cases, chaos (“mother is dangerously unpredictable”). These children have an “internal working model” of mothering which does not leave them feeling secure in the world.”

Mary Ainsworth was an American-Canadian psychologist who worked in the 1970s. Her work was inspired by and followed on from John Bowlby’s attachment theory which can be summarised as follows:

“Just as babies are programmed to seek the breast, they are hard-wired to form strong bonds with their caregivers. When the mother is unavailable, unresponsive, preoccupied, or too immature or distressed to provide appropriate care and guidance, the child seeks nurture elsewhere. Fortunate children find substitutes: their other parent, a grandparent, aunt or uncle, an older sibling, cousin, neighbour or paid caregiver.”

How does Jayne differentiate between the ‘motherless’ and the ‘unmothered’ mother then?

“The motherless, whose lack of a mother is evident to all, may have their need for substitute care more readily recognized.

The unmothered who don’t find what they need must survive on starvation rations. They might be well turned out and provided with every luxury money can buy, but these children are impoverished and have the mentality of scavengers. The unmothered woman may live with a powerful sense of shame:  “I have a mother—why do I feel so unloved, so needy?” She might feel like a beggar, or a thief.”

(You can read the full article here: )

Thank you Jayne for your eloquent words and for expressing what is on so many of our minds. And what makes it harder to bear is the silence. The taboo in our society to question the innate GOODNESS of a mother. The shame around complaining and vocalising if we received anything less than perfect. 

Fortunately some authors are taking on the mammoth task of unpacking the incredibly complex layers around this subject and opening up conversation. 

Zainab Yate explores some aspects of ‘motherly love’ in her book: When Breastfeeding Sucks (Pinter and Martin 2020). Way beyond the obvious suggestion of the title, she discusses the very concept of motherhood and the expectations on the role, giving us a bit of a historical background:

“Did you know that in the 15th century motherhood didn’t carry expectations of emotions and sentiments like it does now with the notion of ‘motherly love’? It was only later, in the 18th century, that the feelings, behaviours and responsibilities of mothers were taken very seriously. Women were increasingly expected to feel a close bond with their children, and their maternal qualities were judged and evaluated by this bond. In our current age of scientific knowledge about neuroscience and the role of hormones in biology, we recognise that having secure attachment is important for humans to thrive. Yet, we as mothers have to recognise that our own ideas about motherhood are not determined by biology alone, but also by society.”

So is it helpful to ‘judge’ our mothers and indeed our own mothering capabilities? What gauge do we use when it comes to weighing up what we’ve been given and what we’re passing on? Is this sort of sentimental view of mothering useful to us?

“A mother’s love is epitomised as the purest, most natural love, placed on a high pedestal, and in the 19th century it started to be idealised in literature. This propagated the idea that there is something uniquely special and innate about a mother’s love.” – continues Zainab.

Sound idyllic, doesn’t it? But is it helpful to us as girls, young women and perhaps eventually mothers growing up in 21st century society? Where are we with it all NOW?

Zainab’s take on it when it comes to the straw that breaks the camel’s back (aka the fact you may not LOVE 5412th breastfeeding session in a day for example):

“A natural consequence of this over the centuries has been the erasure of a mother’s hate, meaning that mothers have been disallowed to feel certain things because they would be judged, silenced or condemned. It is now a failing on a mother’s part if she does not fit into the picturesque, quintessential idea of an all-giving mother, who loves her child and sacrifices all for them. There is nothing wrong with this kind of pseudo-martyrdom, as it is biologically normal and indeed essential to do this in the newborn period, but what about afterwards?”

You may wonder if YOU were given this type of unconditional loving, even as a newborn. Some of us were, others were not so fortunate. 

“What about the fact that it is not possible to ‘give your all’ as a mother in 21st-century life? To be a wholesome, perfect mother while working, or managing other children and conflicting responsibilities without something giving way, or without some trade-off, is impossible. Whether it is your mental health, your bodily health, your financial health, your family’s health, or your children’s health, you will always drop a ball at some point in this juggling act. Maybe once a day, maybe all day.”

Thank you Zainab for shining the light on the flipside of the sugar coated view of mothering. 

This can give great relief, reassuring reading and further helpful pointers towards support when you are considering your own mothering towards your children. I highly recommend you read Zainab’s book, especially if you are a breastfeeding mother.

But back to considering the mothering you have received. Our mothers most likely didn’t have the understanding that’s currently unfolding thanks to neuroscientific research over the past 2 decades and its availability to wider audiences. Authors like Gabor Mate, Daniel Siegel, Bessel van der Kolk, Stephen Porges just to name a few, are making the understanding of childhood trauma and ways of processing it very accessible for all of us. We can now look at that ‘mother wound’ and cry, curse and rage about what we lacked and still lack. 

Our mothers just had to make do with the knowledge and information, support or lack of it, that they had. So it really and truly isn’t about blame. After all, the concept of the ‘good enough mother’ from Donald Winnicott is still being widely used and understood. Or is it? Was your mother ‘good enough’? Who decides?

The term ‘mother wound’ is explained by the amazing Bethany Webster:

“The Mother Wound is the pain rooted in our relationship with our mothers that is passed down from generation to generation in patriarchal cultures and has a profound effect on our lives. When left unresolved, we pass on the Mother Wounds our mothers and grandmothers before us failed to heal, which consist of toxic and oppressive beliefs, ideals, perceptions and choices about ourselves, others, and all of life itself.”

We don’t need to compare. There is no perfection, no ideal, no ‘I had it worse’ or ‘They had it worse’. These sentiments are completely pointless and lead nowhere in our understanding and processing. 

The first step towards the solution is recognition. Bringing forth and allowing the thoughts, feelings, hurts that have been long and deeply buried to the surface is painful. 

You will need skilled holding and guidance. Once you have a vague understanding that something in your childhood caused you to hold back in your own PRESENT life now, and your need to heal, start looking out for teachers, guides, mentors. A support group. A coach. A therapist.

They will be out there. Just keep your eyes and heart open. Listen to your GUT. Literally. Our bodies hold past wounds and also the answers and guidance to healing.

I’m giving you just a few examples here of those who helped me light the way and guide the painful path of discovery, uncovering and healing (a process never to be completed but to be continued):

  1. Hand in Hand Parenting (book, website, courses and ongoing listening partnerships)

Hand in Hand Parenting is a non-profit founded to help parents with the difficult work of raising children. Despite being the most important work that many of us will do in our lives, parenting remains ignored and under-supported.

The Hand in Hand approach is based on brain-science and takes full consideration of a child’s emotional world. The 5 hand in hand tools help parents build a stronger connection with their children, in a positive, nurturing approach, while also holding the parent deeply during this process.

The approach comes personally and highly recommended by me.

  1. The Institute for the Study of Birth, Breath and Death (website, online webinars and live support sessions)

Amy Wright Glenn is a beautiful human who is the head of this institute and is a shining star when it comes to space holding in any and ALL life (and death) situations. She’s offering a range of services, most of which are available online remotely. 

Find out more here:

  1. The work of Bethany Webster (website, book, online webinars)

If the above quote from Bethany resonated with you, as well as the idea of ‘working on your mother wound’ and getting closer to your authentic self, her website gives you a rich starting point for exploration and digging deeper. As you walk this revealing and challenging path with Bethany, you get to the point of discovering your ‘inner mother’ who can take the place of your real one if necessary, and who can parent you in precisely the way you wish and deserve! No easy and quick fixes promised.

Her book Discovering The Inner Mother (2020) is an exquisite read and comes highly recommended personally.

  1. The work of Amy Taylor-Kabbaz (podcast, book, website)

Amy talks about ‘matrescence’ and has recorded literally hundreds of episodes of a podcast titled: Mama Rising. Her mission is to lift the veil from the expectations of magically becoming the ‘perfect mother’ as soon as our babies come to Earth side. She is continually seeking ways to support mothers on THEIR own journey of discovery what gradual transformations motherhood brings. 

Her book Mama Rising was absolutely transformational for me. 

  1. Yoga and meditation. 

The latter needs a word of caution as done without guidance and awareness, may bring up deep trauma and can re-trigger. Find a branch, an approach, a group, a centre that resonates with you and learn, experience, practice.

According to leading psychotherapists, yoga is a good way to create a safe space where the mind can be present in the body, WITHOUT getting lost in painful and triggering past traumas that may deepen the pain without skilled support. 

Concentrating on breathing and movement can quieten the mind and move the body in a potentially healing way. Again, follow your instinct on what to choose out of the vast array of options available. 

My go to FREE and QUALITY yoga classes can be found here:


Where to next?

I hope this little summary has given you some food for thought and what I’m hoping for is to give you the message: you’re not alone with your feelings. 

However, there is no getting away from the fact that you ARE alone in the uniqueness of your story, the precise flavour of your pain and as such, you also have the power and the key to unlock the door to the path of your own healing. 

And now, instead of saying happy mothers’ day:

Have an empowering day of knowing you ARE worthy and beautiful, regardless of your past and your future. Breathe it in right NOW.

With love from, 

an Unmothered Mother. 

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