Oh, mama. My heart breaks with you—for you. Trying to mother when your own mother is physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually unavailable is an unparalleled kind of pain. The kind that makes us yell, then sob in the privacy of our own homes.

Now maybe you're lucky enough to have a fantastic husband, or father, or sister, or godmother, or mother-in-law.

But it's not the same. We know.

Because we still long for our own mother. We want her here—available, present, connected, involved. With her grandchildren. With us.

But she isn't.

She isn't able to lend a hand when we need serious help with meals and laundry and bathing and shopping and soothing the baby (or us) as we fall through the days that follow giving birth. She isn't able to watch the kids so we can dash to the doctor or to the bank or the therapist or work or a meeting.

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She isn't able to support our parenting, relate to our mom-fears, suggest remedies for kid sickness or offer advice on behavior issues. She isn't able to validate the difficult job we're doing, the beautiful children we're trying to raise (without her as part of our village). She isn't able to offer help when we need to escape—for a few sanity minutes or vacation or a seriously overdue date with our partners.

She isn't able to play big trucks or pretty ponies, to read books, to snuggle, to take kids on fun Grandma dates, to cheer them on, to cheer them up. She isn't able to say "I love you," or "I am so proud of you" or "oh, honey, come here" with a warm, reassuring hug—for them and for us.

Maybe your mother is deceased. Maybe she's far away—in physical distance or the distance of her own mind. Maybe her emotions are stony, flat, absent. Maybe she's an addict and still addicted. Maybe she's physically present, but there's tension and a clash of personalities. Maybe she leans on you for support. Maybe something else takes her away—other family members, a job, illness, unresolved conflict, or deep, personal wounds.

Whatever the reason, it hurts. I know it does, mama.

It's a lonely, raw, heart-wrenching kind of pain to be without her. Without her hands, her ears, her mind, her eyes, her heart. Without her comfort, her insight, her help, her approval.

And while it won't be the same, while it won't be a total fix for our struggle, there's something those of us who miss our mothers can do.

We can mother each other.

It sounds silly. If you just rolled your eyes, I get it. But hear me out.

We can reach out and mother another mother, because who on earth can better recognize and mitigate this motherless hurt, this hole, than us?

It doesn't have to be a colossal effort.

We can volunteer to watch another mother's kids (without her asking) for a couple hours. So she can go on a date or get her haircut or spend some quality time reconnecting with her faith or a friend.

We can watch her kids when she asks, too—so she can get to that critical appointment or to work, even though daycare is closed.

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We can share our personal mothering struggles, in an open and honest way that will make her feel safe enough to share her own. We can listen and nod, with judgement-free eyebrows and soft, short murmurs which will encourage her to continue, and we won't cut her off with proposed solutions.

We can tell her that we look up to her; we can acknowledge the amazing job she is doing. We can tell her how she is a really good mom, how we admire her beautiful family. We can ask her how in the world she does it all and does it all so well. We can marvel at how she makes mothering look so natural and easy.

We can do for her what she needs—what we need—without making it less sincere by asking or expecting her to return the favor.

Because there still is a return favor, a karma-like effect, a boomerang grace. Somehow, giving away exactly what we want and need, brings us the most unlikely kind of satisfaction. I can't explain why it works; it just does.

And trust me, mama—it's healing.

This story was originally published on May 8, 2020. It has been updated.