Parentless Parents: The 'I' Factor

Parentless parents could read every parenting book in the world and we'd still never learn what we really want to know as moms and dads.
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Outside my family and closest circle of friends, I've never told anyone that I stuttered when I was little. Stuttering was a deeply upsetting part of my childhood. It caused me to be made fun of, forced me into speech therapy while other kids went to gym, and completely shaped what I permitted myself to say in the class. Day after day I'd weigh the urge to raise my hand against the crush of embarrassment I knew I'd feel when I spoke.

I feel compelled to write about this today because of the amazing story I saw this weekend on "CBS Sunday Morning." If you haven't seen this intelligent and insightful piece on stuttering, click here.

Stuttering remains a part of my life, and in particular, my life as a mom and parentless parent. Stuttering is also an example of the "I" Factor. The "I" Factor is the term I use describe the specific losses experienced by all parentless parents. "I" stands for irreplaceable. Parentless parents could read every parenting book in the world and we'd still never learn what we really want to know as moms and dads.

When my daughter, Lexi, turned three she also started to stutter. She didn't care, but my husband and I were worried and heartbroken. For me, what made it worse was that I had no recollection of how my parents helped me. Did they take the "wait and see" approach as Lexi's pediatrician recommended? Or had I seen that speech therapist in school as part of their deliberate plan for immediate intervention? Since my parents had already died by the time this ordeal unfolded with Lexi, my questions echoed on and on. My brother couldn't help. He was too young to remember. Whatever my parents decided to do, it worked, and I haven't stuttered (perceptibly, anyway) since.

After agonizing over our decision for weeks, my husband and I ended up choosing the aggressive line of attack, and Lexi stopped stuttering almost immediately. Perhaps we would have reached the same conclusion if my parents had been alive, but the scare would have been easier to handle if they'd been there to help us along. I wish I could have just picked up the phone and asked, "Mom and Dad, how did you decide what to do?"

There are other components of the "I" Factor, and they're all described in the Parentless Parents Survey -- a study I conducted to learn more about the specific challenges facing mothers and fathers who are raising their kids without their own parents. If you'd like a free copy of the Parentless Parents Survey Highlights, please send me an e-mail and put "Survey Highlights" in the subject line. I'd be happy to send it to you.


Allison Gilbert's new book "Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children" comes out nationwide on Tuesday, February 15, 2011. Learn more at