My parents died before I had kids. Parenting without parents is hard.

Rearview shot of an unrecognizable young woman taking in the city views while standing on a bridge
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  • By the time I was in my mid-30s, I had lost both my parents.

  • I was old enough to function independently but young enough to still want parental advice.

  • When I became a parent, I missed having my own parents around.

Falling unwittingly under Oscar Wilde's banner of carelessness, by my mid-30s, I had lost both my parents. Suddenly untethered, I found myself adrift in the world as that curious creature, the adult orphan — simultaneously old enough to function independently and young enough to still want parental advice and support. In an age when it is the norm for 30-somethings to move back home, I found myself without a home to go to.

Still, with the energy and zeal of a young(ish) person, I somehow moved on. Being embedded in work probably helped, and with my main points of social contact being colleagues at work and child-free friends, there was little conversation of families of origin. My loss never arose in conversation or needed to be explained. I had lived away from home for many years, so there were no constant reminders.

I thought it was dealt with. I thought, perhaps, I had healed. Enter parenthood.

Then I became a parent

It turns out that having children after your parents have already departed opens a peculiar new set of griefs. Knowing my parents would never meet my children, and vice versa, was bad enough, but then there were the near-daily reminders I never had to deal with pre-children. Typical daily conversations shifted from professional chats around the watercooler to discussions about grandmas and granddads at playgroups: their visits, their presents, and their doting behavior. Daily chatter about the existence of others' parents served as a constant reminder of the absence of mine.

When milestones were reached — first smiles, first steps, first words — I'd find myself wondering when I reached those milestones before the inevitable pang of remembering there was no one left to ask. Faced with various child-rearing challenges, I wondered what advice my parents would have given and how much my children would have loved knowing them. Instead, they ask why they don't have two grandmas and granddads like their friends. Mom would no doubt give a wry smile when she heard me saying the things she used to say to me. And I wish I could say sorry for the myriad ways I didn't understand their actions, but now that I'm a parent, I do.

Many don't understand because their parents are still around

Parenting brings constant reminders that all that history, knowledge, and support are lost to the sands of time, to a time before I even knew I would crave that support or have those questions to ask.

With parenting, my grief is continually reborn, further compounded by the fact that it's hard to talk about; few contemporaries understand because most still have both their parents. Few consider what it would be like to be without that level of support or even what the nature of that support is — a belonging; an invisible web within which to orient yourself; a base to stay connected to, even if far away. Perhaps it's impossible to know until it's gone.

Fellow parents talk to me about visiting their parents, missing them, bemoaning the relationships they share, or their sadness after a parental visit. Those conversations are particularly challenging. I haven't seen my parents for years. I never will again.

There are times when I just want to go to a place where we'd be welcome to simply hang out; perhaps where the children would be looked after while I have a rest or where I could share a cup of coffee and life's ups and downs; someplace to retreat where we would be accepted without expectation. I want to go home.

I'd like to say it gets easier. I take it one day at a time and try to accept the daily reminders of grief that parenting brings.

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