Mothering Without a Mom with Guest Dr. Melissa Reilly

This week we are joined by Dr. Melissa Reilly, a Mom without a Mom, Coach and Clinical Psychologist. Tune in to hear Melissa share her own story about becoming a Mom without a Mom, what it can be like to face this journey (whether through loss, distance or estrangement), and the four types of people every mom should have as part of her community.

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer,

Tina: We come to not as mental health professionals or experts in the fields, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website

Tina: Serena, you and I grew up with our moms supporting us in one way or another as we became moms, right? Neither of us, although neither of us lives near our mothers when our kids were born but we were able to access them if we needed them for some advice or maybe some advice we didn't even need, right? But the reality is for a variety of reasons many new moms don't have their own mothers to lean on. We have yet to explore this kind of complex topic, and today we have a guest who will talk about this very thing from a personal and professional perspective.

Serena: Dr. Melissa Reilley is a mother of two boys and a mom without a mom. She has been a clinical psychologist for 23 years and is Mom Coach passionate about helping moms separated from their mother by physical distance, estrangement or death. She helps moms move from feeling alone and without mom support to a place of resilience and self-confidence even on those days they long for a loving mom right beside them. Melissa, welcome to the podcast.

Melissa: Thank you so much Serena and Tina. It is my pleasure to be here.

Tina: So this passion for the work that you do comes from a very personal place and if you would, can you share a little bit of your story?

Melissa: So I'd be happy to. So as you had mentioned, I'm a clinical psychologist and the first half of my adult life was focused on becoming a psychologist. So I became a mother later in life. I was just a few days shy of my 38th birthday when I gave birth to my son and I'll never forget that day when my husband placed our baby on my chest and I realized I had no idea what to do. At that point didn't have any female relations. My mother and both my sisters had passed away many years prior and I was alone. I didn't have any support. My friends who had had children, their children were grown up or teenagers so they were in a very different life space and all of my experience was with my professional life. Now even though I had been a clinical psychologist who had seen hundreds of moms treating them for their new mom anxiety, parenting skills, relationship dynamics, in fact I even taught human development and child and adolescent development at the graduate level but none of that prepared me for just how overwhelmed, isolated, and inadequate I felt at that moment. And it took me a while to realize that it went beyond the typical insecurities of most new moms. I was experiencing a grief process for my mother that I didn't recognize as a grief process because my mother had died back when I was 25. So this was quite a while previously and I had already done the typical grieving and had gone through a number of typical adult milestones so I knew what that grieving process was like but the reality is all moms regardless of their relationship with their mother want the support and guidance of a loving mother and when you don't have that either because she's died or because you don't have a healthy relationship with her then you grieve what you had wanted to have and that's what I was experiencing.

Serena: Yeah so as you've said there was little information out there about parenting without a mother figure present in your life and I feel like it's not something that is talked about you get correct me on that if that's wrong but what you did do is create that kind of support that you wish you had had which is amazing so tell us about your Mom Coach program.

Melissa: Sure as you had mentioned absolutely there isn't a lot of support out there. In fact after my son was born I kept seeing clients and I certainly noticed seeing these patterns amongst other moms who were like me and didn't have a mom and so being the psych nerd that I am I thought hmm there must be something to this so I did the research and sure enough not a lot out there and so I made the decision to do something about that and I started creating my own program and the things that I recognize that are uncommon are moms who don't have the support and guidance of a loving mom as I already mentioned they go through a grief process but they also don't have a go-to person that most mothers function as so we need to intentionally build a mom community and then the third commonality is some difficulty in creating a mom identity so basically who are we as a mom because let's face it right we aren't born knowing how to be a good mom we learned that from our own experiences of mothering as well as from witnessing the mothers around us primarily our own but if we don't have a good mother or we never had a good mother or we had one and she's gone then we need to do more to actively create our identity.

Tina: Yeah so that's really interesting point right we have we live in a very complex society where many of us I mean we do not live in the 1950s although I'm not sure the 1950s really was what everyone perceives it to be but let's just go with that you know we have we have foster adoptive parents we have those bio parents who don't have support it is a very complex place so I think the work you're doing is so important this motherless moms thing you know like having those role models because you know part of your coaching we are all about support it's how we started working together. Serena and I supported families and I think we've lots of people talk about this including Bruce Perry in his book What Happened to You? Right, he talks about the fact that the difference between families that had been successful in the past and like why do we have so many families that are really struggling and it's about that support right we don't live with the same perceived support structure and we you know people need more support so we all know that right we all need support and many of us just don't know how to ask for that support but the specific kind of support you know that would be most supportive to us so I would say I never assume what somebody needs until they tell me what they need right I don't I don't think that's fair so tell us a little bit about the support aspect of coaching.

Melissa: Well coaching and psychotherapy are different so I like to use an analogy and when I think about therapy it's like using a full-length mirror so you can see all of yourself and make adjustments and it's a big perspective whereas coaching is like using a makeup mirror so you're looking at one specific area and making adjustments there very specifically. So as a clinical psychologist and coach I do both in my clinical practice. I you know treat anxiety and depression and a lot of childhood trauma experiences and so forth and then in my coaching program that is where I focus on assisting those moms who don't have a mom recognize the impact that not having a mom has on their life. So in the beginning for example I didn't know what was wrong with me I just knew something was wrong with me I couldn't seem to get my stuff together you know despite having all the background age and education and so I felt like there must be something wrong with me. I internalized it. Well the reality is that is true there are like I said earlier differing aspects of being a mom without a mom that can become problematic and but unfortunately if we don't if we can't label it or identify it or recognize what's making us feel badly we tend to default to there's something wrong about who I am where we label ourselves as bad. I'm a bad mom. I'm overwhelmed. I'm never going to get this. So the first part of being supportive and coaching is helping the mom recognize and identify first that there is something you know making or feel this way that it isn't her and then helping her dive in to see what it is and then we strategize and create tools and a path forward so that she can you know live her best life whether that is helping her develop her mom community, whether that's helping her with tools on recognizing when grief pops up unexpectedly in her life and then giving her strategies to address that or and depending on you know how long I work with with each mom looking at the the pieces of the mom identity. You know, what are those values and priorities that you experience from your mom or you've witnessed from others that are consistent with your own values and priorities that you want to hold on to and keep and what are the things you want to let go of because that can really vary. So for example when moms have had very positive experiences with their mother and then she dies they can experience grief when and feel like they're betraying their mom if they try and do things differently or they walk a different path. Or you can also have a mom who had a real estrangement with her mother and then when she hears her mother's voice in her head in her own parenting that she starts feeling guilty and really badly about herself even if some of those things were positive. So I help them to sift through all of that as well.

Serena: So I'm curious Melissa we didn't I didn't do any research sort of for this episode but do you have statistics around how many people out there are finding themselves mothering without a mother?

Melissa: That's a great question there aren't any specific statistics for moms without a mom however there was a study done by the Pew Research Foundation back in 2017 and they found that there were four million children living in homes that didn't have a mom.

Tina: That was interesting because that was the research that I did find and I wasn't sure how necessarily relevant that was so yeah thank you for bringing that up.

Melissa: You're welcome. Well and that same study found that that number in 1997 was three million and then back in 67 it was one million. So what we can do from those numbers is we can extrapolate and recognize that now those children grow up they didn't have a mom back then you know they now they may have step moms or other mother figures but they still had the loss of a mom figure and so now we know that there are millions of moms who are parenting with that experience and that doesn't even include women like me who lost her mother in adulthood nor does it include the mothers who are disconnected from their mom through an emotional or physical distance. So in my experience it is a much more common circumstance than people recognize. I can't tell you how many women I've spoke to that said oh my goodness you know I am a mom without a mom but my mom's alive and I didn't even realize how much that was an impact. In fact those moms feel even more shame because there's this idea of well I can't talk about not having the mom because she's here she's just no good to me.

Serena: Yeah so it sounds like there are likely a lot of people listening who share this experience for sure. Yeah so I can imagine that you know you're helping moms out there hold some very hard feelings and stories and what we know to be true is that even the best caretakers need to take good care of themselves so what do you do for self-care?

Melissa: Oh I have a number of things that I go to. First of all I am a bit of an introvert actually I'm not a bit of an introvert. I'm a huge introvert and but my life is as a helper and so I am with people all day long and then I come home and I'm a mom and so my resources and energy can become drained. I mean they they not can they do they get drained every day so I am very careful about being aware of where my physical energy is as well as my emotional and spiritual energy and I take time to myself usually a minute to two minutes to ten minutes several times throughout the day because I need to continuously be replenishing I can't wait till the end of the day otherwise I've become a cranky hot mess and just ask my family that they'll they'll test that. But several times a day I take just a few minutes and I just focus on my breathing you know nice calming in breath and a nice calming out breath and I imagine light coming into my body and then the tension leaving my body and you know I have a number of other relaxing techniques but I'm a big fan and I think this is so important for moms out there is to do these things in really small little bitty increments throughout the day. I think a lot of times when we think about self-care we think about those big things right but if you're a mom especially if you don't have somebody that can just come watch your kids for you you don't get that opportunity to step away very often especially when your kids are young and so it's about those little things. I would do little yoga poses with my son when he was a little. Just one you know or two and that would calm me down it would calm him down if we needed calming down if our nervous systems were you know uh dysregulated. But I also you know pray routinely as a big part of my life is my faith community. I read and um those are my my and and being outside you know I absolutely love nature and I've lots of windows in my home. In fact right now I'm sitting in my office looking out wide windows as we talk.

Tina: That light super important yeah absolutely so I can imagine after this conversation that this is striking a chord with some of our listeners and uh might be they might be seeking some support like this. I'm curious how they can find you

Melissa: well I'd be happy to tell you how they can find me but even before they do that I want to talk a little bit about building community if that is okay.

Tina: absolutely.

Melissa: because because um this is going to be in their day-to-day life so yeah. Everybody talks about you need a mom community right but it becomes really hard to figure out who to have in our mom community so I identify four specific types of people that every mom should have but especially mom without a mom. So the first person I like to call Wise Woman. So this is the person that knows things. She has lots of answers and if she doesn't know the answer she knows how to get it and she is super generous with her advice. So this can be you know an older relative it can be as you know a professional. For me it was my son's nursery school teachers. They were huge support to me in that way. The second person I include is someone I call an Emotional Supporter and this is a friend relative professional who is really good at listening so they don't give advice and they don't try and cheer you up. They just let you be where you are and so often moms don't get that opportunity. The third person I like to call the Go Getter and this is a person who's just really good at getting things done. Now I don't know about you, Tina and Serena, but I have a couple people in mind who I am in awe of because they can get 10 different things done you know the vacuuming doing the laundry picking up groceries all before they dropped their kids off at school in the morning you know but that's not me and that's all right because not all of us have that type of personality style. So Go Getters are really task oriented and they are great and efficient at getting things done and we all need one of those that we can call upon. And then the last person I like to call the Late Night Talker and so this is somebody that can be available to us when we need at different times of the day. Now in today's social media world this can be online individuals particularly since the world is and social media is more global you know. We can be involved in groups so if you don't have a person in your life who tends to be up really late it's okay because there are lots of other ways of creating that. Now the reason it's important to have people in those four categories is because as you mentioned earlier we need support we are not biologically designed to raise our families by ourselves. We cannot fill all of the roles that a mom… one person cannot fill all the roles a mom typically would unless it's for their child. So your mother may fill all four of those roles but none of us fill all four of those roles for people that aren't our children and that's just normal and natural. We all have our own strengths and our own gifts. For example like I said I'm not a Go-Getter so I'm not the person people call to help them get things done because I still have five loads of laundry in my laundry but I am a good Wise Woman. I know things and I'm pretty good at emotional support so no surprise there. So by identifying the strengths of your friends and recognizing your own strengths so you can give those back to your friends then you're naturally building your community. Does that make sense?

Tina: It totally makes sense. It's amazing and we are all about the finding your champions people and I think you've identified very clearly the types of people to look for that are going to serve you know your support needs in a way that it's very specific so I love how you work that down. Absolutely.

Melissa: Awesome and I love to help moms identify their community members and creating a fleshing it out because again it can feel overwhelming like you know when I had my son I was new to our neighborhood I you know I this isn't where I grew up so I felt very overwhelmed and I so needed it took me a while to develop that community but you know I I now recognize and have more tools that I can help other women so it doesn't take them quite as long as I did. So listeners can find me on my website which is called I'm also on Instagram this Moms Without a Mom and then Facebook. I have a Facebook page and a Facebook group called Thriving as a Mom without a Mom and that is a really nice small group but it's engaged and the moms they're really focused on supporting each other and giving tips and advice and suggestions. It's a very upbeat and positive group which is different than some of the other motherless moms groups which tend to be more about grief.

Serena: Yeah yeah great thank you for sharing all of that so before we close out the episode I'm curious if there is anything that we haven't asked you that you want to make sure to put out to the world?

Melissa: Well I am super excited about a couple things coming up that I would love to share sure. First and foremost Mother's Day can be a tough day for a lot of moms and I am hosting a mom's day of pampering for the week of Mother's Day and it is a free event and I already have 16 speakers and it's going to be an experiential virtual day of pampering just for moms and so that link will be on my website and I would love for as many moms that are interested to gift themselves a day of pampering which will be available for an entire week so it's not like you have to set aside the whole day but there's going to be some self hypnosis, self massage, there's going to be meditations and affirmations and crystal healing and all kinds of really good things so I am excited about that. And then the other thing I'm super excited about is I my the book that I wrote Thriving as a Mom without a Mom will be also available for Mother's Day.

Tina: Oh that's great awesome well thanks for mentioning those things and they will be there will be more information on your website or in Instagram or Facebook?

Melissa: Yes, absolutely.

Tina: Okay perfect, excellent. So we appreciate all your as we sometimes say we have pain in our lives and we turn that into purpose and I am grateful that you've shared your pain to purpose moments and and thanks for sharing those with others so we appreciate you joining us today Melissa.

Melissa: Thank you so much I really enjoyed talking with you ladies.

Serena: Thanks Melissa and so podcast friends we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us you can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts, leave us a review while you're there, subscribe and please share our podcast with others. You'll find more content on our website connect with us on Facebook Instagram Twitter or call us and leave us a voicemail you will find that number in our show notes.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening!

Tina: Bye!