Motherless Mothers

HarperCollins Publishers
(April 4, 2006)

Pages: 320

ISBN: 978-0060532451


Edelman’s voice, infused with fierce maternal love, joins the candid recollections from motherless mothers of all ages and backgrounds. She presents emotionally charged concepts in clear, memorable terms…to encourage frank, cathartic discussion.”

Publisher’s Weekly


I didn’t expect to write another book about mother loss, but toward the end of my pregnancy with my second daughter I was put on partial bed rest, and I had a lot of time to lie around thinking about how much easier my life would be if I had a mother to help me, and if my older daughter Maya had a grandmother she could get to know.

I’d missed my mother a lot when Maya was born, but I’d pretty much kept chugging along with the “I can do it all myself” attitude that had been motoring me for the past sixteen years. This last month of pregnancy was the first time I couldn’t do it all myself, at least not from my station in the bedroom, and this was an awful, helpless feeling. I was also really freaked out by the thought of being responsible for two children, and about the time and attention I’d have to divert away from the child I already had.

I badly wanted to talk with my mother about this—after all, she’d had three–but once again bumped up against the reality of her absence. In an attempt to not sit around feeling sorry for myself for weeks at a time, I started writing about this as a way to channel the energy more productively. I also spoke with a couple of my motherless-daughter friends on the telephone in sort of very informal interviews (thank you, Jennifer, Irene, and Lynne) and found out that they had thoughts and feelings that were very similar to mine.

I started writing the book earnestly when my second daughter, Eden, was about six months old. It took me three years to complete, partly because I refused to leave my daughters motherless by disappearing into my office for ten hours a day to write a book about being motherless, and partly because at the two-year mark my father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away six months later. In the end, it was a blessing of sorts that the book took as long as it did, because by the time I finished it Maya was in the third grade and I had a lot more parenting experience and insight than I would have if I’d written the book in just a year or two.

The research for this book was both harder and easier than it was for Motherless Daughters. Harder, because so little had been written specifically about the experience of being a mother when you don’t have one—only a handful of journal articles, some dissertations, and a few memoirs. Easier, because of the direct access I had to women, both through some of the large Motherless Daughters groups that had formed in the past twelve years and through the internet. I was able to work with Motherless Daughters of Orange County, Motherless Daughters of Los Angeles, Metro Detroit Motherless Daughters, and Motherless Daughters of Chicago to locate women to interview, and an online survey I designed generated more than 1,300 responses from women all over the world. (Thirteen hundred was actually many more than I needed, but so many women wanted to participate in the survey that I kept accepting responses long after they were statistically necessary.)

A lot of people ask me about the cover of the book. Originally, the publisher planned a different cover, with a photo of a woman and her young daughter gazing out at a sunset that I thought did a good job of capturing the overall messages, but then I sent in some shots for publicity use that my friend Deborah Vancelette, a photographer in Santa Monica, had taken of me and my daughters and she’d done such an incredible job that when a decision was made to change the cover the publisher wanted to use one of them. It’s definitely strange for me to see our faces front and center on a book cover (if I’d known the photo was going to be used for that, for sure I would have worn a nicer shirt), but the kids don’t seem impressed by it at all. When I pulled the first one out of the box their attitude was, ‘Yeah, yeah, very nice, now what’s for snack?’ Which is fine with me, and actually greatly relieves me, because at the end of the day, I’m really just the one who packs their lunchboxes and gives them baths, and they’re the ones who stall at bedtime and crack me up with the hilarious things they say.


“A virtual support network for women missing an important living role model.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Drawing upon extensive interviews of motherless mothers, Edelman illuminates the transformative power of understanding mother loss. Citing Harriet Lerner’s The Mother Dance and Linda Gray Sexton’s Searching for Mercy Street , along with other works on parenting and death, Edelman offers essential wisdom.”
—Library Journal