7 Mothering Lessons From My Mama
Today, for Mother's Day, my husband bought me a card with a cool illustration of a succulent and copy that appeared to be custom-crafted: "You don't suck." It was super-sweet, not passive-aggressive at all, the perfect mama mantra for me: a goal-oriented, multitasking lady with a strong self-critical streak.
That last (self-shaming) part was not something I learned from my mom, an all-around accepting and seemingly selfless Buddha of a person. KMom as we call her around here, has taught me a lot about parenting, including these seven lessons, which I strive to put into practice every single day. To varying degrees of success.
Work hard but don't complain.
My mom didn't earn her college degree until I was in 8th grade, which meant that in the years she was studying biochemistry (until this past January, she worked as a respiratory therapist), she also was juggling the challenges of raising three kids (one of whom was two years old at one point) and working part-time. Yes, we spent hours at my grandparents' houses and my dad would sweep us out to the bowling alley for afternoons during finals times but Mom never made us feel we were in the way of her getting done what she needed to do. Sometimes we'd quiz her with notecards; once I got to go to class with her at the university. I listened to the lecture and ate M&Ms. Years later, I went to college and studied biochemistry on note cards while eating M&Ms. I guess it looked fun. I continue to work hard and eat candy while doing so. Still working on not seeming "busy" around my kids.
Embrace their passions with gusto.
When I was a kid I liked doing backflips and pirouettes, reading and writing, and leading people in creative projects. (Mostly the same things I like doing today.) I'm pretty sure my mother would rank these very things high on her least favorite things to do. Still, she wholly supported me in these activities, spending hours at the library when she would have rather been at the beach, sewing costumes for my performances, encouraging me to follow my dreams even when they might seem out of reach for my family's financial situation. Following her lead, I've try to push myself beyond the boundaries of my interests (and comfort zone). I have learned how to snowboard, forced myself to read about wizards (and quite liked it), pretended to love Pokemon, and learned an awful lot about baseball. Now, in the Venn diagram of my what my family loves, there's an expanding shared center of activities we can enjoy together. I owe much of this to my mom's influence.
Share your gifts.
Despite having common core values, Kmom and I are more different than the same in the way we interact with the world, and in the gifts we've received to share. I'm an ideas generator who often has little patience for the small details; she's quite shy and enviably excellent at executing. I'm a little tightly wound (or a lot depending upon whom you ask); she's like Jimmy Buffet without the booze or the music. Super laid back. In that way, we make a pretty awesome team and great lifelong teachers for each other.
Celebrate all the things.
My mom made big deals of holidays and birthdays when I was a kid. As a grandma, she goes all out, shipping boxes of thoughtful little gifts to my kids for every holiday. She shows up in Vermont each October to design and fit handmade Halloween costumes and in May to source balloons and bake big batches of cupcakes for Birthday Week, which always includes four to six separate celebrations for two brothers with birthdays separated by three days.
Be ready to listen.
At the breakfast table after her midnight shifts at the hospital; in the car carting us to dance, sports or sleepovers; on the couch after we rolled in from a night out with friends (even in college and beyond), my mom was always available to offer her undivided attention to any issue we might bring up. With my kids heading into emotional years of middle school and beyond, I now recognize the intentionality—and importance—of this casual parental presence.
Rest when you can.
"I'm just resting my eyes," is a frequent refrain of KMom. It immediately precedes a micro nap that readies her to participate in whatever adventure one of her kids, or grandkids, might invite her on next. Like jumping off the Jaw's Bridge at age 64.
My mama has honed her gift of noticing, prioritizing and savoring the simple things that bring her happiness and joy: family and friends; bubble baths and chocolate; minutes or hours in the sun. Where as my default setting is to notice what's wrong or still to be done, her focus always settles one what's good, right, and sweet. In life and in those around her. My all-accepting and wise, mama.
Happy Mother's Day, KMom!