Are you a woman that lost her mother?

Why it’s so hard for females to lose their mothers as young adults

I was 19 years old when I became a motherless daughter. The loss of a mother is one of those events that changes you forever. I can remember every single detail about the day I heard that my mom died as if it was only yesterday. I was at college taking a short nap on a couch because I was one of the first to finish the test in my microbiology class (I have no clue why I took an 8am Saturday morning class, I was always so tired at that class).


As I was laying there, I heard another classmate tell someone that they could find me on the couch. I am not going to lie, at that age I had a bit of a rebellious side to me and I honestly was afraid that the police offer was approaching me to tell me bad news about myself, like I was going to be arrested or something. As the cop approached me, I started scanning my memory of any and all illicit things that I may have done or if I had been at a party when other people did, etc. I started racking my brain trying to remember if anything illegal was inside of my car or something like that. 


The news the police man had was way worse than anything that ran through my brain. In fact, I would have rather it been life in prison instead of that my mom had died. As I processed the unexpected death (she died from an accidental overdose on her prescribed opiates for pain), I was basically on robotic mode for several days to get through the funeral services and burial and I felt very numb and distant.


After the funeral - that’s it. Reality sinks in. She is really gone. 


You might receive a few different sympathy gifts for the loss of a mother or a few friends might send you sympathy quotes for the loss of mother, but after all the casseroles are gone and that temporary support vanishes, who is left? Who is there? The truth is, without your mom, it’s hard to navigate early adulthood. And for those who have dads in the picture, they are limited when it comes to valuable life advice and often times when they move on (sometimes quickly) it can cause a rift between daughter and father, further isolating the motherless daughter.

You need your mom as a young adult

No one tells you where to go from there. I was in nursing school at the time my mom died and still living at home. We were just starting to form this new special bond that takes place only after you have grown up. A bond that develops at a time when you and your mom have gotten past all the bitter fights and defiant moments, and you begin to learn this new side of her.. 


In all actuality, you begin to learn who your mom really is in your young adult years, and what she really thinks, likes, and does.You can have conversations with your mom that seem really taboo but it feels better talking with her about difficult topics than any other female in this world. 


I am not going to lie, I grew up way too fast. It’s ironic in a way because in my baby book, my mother wrote me a letter that was sealed and I was not allowed to open until I was 16 years old. The final piece of advice in the letter told me not to grow up too fast. (Maybe she should have allowed me to read it when I was about 13.) Well, since I did, mom and I had some pretty fun times as grownups talking about more adult topics until she died in 2005, after she passed away I kept her jewelry close to me, as a reminder of my mother.

Young adults who lose their mom are often overlooked in research

Not a lot of time is spent researching the effects losing a parent has on young adults. According to Taranjit (Tara) K. Bhatia, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships, young adults who lose their moms are often overlooked because people mistakenly think that young women no longer need any maternal guidance just because they are adults. Bhatia specializes particularly in the research of mother-daughter relationships so she is quite the expert on the subject.


Truth is, and I can attest to this from personal experience, is that losing a mom has a very powerful effect on young adult daughters. Bhatia explains that in her research, she has found that the daughter’s sense of identity is most affected and she says they “don’t know what being a woman is all about.”


Motherless daughters also tend to doubt their own abilities as mothers. Bhatia also goes on to explain that in her research:


“Most motherless daughters are very insecure about how well they could mother without their mothers’ advice, support and reassurance.”

Cultural identity is impacted following the loss of mother

Childhood and adolescence are busy years for females because they grow into their mature bodies and establish themselves as their own people. As such, oftentimes they are not focused on things such as learning family traditions and culture during those years. Most daughters assume that they will be able to learn those things from their mother later on, but once she has passed away, they find that there is no one to turn to to learn those things.

As fathers withdraw, daughters feel alone

You know, it’s probably good to first point out the fact that there is a difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers are usually the ones who tend to the children’s emotional needs, and once that family member dies, oftentimes fathers become distant and withdrawn. Also, in absence of the mother, an adult daughter will often try to regain the stability of the family by assuming their mothers’ role. This often causes the daughters to feel like orphans. Further compounding this feeling of isolation is the fact that fathers will often move on to another relationship sometimes rather quickly following the death of a mother. 

Persistent grief can affect a woman for years

Motherless daughters experience grief that can last for years. No matter what type of sympathy gifts for the loss of their mother they receive or how many people send their thoughts and prayers around the time of the event, the inevitable truth is that once all of the arrangements and get-togethers surrounding the funeral or the memorial are completed, it’s just you. A motherless daughter in a big world. 


Grief can hang around for a long time and be rather persistent. It peaks at certain times, especially milestones, such as getting married or having a baby. “When you become a mother yourself you want to be mothered,” Bhatia said.

Daughters with poor maternal relationships grieve hard

When a daughter has had a bad relationship with her mother, no matter which party carries the blame, they can experience very profound grief. Not only do they grieve the loss of a mother, they also grieve the missed opportunity to improve that relationship.

Relationship problems for motherless daughters 

As life relentlessly continues on, motherless daughters may find that they have problems in relationships. When it comes to their peers, motherless daughters often feel very distant and have less common ground with those around them. According to Bhatia: 


“In intimate relationships, motherless daughters are far more needy because they’re trying to fill that void. They try to find in their intimate partners that nurturing that they used to get from their moms.” 


In return, they are not able to give much back and this can cause resentment. Bhatia suggests that motherless daughters fulfill that maternal void with someone else besides a partner, such as a friend. Grief counseling for the motherless daughter or even couples counseling for a pair is often beneficial.


Looking forward to a bright future for motherless daughters

Motherless daughters do face a significant deal of stress and a particular hardships in life which no one envies - but that doesn’t mean their fate has to be bad. Many motherless daughters go on to lead very successful lives. Some things you can do to help cope with being a motherless daughter include the following: 


  1. Carry on your mother’s traditions
  2. Create a collage dedicated to her memory or have memorial jewelry made
  3. Participate in a fundraising event that supports a cause meaningful to your mom
  4. Accept your new identity in life as a motherless daughter
  5. Go to grief counseling
  6. Join support groups
  7. Find a maternal figure