Friday, December 7, 2012

Single Father's Book Club: Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman

Hope Edelman created a painstakingly researched and written tome on the subject of a girl's loss of a mother. Ms. Edelman knows her subject. It's clear from the dedication to the epilogue that the book is a dedication to her own mother who died in 1981. I'm sure the exercise was as practical as it was cathartic for the author.

What I like about Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss is  more than the research, more than Ms. Edelman's portrayals of her own experience, and more than the "case studies" of the scores of other motherless daughters who the author interviewed for the book - the practical "what to expect" stuff. While there are many examples, the one that made an impression on me was her descriptions of the grieving processes based on the age of the child. As I read Ms. Edelman's description of a young girl having to wait months after her mother died to begin the grief process because (and I paraphrase) the girl needed to know that she was "in safe and comfortable place to do so," I thought to myself, "Hey, she's right! That's really how it happened!"

Throughout the book, the author continues to make associations and suggestions based on her own research and that of other social scientists (end-noted) and supported by anecdotes from the motherless daughters she interviewed. I particularly appreciated the description of the "Four Types of Fathers" in the chapter entitled "Daddy's Little Girl."

My concern about Motherless Daughters is Ms. Edelman's almost incessant implication that when a girl loses her mother, there's not much that can be done and the girl will suffer. When the motherless daughter experiences menarche, her mother will not be there and the girl will be sad. When the motherless daughter loses her virginity, her mother will not be there and the girl will be sad. When the motherless daughter gets married, her mother will not be there and the girl will be sad. When the motherless daughter has her first child, well, you know. And, that's not the worst of it. As a result of these and other events, the motherless daughter may run a great risk of being socially maladjusted, may seek the wrong kind of men, may turn to same-sex relationships, may become an impotent parent, and so forth. Although Edelman suggested an heroic father or an aunt or grandmother who could serve as a second-best surrogate mother may help to some extent, it did not appear that there were many effective solutions to prevent the likely psychological damage Ms. Edelman suggested a motherless daughter will almost certainly experience.

I did appreciate the author's suggestion of enlisting a doula when the motherless daughter navigates birthing her children. The practical benefit of a doula to talk with the otherwise inexperienced and resource-less motherless and pregnant woman would include breast feeding tips and dealing with post-partum depression. However, there seemed to be little else in the way of coping skills.

A daughter's loss of her mother is among the most tragic, traumatic events anyone can imagine. Heck, fairytales often use the event and images to create an untenable situation for the protagonist, e.g., Snow White and Cinderella. However, whether we want to admit it or even think about it, one person's death does not mean that all life ends. It's doesn't. In the end, each person has to make the decision whether to move forward and find ways to live a happy, fulfilled life, or not. Even a motherless daughter.

In the final chapter entitled "The Female Phoenix," Edelman offers hope. She postulates motherless daughter may experience "an environment without limits...(which) provides freedom necessary for individual growth" where the "tragedy...can be a springboard for creativity and growth, and for working that tragedy out in very healthy ways." Examples of motherless daughters include Dorothy Wordsworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Addams, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Marilyn Monroe, among others. Edelman's final line is, "a motherless daughter can emerge from the tragedy, and take flight," evidently like these high-achieving motherless daughters. The statement is valid, but a part of me isn't sure the author believes much can be done to affect that outcome.