'Nobody taught her how to be a mother': the lived experience of mothering without a mother

Amy Walsh*, Bridget Tiernan, Brent Thompson, David McCormack, Pauline Adair

*Corresponding author for this work

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Maternal grandmothers play a vital role in the transition to motherhood for their own daughters. The current study adds to this literature by investigating the lived experience of motherhood for women who lacked a meaningful relationship with their mothers. Ten mothers of children under 2 years of age participated in a semi-structured interview to explore their lived experiences of being a mother. Women were recruited from two parent-infant services in Northern Ireland. The interviews were analyzed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Three superordinate themes were identified: 'The Birth of a Mother', 'Mourning and Loss' and 'Ghosts in the Nursery'. The first theme captured the significant change of identity women experienced during their transition to motherhood. This identity change shed new light on their own experience of being mothered. The second theme captured the mourning and loss these women felt due to their relationship with their mother. Their lack of meaningful maternal relationships have left a hole impossible to fill. The final theme spoke to the intergenerational element of these mother's experience and their desire to break a cycle of maternal deprivation. The rich content from the interviews highlights the need for services to be aware of this struggle of motherhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)554-571
Number of pages18
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number4
Early online date27 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2023


  • maternal deprivation
  • parenting
  • transition to motherhood


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