Learning to Be a Mother Can Take Generations — and Sometimes, Distance

I’m so glad I was able to raise my family apart from the ravages of intergenerational abuse. Our species is well equipped to provide many intergenerational friends, formal caregivers and community members. I’m grateful for the absence and polite distance from my biological mother, who is unable to provide healthy love. — Megan M., Chicago

My parents raised their children beautifully. And while they loved their grandchildren, they cherished time alone. When will the burdens on women end? — Krista Conley, Washington, D.C.

My mother was warm when I was a young child, but unfortunately her love chilled as soon as I began to assert my own identity. By the time I became a mother she’d become disinterested. In one of my life’s greatest blessings, I was essentially rescued by a slightly older, dear friend whose children were grown. Her gentle, low-key guidance throughout my sons’ childhoods nurtured us all. When she died suddenly a few years ago, I finally understood the pain of being orphaned. — RoseAnne Cleary, Glendale, N.Y.

Some of us weren’t so lucky. My mom wouldn’t even babysit for a few hours. “Not my thing,” she would say. She hasn’t spoken to or seen my daughter in years. It took a long time to create holiday and birthday traditions with other people. Friends my own age have been my biggest resource. Now every other week, holidays and birthdays, all us parents get on Zoom. The kids started asking to join too, and even our college-age kids hop on for a few minutes because they want to be a part of it. — Alane, Los Angeles

I moved away from my small town and was never closer than a two-hour drive to my mother. Luckily, in a childbirth class for my firstborn, my husband and I met another couple our age, also motherless, and they lived six blocks away. We became each other’s sources of support from infancy all the way through college. She and I still call ourselves “twin daughters of different mothers,” and we’re still best friends. We became each other’s mothers. — Sue MacDonald, Cincinnati

After my dad died, my family moved into my childhood home with my mother. We’re a multigenerational home and a thousand percent stronger for it. It’s wonderful to see my mother teaching my children the old ways of Appalachia: canning and preserving, our language, our music and stories she learned from her mother, who passed them down from her mother. She has been integral in teaching me and my children our heritage. — Lauren Dodgin, Black Mountain, N.C.

I’m Chinese-American, so my mother did the traditional monthlong sit-in after each of my pregnancies. This included making many soups to help me recover after childbirth and to boost my breast milk production. It was invaluable to have the support, and the free child care, but it wasn’t all roses. There were some disagreements on parenting. It took us a while to find our balance. The tradition of my mother doing for me what her mother had done for her is something I’ll treasure. I think I’ll do it for my daughter as well. — Andrea Wang, New York, N.Y.

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