No one teaches us how to be good mothers -- we stumble through on instinct, read self-help books, get advice from friends, and rely on the support of our partners. And usually we draw from the examples of our own mothers.
For some women, their mothers' flaws overshadowed their childhood experiences. They grew up with mothers who were emotionally withdrawn, depressed, or abusive. The laundry may have been neatly folded, but a secure emotional bond was missing. In her book, Mothering Without a Map: The Search for the Good Mother Within (Viking, 2004), Kathryn Black explores the affects of being "under-mothered."
After talking with hundreds of under-mothered women, and armed with her own experience, Black explores how a mother without a good role model can unleash her own mothering potential.
AmericanBaby.com: Kathryn, your mother died when you were 6 years old. In your book you revealed how your maternal grandmother who raised you was emotionally absent, and your tales of rejection and abandonment by her were heartbreaking. How did your own experience lead you to write this book?
Kathryn Black: When I embarked on motherhood, when my children reached the age I was when my mother died, I began to think, "What do I know about mothering? I don't even have the example of my own mother." I realized that I not only had the blank space of my mother, but I had the very powerful model of my grandmother. And I did not want to mother my children the way she did. But, like so many women I interviewed, I could feel her in me when I was interacting with my children, and it scared me. And above all, I wanted to mother more deliberately, thoughtfully, and joyfully than I was mothered by my grandmother.
When I started talking to other women and doing the academic research, I realized that this idea of growing up without a mother was very broad -- it is not rare for a woman to get to adulthood feeling under-mothered. I met a lot of women who said, "Mother was there but where was she? Why didn't she come to my events? Why didn't she talk to me? Why didn't I feel met and seen?"