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Learning to Parent Without You: A Letter to My Late Mom

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The entire family was crowded into the living room of that rental house on the shore. It was you and dad, the six of us kids and our spouses, and several of the older grandkids. We sat on old couches that smelled of ocean, feeling the grit of sand between our toes after a long day on the beach.


We gathered as a family to discuss the next few months. What did the doctors say at your last appointment? How much pain will you be in? Are all the finances in order? How much help will Dad need taking care of you in the coming months? When will hospice care start?

You barely had the energy for that trip, but barring a miracle, we knew that it’d be the last time we were all together. The doctors said you probably wouldn’t be around at Christmas.

You looked weary and thin, wearing wrinkles in your skin that aged you beyond your years. But you were beautiful. You sat on that old sofa next to Dad, answering our questions and concerns with a voice that occasionally quivered and eyes that drooped with exhaustion.

That summer, while talking about the harsh realities of your cancer, it hit me in a deeper way than ever before that you would not know me as a mom. You wouldn’t be there to see my kids grow up or hear them run into your house, arms outstretched as they gave their Nana a hug.

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My voice shook and hot tears ran down my face as I shared my fear with you and the rest of the family. We wept, my heart aching so deep inside me in anticipation of how much more I’d miss you when I had kids and couldn’t share the joy of motherhood with you.

During that last year, I so badly wanted to get pregnant simply so that you could be there for it, but I knew that at that time, my primary focus was taking care of you. I wanted you to help me learn how to be a mom. Instead, I was living the crude reality of changing you, feeding you, brushing your teeth, making you comfortable.

It was a joy and a privilege, a season of my life that in an odd way, I’m thankful for. But it wasn’t what I envisioned.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant. I think I took at least three pregnancy tests that morning, just to make sure. My husband was getting ready to walk out the door to work. I came downstairs trying to hide the excitement evident in every bone of my body, and he asked what was going on.

I tried to keep it a secret – just until the end of the day at least. I knew there was no way he’d be able to focus at the office if the day started off with this news. But he saw right through me, and there in the kitchen, me still in my pajamas, we smiled, laughed, and cried happy tears because of the new life that was inside of me.

We had our first doctor’s appointment when I was eight weeks along. I wish you could have seen my husband’s face when the doctor told us the news. Twins! Unknown to him at the time, I had been praying for two.

He had that “deer in the headlights” look, and I was nervous and scared, but my excitement outweighed all of that. We called everyone in the family on the way home from that appointment, still trying to wrap our minds around the reality of two babies.

Oh, how my heart ached to call you.

As my pregnancy progressed, there was so much I wanted to talk to you about because, well, you did this whole mom thing six times over. What baby gear did I really need? Was breastfeeding hard? Did you have any suggestions on how to sleep better at night during pregnancy? Did you go into labor naturally? Did your water break, or did they break it at the hospital? Any suggestions on how to deal with this annoying pregnancy heartburn? You were the expert I desperately wanted to consult.

When people found out I was pregnant with twins, they’d often say something to the effect of, “Wow! Congrats! Is your mom going to stay with you for a while when they’re born?”

I know they meant well, because having your mom come help after childbirth is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But it wasn’t my reality. I’d try to dodge the question by saying, “My dad and sisters will come out, and we’ve got family in the area, too, so I’ll have lots of help.”

But as much as I tried to avoid the question, I was regularly reminded that you weren’t going to be staying with us. You wouldn’t be stocking our freezer with homemade spaghetti sauce and pineapple chicken. You wouldn’t be there to run errands or rock a crying baby. I wouldn’t be able to ask you questions about my daughter’s reflux, or whether or not you sleep trained, or the question that’s been on repeat in my mind throughout my entire journey of motherhood: “How the heck did you do this six times?”

On my first Mother’s Day, my sisters gave me a video of an interview they did with you and Dad. It was about all things pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. Your health was in rapid decline when the video was recorded, but you did your best to answer so many of my questions. I wasn’t even pregnant when they interviewed you, but I was given the gift of hearing your answers years later during the trenches of motherhood.

At times, it felt like you were there in the room, talking directly to me, as if I was actually sharing my first Mother’s Day with you. It was one of the best gifts I have ever been given. Eventually, the video ended and you were gone. How I wish I could just pick up the phone and call you.

The kids are walking and starting to talk now. My son is a snuggler, who could spend all day playing in the dirt. My daughter is strong. She knows what she wants, and she’s as stubborn as anything. My husband says she gets it from me – and I know I get it from you.

I want to ask you questions about discipline, the developmental differences between my siblings and me when we were kids, what it was like to have more than two. I want you to see the dimples on my daughter’s cheeks when she smiles and hear my son’s giggles when he’s tickled.

I want you to cry with me when motherhood is overwhelming.

As the years go by, waves of grief make room for waves of healing, and I remember I have much to be thankful for. I miss you deeply, and I wish I didn’t have to learn how to parent without you. I wish you were here to watch me be a mother.

But I’m eternally grateful I got to watch you.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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If there's one item that people claim is *so* worth the price-tag, it's a Dyson vacuum. The cordless tools have become essentials in homes, cleaning up messes quickly, all without the hassle of a cord.

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Arguably the most popular of the Dyson family, and marked down 20%.

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Beyoncé's new Netflix documentary Homecoming hit the streaming service today and gives us an honest look at how difficult her twin pregnancy was.

"My body went through more than I knew it could," she says in the film, revealing that her pregnancy with Sir and Rumi was a shock right from the beginning, and the surprises kept coming.

In the film she reveals that her second pregnancy was unexpected, "And it ended up being twins which was even more of a surprise," she explains.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé | Official Trailer | Netflix

The pregnancy was rough. Beyoncé developed preeclampsia, a condition that impacts about 5 to 8% of pregnancies and results in high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia poses risks to both the mother and the baby. People who are pregnant with multiples, like Beyoncé was, are more at risk to develop preeclampsia, and the only real cure for the condition is to give birth, which proved to be another medical challenge for Beyoncé.

"In the womb, one of my babies' hearts paused a few times so I had to get an emergency C-section," she shares in the film.

Thankfully, Beyoncé made it through her extremely difficult pregnancy, but the physical challenges didn't end there. The road to rehabilitation for the performer was difficult because, as she explains, she was trying to learn new choreography while her body was repairing cut muscles and her mind just wanted to be home with her children.

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"There were days that I thought I'd never be the same. I'd never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same," Beyoncé recalls.

We know that becoming a mother changes us in so many ways, and in Homecoming, Beyoncé shows the world the strength that mothers possess, and rejects any ideas about "bouncing back."

Becoming a mother is hard, but it is so worth it, and Beyoncé isn't looking backward—she's looking at a mother in the mirror and loving who and what she sees. "I just feel like I'm just a new woman in a new chapter of my life and I'm not even trying to be who I was," Beyoncé said in the documentary. "It's so beautiful that children do that to you."

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Warmer weather is finally here, mama—and that means it's time to switch up the family's wardrobes. 🙌 If you love matching with your little, or are determined to *finally* get those family photos made this spring or summer, we're obsessed with these mommy and me matching sets.

Here are some of our favorite mommy and me matching outfits for spring. 😍

1. Ivy City Co Jumpsuits, $42.00-$62.00

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This linen set is perfect for transitioning from hanging out at home to dressing up for days out. Plus, plenty of space for growth!

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2. Madewell x crewcuts Denim Set, $55.00 and up

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We're obsessed with the '90s vibes these sets give. Now to decide which to choose—denim jacket, shorts, or dress?

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3. Old Navy Floral Midi Dresses, $10.00-$22.50

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Nothing says spring quite like florals. The whimsical prints are dainty and the rayon fabric is breathable for those warmer days. Shop mama's version here.

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4. PatPat Matching Family Swimwear, $19.99 and up

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Match with the entire family with this pinstripe set. We love the one shoulder look, too!

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5. Keds x Rifle Paper Co Sneakers, $44.95-$79.95

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Twin with your little in these embroidered canvas sneakers. Bonus points for a rubber outsole so no slipping. 👏Shop the version for mama here.

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6. Lily Pulitzer Shift Dresses, $58.00-$198.00

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Still not sure what to wear for Easter or that summer soirée? Pick up these matching shift dresses for the most beautiful family photos. Shop mama's version here.

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7. Maisonette x marysia Swimwear, $57.00 and up

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These are definitely splurge-worthy, but we can't get over how adorable they pair together.

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8. PatPat Gingham Dresses, $17.99-23.99

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These will be your go-to pick for every outing this spring and summer.

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9. Old Navy Striped Oxford Shirts, $13.00-$22.00

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A relaxed oxford is a staple in everyone's closet. It's versatile enough to dress up or pair with denim for a more laid back look. Shop mama's version here.

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10. Pink Chicken Garden Dress, $72.00-$198.00

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Whether you have a spring wedding to attend or want something flowy to wear for vacation, we adore these garden dresses. Bonus points for working for maternity wear, too.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Being a perfectionist has naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental U.S., where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with growing up in a household of five women.

Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved. Whatever the reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem.

That is, until, I became a mom.

When I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams.

A nap schedule was, of course, essential. My son was easygoing and slept through the night like an angel baby. My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part-time and keep healthy meals on the table every night, but I did struggle tremendously with breastfeeding.

Since I took this failure as a great assault at my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom guilt run rampant over the issue. I decided I would just step up my perfect-parenting game in another way by pumping breastmilk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.

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For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it can become total madness and take away the joy of feeding your child.

Managing a toddler was definitely wild, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control." In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect. All was fine until I became a mom of two children. It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of perfection.

I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way. My body was a wreck, not "bouncing back" as it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than three hours until she was over a year old. She cried for hours on end most nights, as I tried relentlessly to calm her.

I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, I was a zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces. Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider. Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.

The demands of motherhood laughed at my idea of picture-perfect motherhood. Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried. Oh man, did I cry.

It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff.

Even though I didn't really know how I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore. I had grown so weary of the high standards I had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.

I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, don't worry about it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc). Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter. I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day- old stain on the dining room floor. The beauty in the moments, when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.

The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this way for more than three decades. But I did know that I needed to start somewhere. So I started practicing being imperfect. Just like I had been teaching my 4-year old son. "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.

So, I did. And so I still am, practicing being imperfect.

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