Mother Figures for the Motherless

by |

“I’m 42 years old and I still don’t know where I belong,” I cried to my sister, standing in her kitchen.

We had stopped at my sister’s place after spending Easter weekend with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Butch. Butch and Mary are part of my stepmother’s family. Well, she was my stepmother when I was growing up. She and my dad have since divorced. I got custody of my stepmom and her family in the divorce. I was seven when my mom died. Eight when dad remarried. Seventeen when they divorced. See how complicated it can be?

We don’t realize how important moms are until we’re left without one or, as in my case, when we are floundering in the role of being a mom, and not sure where to land for support or advice. My eldest sister assured me that I belong with her. I needed to hear that. I always worried that she resented me for loving my stepmom. My sisters and my stepmom didn’t get along so well. I felt as if by loving my stepmom I had betrayed my sisters somehow.

I had a similar feeling leaving my middle sister in California after a visit this summer. I cried. I wanted to stay and keep feeling like I belonged. Strong females are everywhere in my life and I don’t want to choose between them. A part of me thought the divorce meant that I, too, had to pick a side. But I need them all.  My Step-Aunt Mary (is step-aunt a word?) has always been a soft place land. She has an open ear and offers advice that comes from her strong sense of self. She helps me feel grounded and good.

The week after Easter, I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Erma Bombeck is a personal hero. I didn’t read her columns in the papers and I don’t know if my mother ever did. I found Erma’s books in the library in my early 20s and her voice and stories of motherhood made me feel as if I had stolen a glimpse into some secret world. I felt I was learning what motherhood must have been like for my mom. I think my mother’s untimely death is a big reason why I write. I have a deep need to make sense of my existence and to write down my stories. While preserving my stories, I’m also mourning the loss of the stories I’ll never hear, the ones I’ll never know from my mom.  

May is the month to celebrate mothers. Mother’s Day is a hard day for many of us. I am grateful for the strong, secure women around me – my sisters, my aunt, my stepmom, my friends, and even the stories Erma Bombeck was kind enough to leave behind for me. These women have all had a hand in mothering me. They help me remember and they wrap me in a warm blanket of love when I feel so sad for what I’ve forgotten or what I’ve lost.

I was seven. How much could I have possibly held onto? The research in child development reveals that the seven years I had with my mom are rooted in my personality and she is present in ways I can’t fathom. She is still here inside me. She is also inside my children. I find comfort in knowing this.

The longing for my mother will always remain. But I have an amazing group of women in my life who have guided me into adulthood and who support me in my motherhood journey. This Mother’s Day, I honor them.


Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer, wife, and mom of three kids whose ages span two decades. Her work has appeared in the New York Times; Brain, Child Magazine; Scary Mommy and more. Her Cincinnati Family mom blog earned Best Overall Blog in the 2017 Ohio Society of Professional Journalists Awards. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @WriterBonnie or on her website at

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