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Moms remember a good role model

May 12, 2006

More than 1,300 "motherless mothers" participated in an online survey between October 2002 and June 2005 for Hope Edelman's book of the same name, published by HarperCollins.

Eighty percent were younger than 24 when they became motherless and the largest group - 23 percent - were younger than 6. Eighty-six percent of respondents lost mothers to death, while others lost their mothers to mental illness, alcoholism or drug dependency, physical abandonment, emotional unavailability and divorce.

Some of the findings:

When asked to recall their mother's parenting style, 65 percent described her as very engaged, 19 percent as somewhat engaged, 9 percent somewhat disengaged and 7 percent as very disengaged.

As for fathers, only 15 percent were considered to be very engaged before the mothers' deaths or departures; 31 percent as somewhat engaged, 23 percent as somewhat disengaged and 20 percent as very disengaged. (Another 12 percent reported their father deceased or physically absent.)

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But even after the mothers' deaths or departures, fathers' interest in parenting didn't change much, with 18 percent very engaged, 27 percent somewhat engaged, 17 percent somewhat disengaged and 23 percent very disengaged.

Thirty-four percent of respondents called their dad a positive role model while 34 percent called him negative, and other 31 percent called him neutral.

Many women said their opinion of their mother improved once they had their own children.

Sixty-one percent reported more admiration, compared to 5 percent with less admiration; 47 percent had more sympathy for their mother, 3 percent had less; 66 percent were more aware of how their mothers must have loved them; 14 percent were more aware of how they should've loved them; and 8 percent said their opinion didn't change.

Without their own mothers to turn to, 65 percent said they seek parenting advice from friends; 56 percent use books or magazines; 55 percent ask their spouse; 24 percent ask a sibling; 23 percent a paid professional; 12 percent their mother-in-law; and 9 percent their father. Twenty-four percent said they rely only on themselves. (Respondents could choose more than one source of advice.)

Forty-three percent of children of motherless mothers started asking about their grandmother's absence when they were 2 to 6; 2 percent asked when they were younger than 2; 13 percent between 6 to 12; and 2 percent between 12 to 18. Of the 38 percent who had children that never asked, many likely were too young to ask.

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