The Age of Mother Loss and Stages of Emotional Development

In the Motherless Daughters Journey class, we facilitate an exercise called “What was it like?” The goal of the exercise is to gain insight into how the age of our mother loss affects us today as adults. There is a basic formula that lends insight into how we function as adults and how our mother loss influences who we are today.

 + Age of loss

+ Stage of Emotional Development

+ The ability of our caretaker or support system to allow us to grieve our loss


= Long term adult adaptability  ( In other words how emotionally balanced, centered, and adaptable we are as adults.)  

So let’s get at it. This will be an introduction to get us started thinking about our own experience and how our mother loss affects us today.  In the future we will talk about specific ages and their challenges related to mother loss.

First identify your age of loss. Notice I did not say the age of death. This is not difficult for some, but for others it is a different story. How old were you when you first experienced mother loss? The actual loss could have happened long before a mother’s death or the mother may still be alive. When did she stop nurturing you?  

I recently had a conversation with a 55 yr. old woman who was experiencing lots of emotion over the recent death of her mother. When asked the question about age of loss, she realized it was about 10. Think about this. When did you first experience mother loss? 

Next is a mini-introduction to Erickson and the stages of emotional development through our life span. Erickson basically tells us that each age has several emotional development tasks that we need to master. When we accomplish these tasks, we move on to the next stage.

When we experience a significant emotional event, like mother loss, we get “stuck” in that age group emotionally, even though we grow biologically into adults. Our emotional responses relate to the age of loss. Even though we are adults, we may respond emotionally at a much younger age. This is a life long process unless we become aware of this and learn how to manage this.  You do not have to stay “stuck.”

Now let’s put your age of loss together with the stages of emotional development. Select the age and stage that best defines when you first experienced mother loss.

Was it?

  • 0-6
  • 6-12
  • Teens
  • 20s
  • 30s
  • 40s
  • 50s
  • 60s

We stop at the 60s only because most women lose their mother in the age groups that are listed. Occasionally there are women who experience mother loss beyond 70.  

The last part of the formula has to do with those around you and how they supported you in your grief process. Did they allow you to talk about your mother loss? Did they pretend that she just wasn’t there? Did they encourage you to share your emotions and feelings? Did they depend on you to help them instead of helping you? Was there a safe place for you to grieve your loss?  

Next month we will focus on the effects of mother loss in the 0-6 year old group.   What age and stage best represents you?  

18 replies on “The Age of Mother Loss and Stages of Emotional Development”

Hi Candy,
Thanks for your comment. Wanted to let you know that the information in this blog correlates Ereckson’s stages of emotional development with anecdotal information from our work with women. We have been working with women for 15 years and certainly understand how mother loss and age of loss are connected. Blog on 0-6 is posted. Take a look.

I wish I would have had a better understanding about the loss of a Mother when I was younger.

Our hindsight is always 20-20. If you were in this age group, you would rely on your caretakers to help with the loss at this age. Loss from 6-12 is really tough. People always think they are too young to really talk about it but this is exactly what they need to do. If they don’t, they will always think there was some reason she left and it must have been something they did.

At 46 years old there are many times in my life I feel like a scared 6 year old little girl. I can’t wait to read next month’s blog.

Hi Carol,
Thanks for sharing your comments. The 0-6 age blog is posted. Would love to hear your comments.

Hi Sara,

Thanks for your response. The next blog will be the 6-12 age group. Just so you know, experts say that this is the most difficult age to experience mother loss related to long term adult development issues. Check this out next month.

I am sorry for your loss. It sounds like you had a very good relationship with her. The hole left from her loss must be huge.

I’m very interested and looking forward to the 0-6 stage results. My mother passed when I was 2yrs old! I’m now 27yrs old. My “heartache” is different in a way since i was only a baby i noticed & grieving’s been tough with or without counseling.

Hi Tiffani,
Thanks for sharing. It is never easy no matter how old you were. The 0-6 Blog is posted. Take a look and see how you may relate to what is written.

Waiting for the age of loss in the 20s. I had just turned 20 the month before the loss of my mother to a automobile v pedestrian accident. I never have really dealt with my loss and I think it’s hindered every relationship since then.

You were just starting out into your adult life. I will write about this but I want to say it to you now. A woman who experiences mother loss in her 20s is often misunderstood. While you are considered as “adult” as you venture out on your own, you still need a place that is a safe harbor you can go to at any time. Layer on top of your age, you also experienced sudden traumatic loss. With sudden loss, we have to muster up our defenses to manage all of the things related to the loss now. Our grieving does not take place at the time of loss but later. And it comes in bits and spurts. You did not say how old you are now. How long ago did this happen? You are correct that not dealing with the loss will hinder every aspect part of your life. You cannot change the past, but you can change the way you look at the past. Please think about beginning your journey.

I was just barely 20 when my mom died but I consider myself a teenager. My mom and I didn’t have an amazing relationship – it improved after she was diagnosed within terminal cancer 8 months before she died, but we never got to have a great relationship. It’s been difficult for me dealing with her death, the guilt of being a selfish teenager, and getting married and parenting 5 kids since she’s been gone.

Sounds like you are missing the possibility of a relationship with your mom before she died. It is so common to lay this guilt on us of “missed opportunities”. Sometimes relationships change when a terminal illness occurs. It may be that she was thinking it was her last chance to make a relationship work with you. Hold on to whatever was the improvement. Teenagers are supposed to create their own identity and sometimes this comes in a disgruntled package. That is pretty normal. When the blog on adolescence and the individuation process are published, reconnect with me. Please believe, it was not your fault.

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