Book Shelf

July 2006


This book gets to the heart of being a motherless mother

Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become, by Hope Edelman, HarperCollins, 2006; $25.95.

A motherless daughter grows up and becomes a mother herself, and feelings of loss suddenly intrude on the present. The emotional ramifications of motherless motherhood—a woman’s doubts about her abilities to be maternal, her anxieties about mortality, her appreciation of the value of mothering—are addressed in Hope Edelman’s latest book, Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become.

In this well-researched book, Edelman shows that motherhood can provide any number of emotional triggers for motherless mothers. The book focuses on the triggers present during various stages of parenting—from pregnancy through the teenage years and beyond. Her goal is to provide an outline of potential emotional triggers and when to expect them.

One criticism of the book is Edelman’s tendency to overgeneralize based on her personal experience. "Look inside the home of a motherless mother," she writes, "and you’re likely to find a shelf of carefully organized photo albums." Really? I look guiltily at the banker boxes filled with loose photos next to my desk.

While reading the book, I kept wondering if stress came from being without a mother—or simply from becoming one. For example, in a discussion of sleep issues, Edelman notes some motherless mothers have a problem with letting their child cry it out. Is being motherless the reason why these women found it difficult to hear their child cry? Or might they have had the same difficulty if their own mothers were still alive?

That confusion, though, is at the heart of being a motherless mother. The unanswered question looms: How would it be different if mother was here? How would I be different? Motherhood is stressful, but motherhood without the emotional support of one’s own mother is even more so.

There is a pervasive myth in our culture that we can someday "get over" grief. The truth is that we bury it, but in a shallow grave, where it can be easily uncovered under the right circumstances. Edelman’s book, though flawed, opens the dialogue on the very real issues of motherless motherhood. Anne Ward

Get kids involved in planning to make the trip more fun

The Travel Mom’s Ultimate Book of Family Travel: Planning, Surviving and Enjoying Your Vacation Together, by Emily Kaufman, Broadway Books; $14.95.

There is a wealth of information for family vacations in The Travel Mom’s Ultimate Book of Family Travel. First choose a destination. Once that is decided, Emily Kaufman suggests children be involved in the planning stages. Have some pamphlets for them to look at so they can share ideas of what they would like to see. Next, research and select your lodging. Have enough information to map out your time. Remember to include afternoon rest periods.

Now, it’s time to pack the suitcases; don’t forget a boredom bag for the kids. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

One chapter is dedicated to beach vacations, which is divided into regions. Kaufman includes other activities to do and see while visiting beaches. Her favorite once-in-a-lifetime pick: Hawaii.

Another chapter gives a variety of ideas for locations including zoos, museums and historical sites. She describes these as the vacation places where you don’t have to tell the kids they are learning.

The "cityscapes" chapter includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston and Indianapolis, and lets you know what you can see while there on your visit.

Have you ever thought about a winter skiing vacation or some other adventurous outdoor getaway? She includes these ideas, too. There are all-inclusive resorts and family cruises. What a variety to choose from.

No matter what type of vacation you decide on, you will find helpful tips for your plans. I also liked that she includes Web sites. Web sites are always helpful in making decisions. Judy Belanger

Mothers and daughters: Can they converse without conflict?

You’re Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, by Deborah Tannen, Random House, 2006; $24.95.

Mothers and daughters can be best friends one minute and worst enemies the next. They long to be close, yet often push one another away, deliberately or unintentionally. In conversation, they understand one another’s messages all too well but often misunderstand the motives behind the messages. Daughters complain their mothers are too critical; mothers complain their daughters are overly sensitive.

What’s going on?

In her latest book, You’re Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, Deborah Tannen explains it all. She presents and comments about a series of real conversations between moms and teenage or adult daughters. What the reader learns from the conversations and the subsequent analyses is useful for any mom and daughter.

Tannen believes the relationship between mother and daughter is one of the closest the women will ever have. Daughters yearn for their mother’s love, respect and approval. Yet, they also yearn to be independent of maternal dominance. Moms consider it their responsibility to guide daughters toward perfection—or as close to it as possible. Therefore, moms give advice. But daughters often receive these pieces of advice as insults and angrily reject them.

What do mothers most often give advice about? Trivial as it sounds, hair, clothing and weight, according to Tannen. As any mother of a preteen knows, battles concerning appearance can begin at an early age. Is it really important to look good? What looks good? These can be battleground issues.

You’re Wearing THAT? not only defines areas of controversy; it also offers solutions. Some (for example, the advice not to give any advice) may seem unworkable.

Still, Tannen makes moms realize that when they tell a daughter, "I think your hair would look better a little shorter," they are telling her she doesn’t look good right now. And that hurts, especially when it comes from someone as important as mom.

Tannen has a message for daughters, too: Realize that mom’s advice is intended to help, not hurt, and is an expression of her love and care. Ethel Tiersky

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