As children, we define the term mother or father with femaleness and manhood. We gather this definition from our role models, good or bad. Some lose that image through death and hold on to that ideal or negative image as something to work toward or run away from for the rest of their adult life.
For children who have no model, or a conglomeration of role models from strangers, this identification is daunting. At 5, I was taken from my own mother after I was found beaten and starved and hidden in a basement. My early years were spent attaching and detaching from her during confusing visits. I attached hesitantly to foster siblings. By the time I reached my daughter's age, 12, my own mother vanished forever. My father too, had never resurfaced, though I had his name, and his nose.
I had adoptive parents for a few short years until they both died before I entered 8th grade. After that, I observed the relationships, identities, tragedies, and triumphs of my foster siblings who I lived with until I left high school. I sometimes watched the movements of friends' mothers, or strangers on the street, gathering up my idea of what a mother really might be. I watched women on the train holding toddlers hands, overheard women on the street bragging about their daughters, and I watched others hit and scold. Like a sponge, I took it all in, and decided what I could be someday in that role.