We introduced you to the Stages of Emotional Development and Mother loss in an earlier blog.
Basically, the concept is:
+ 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 adult.
Now let’s go forward for those of you who experienced mother loss through death or absence from 0-6 years of age.
The major theme for this stage is Trust vs. Mistrust.
Experiencing loss in the 0-6 age influences Erickson’s first three developmental stages that are critical to healthy development.
- Learning Basic Trust Versus Basic Mistrust (Hope) — Major Question: “Can I trust the people around me?” The child, well – handled, nurtured, and loved, develops trust and security and a basic optimism. Badly handled, he becomes insecure and mistrustful. Caregivers who are inconsistent, emotionally unavailable or rejecting contribute to feelings of mistrust in the children they care for. Failure to develop trust will result in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
- Learning Autonomy Versus Shame (Will) “Can I do things myself or am I reliant on the help of others?” Children who successfully complete this stage feel secure and confident, while those who do not are left with a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt.
- Learning Initiative Versus Guilt (Purpose) “Am I good or bad?” During this stage, it is important for caregivers to encourage exploration and to help children make appropriate choices. Caregivers who are discouraging or dismissive may cause children to feel ashamed of themselves and to become overly dependent upon the help of others. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose, while failure results in a sense of guilt.
Click here to read more about the Erkison’s 8 stages of human development.
In the Motherless Daughters Ministry, we have collected over 15 years of comments and insights from women related to age of loss and stages of emotional development. Some women, who have experienced mother loss during this stage as a child, translate early childhood loss into being non-trusting as adults. Behaviors range from keeping their true identity closed off, to simply looking like they are control freaks. One woman, who had lost her mother at age 5, said she felt as if she had to do everything herself and others thought of her as controlling. Secretly, her real issue was that she did not trust anyone to do these things. Her controlling behavior was connected to mistrust of others and the loss of her mother at age 5.
Here are some other themes related 0-6 yrs. age of loss identified in the book, Motherless Daughters: Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman.
- To experience mother loss, a child must first develop the ability to miss someone.
This usually occurs between the ages of six months and one year. When a woman experiences mother loss before six months of age, she may feel little connection to the image of the woman who gave birth to her.
“I really look like my mother. The pictures I have of her show how similar we are but I cannot get that feeling connection. Should I? I want to. It is just not there.” This woman experienced enormous guilt and stress when other family members pushed her to feel connected to the mother she lost at 6 weeks old.
- Toddlers can recall visual and tactile images related to their loss.
“I was walking through a crowd and smelled the perfume, TABU. I was instantly taken back to flashes of mother memories. I just can’t remember if they were real or not. I think my mother wore this perfume all of the time.”
- Trauma of separation often illuminates specific scenes or fixes them in their memory.
Many women have shared that they have a certain scene associated with their mother loss that is fixed in their mind. One woman who experienced mother loss when she was 3 years old shared, “I can still see the images of the car tumbling over and over in my mind.”
- Always looking for a mother.
There is a children’s book titled, “Are you my mother?” by PD Eastman (about a bird who after falling from the nest goes in search for her mother). The bird asks many animals and objects to no avail, “Are you my mother?” Eventually the mother bird and the baby are reunited after a long search. Unlike the mother bird in the book, the mother does not return to our motherless daughter and so the daughter constantly goes in search for a mother.
One woman shared that she gravitates to women who she thinks can give her what she is missing. She finds herself almost smothering relationships because of this. Her hope is that she can find, in one person, someone who will do all of the things she missed not having a mother. This has fractured or even scared off many new relationships. The same woman also talked about the unfairness she puts on her husband to nurture her in ways she missed.
- Expectations of Abandonment
Here comes the catch, women who have experienced mother loss from ages 0-6 also EXPECT to be abandoned. This can keep relationships at a distance. It can keep them from fully connecting to others in a meaningful way. “I know they will leave me too, so why try?” Some have even played the game of “I will leave you first, because I know you are going to leave me.”
The critical factor that determines how emotionally balanced and centered we are as adults is the availability of a consistent, loving, and supportive care of another adult after losing a mother. This could be a father, grandmother, and older sibling or anyone who is willing to invest in the child’s growth.
If you have experienced mother loss from the ages of 0-6, can you relate to any of these themes as an adult? How does this play out in your adult life? Are there ways that you act as an adult that connect with these themes? Share your stories.