Lorraine's mom has a hard life. She works as a home-care nurse for terminally-ill, elderly patients. She's been a single mother since before Lorraine was born; while she was pregnant with Lorraine, she learned from a doctor that her husband had contracted a venereal disease (and STD) while cheating on her. And that was the end of their marriage.
It's clear that she doesn't make much money; she can't afford a pair of new stockings and steals food from her employers. Lorraine and her diet consists primarily of cans of food Lorraine's mother has "borrowed," as she puts it. Lorraine comments:
I can't tell you what she'd do if I ever took anything, but she isn't even ashamed of what she does. She figures they don't pay her enough, so she'll even it up in her own way.
Lorraine's mom also accepts ten-dollar kick-backs from funeral homes to which she refers her patients' bereaved families when one of her patients "croaks," as she puts it.
She is almost pathologically suspicious of Lorraine's activities, repeatedly warning her that men and boys want only one thing, and threatening that she'd better not ever catch Lorraine in a car with a boy. She often tells Lorraine that her patients try to touch her inappropriately – how many of these advances have actually happened is up to the reader to decide.
She picks on Lorraine mercilessly, telling her that she is not pretty, that her hair should be cut shorter, and that she "wears her clothes funny" (2). She frequently tells Lorraine to stay home from school to clean their apartment, commenting to Lorraine that the school isn't teaching her anything anyway.
However, she does have a softer side. Lorraine says that she is very pretty when she lets her hair down, and when she smiles, "which is hardly ever" (6). Her favorite coffee cup is one that Lorraine gave her, with "MOM" in big letters on one side. She cried when she opened it, Lorraine says (6). Lorraine wonders how her mother got to be this way, and wonders what a good psychiatrist could do for her. On second thought, Lorraine continues, her mother would probably need three years of intensive psychoanalysis (6).