- Q: Let’s start with the obvious question: What is an “emotionally absent mother”?
- Q: In your book, you take this job of mothering and break it down into many different roles.
- Q: It seems that you highlight one of these needs as more important than the others.
- Q: You also talk about the “good-enough mother”? What makes a mother good enough?
- Q: You interviewed both men and women for this book. What did you find most surprising?
- Q: What else can you tell us about these households?
- Q: You say that not being adequately mothered leaves a hole in you – or many holes. What do you mean by this?
- Q: How does this undermothering affect people long-term? What problems do these people have when they grow up?
- Q: How can you heal this “mother wound”?
- Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?
- Note: This interview relates to the first edition.
Q: Let’s start with the obvious question: What is an “emotionally absent mother”?
A: An emotionally absent mother is not fully present and especially not to the emotional life of the child. She may be depressed, stretched too thin and exhausted, or perhaps a bit numb. Many of these mothers were severely undermothered themselves and have no idea what a close parent-child relationship looks like. They are doing the outer things they think a mother should do, but have no clue how very big the job of mothering is.
Q: In your book, you take this job of mothering and break it down into many different roles.
A: Yes. I break it into 10 primary roles. In each of these roles, the mother supplies an essential ingredient in a child’s development. In her role of mentor, she provides guidance; as modulator, she helps a child regulate their emotions and inner states, as mirror, she helps the child see him- or herself by providing a reflection.
Q: It seems that you highlight one of these needs as more important than the others.
A: Yes, I think feeling loved is the single most important thing for a child. A parent can provide guidance, encouragement, protection, and so forth, but if they don’t do these things with love, it won’t go over so well. And if they do love the child but badly bungle some other things, they are much more likely to be forgiven. Feeling loved is critical.
Q: You also talk about the “good-enough mother”? What makes a mother good enough?
A: The term good-enough mother was coined by an earlier pediatrician and psychoanalyst to describe the mother who provides enough for a child to have a good start in life. Mother doesn’t have to be perfect – far from it. Recent research suggests that she needs to be attuned and in synch with the child 30 % of the time and to be able to repair the inevitable ruptures in the relationship. When you hear 30%, you think, “That doesn’t seem like so much,” yet I’ve talked to so many adults who can’t remember a single incident of their mother being close with them or caring about their feelings as a child.
Q: You interviewed both men and women for this book. What did you find most surprising?
A: How very little mothering and nurturing so many people have received. And yet there is generally a sense in these families that everything is fine, normal. It’s a bit crazy-making for the kids because mother is there—physically anyway—but she’s not there energetically, and they feel as if they don’t really have a mother.
Q: What else can you tell us about these households?
A: These homes were not what might be called “child-centered.” In fact to the extent these mothers were supportive, it was for children outgrowing their early needs and become more like adults.
These parents didn’t supervise kids, they didn’t talk to their kids, they didn’t touch their kids, and they weren’t there when their kids came to them for help.
Q: You say that not being adequately mothered leaves a hole in you – or many holes. What do you mean by this?
A: It’s interesting how often it is actually felt as a hole in your heart, “the hole where mommy was supposed to be.” It also leaves holes in your sense of self (related to which ingredients were missing), and a hole in your inner mother, your ability to nurture and support yourself. So when mother is missing, there’s a lot missing.
Q: How does this undermothering affect people long-term? What problems do these people have when they grow up?
A: I can only mention a few here, but some of the most common are lack of confidence, feeling like you don’t quite have what you need inside and can’t count on outside support, depression, and feeling like you haven’t gotten enough nurturing yet having some trouble taking it in when it does come your way.
Q: Do people know they’ve been undermothered?
A: Not necessarily. For one thing, if this is what you grew up in, it feels normal. Secondly, there’s a tendency to deny or minimize family problems. It helps you cope with being there. You might even create a story about how great your parents are when really they fell far short. It also depends on people’s exposure outside the family. Did you see other moms being close to their kids? I have questions in the book that will help readers get a sense of which mothering needs were met and which were not.
Q: How can you heal this “mother wound”?
A: There are lots of ways to heal. Many people go to therapy to work through this. Some find others who meet some of these earlier needs—whether partners or friends or in-laws. I have a chapter on inner child work, which I have found amazingly powerful. We can also look at what exactly was missing and how we can find that now, taking a proactive approach. There are 6 chapters in the book about healing.
Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?
A: Most readers are going to be attracted to this book because they recognize something was missing in their own childhood. What I’d like them to know is that the wounds of childhood, however deep, can be healed. It’s never too late to get the mothering you needed or the love that you missed.