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Being a Parent When You Don’t Have One

This Encino mom reflects on the challenge of parenting without parents.

Several of my friends are struggling with their parents’ deterioration, and I can only imagine how difficult that must be. But it’s a life passage that, unlike most of my peers, I will never endure. 

My loss has been entirely different. Both of my parents died prematurely and quickly from illnesses, two years apart. I was already in my 30s. They saw me graduate from college and write for several national magazines, and they met my future husband. I was a full-fledged adult. But I wasn’t yet a parent.  

The fact that my mother and father never met their only grandchildren and that my son, 15, and daughter, 10, have never met my parents leaves a void on many levels. Personally, I feel somewhat disconnected, like I’ve had two distinct lives. It’s almost surreal to think that the people who’ve influenced me most have never seen each other or spoken.

Had they, I know they would have had fun. My daughter would have loved helping my mom in the kitchen, eating raw cookie dough and laughing about what a bad cook I am. My son would have sat on the porch, grilling my dad about his favorite movies, actors and directors. He’d have listened for hours.

When I see a mother, daughter and grandmother out to lunch or at the mall, I’m in awe. I’m sure there are arguments and annoyances I’m unaware of. Still, I get a wistful yearning when I spot grandparents next to their adult children at soccer games and school plays, cheering on their mutual pride and joy.

I also miss not having gotten to bond with my parents over being a parent. Did they stress out when I had a 102 fever or got my driver's license? Questions about our family history are unanswered too. For instance: Where did my son get his musical talent? Clearly not from the three of us, and according to my mother-in-law, it wasn't from that side.

Luckily, my husband’s parents are loving grandparents, albeit out of state.  When my daughter needs a family recipe, interview or artifact for school, there’s nobody better than my mother-in-law. She also shares stories about my husband’s childhood, like how he broke his arm tobogganing and she thought he was faking it. Or how much he hated having to pick rocks off the field on his grandfather’s farm. Ironically, my childhood here in the Valley was more like my kids’, but in some ways they have greater knowledge about their father growing up in the Midwest.

Now that my children are older, I realize that the loss of my parents has clearly affected how I parent. Mostly in positive ways. I appreciate my in-laws and the gift of extended family that they give our family. I’ve made my kids spend more time with each other than most siblings do who are five years apart in age, and I think it’s made them closer. I have firsthand experience in teaching the importance of being resilient. Most significantly, I savor everyday moments that I likely would have otherwise taken for granted.

Susan Spillman November 01, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Many thanks. Susan
Barbara Peterson November 01, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Susan, I know exactly how you feel. I lost my father at 13 and was so "left out" at graduation, wedding and birth of my only child. It's one experience that I wish people didn't have to go thru in life.
Susan Spillman November 01, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Totally agree. Thanks for the comments. Susan
heather myman November 01, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Lovely article and great newlywed photo!
Susan Spillman November 01, 2011 at 05:10 PM
Thanks. It's strange to look at photos of my parents when they were younger than me because I recall how old I thought they looked at the time.


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