Happy Mother’s Day! Helpful Lessons From Women I Have Known
I rue the days when I rolled my eyes at my mother for complaining that being a mom was the hardest job of all. How little I understood about the constancy and complexity that the role required. I had no clue about the stress, the worry, the second guessing, the feelings of inferiority and stupidity and the potential for total heartbreak that comes with the title “Mom.”
I’ve known two women in my life who said that, for them, the good of being a mother did not outweigh the negative and if they’d known beforehand what it was really like, they never would have had children. I have never felt that way. For me it is always worth it. The joys and satisfactions and pride of motherhood are the greatest moments of happiness I have ever known. I love being a mom and am thankful every day that I am one.
But one thing I learned early on is that there is no truer statement than it takes a village to raise a child. I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by women who I learned much from in regards to parenting. In this post I would like to highlight some of the things I have found useful.
I’d like to start with one of my favorite tips which came from my husband’s grandmother otherwise known as Mommer. When my daughter was a baby Mommer said to me “Now don’t hold her too much or her bones won’t grow”. This was news to me but maybe in the 1920s when Mommer was having babies this was some sort of a problem but I’m guessing this was just a Mommerism. What I realize now is that there is a kernel of truth to be had here about raising children if we don’t take it literally. It is important to not “hold” children too much so they can grow. There is an awful lot of helicopter parenting going on today with parents so involved in helping their children and not enough emphasis on helping kids take responsibility for themselves so they can learn independence. So thank you Mommer I took this one to heart.
This next one is from my mom’s mother who I called Grandma. Grandma died at the age of 56 when I was only 14 so she wasn’t here to tell me anything directly when I became a mother but I felt I learned an awful lot about how to be warm and affectionate with children from her. My tip from Grandma is one I learned from my mother quoting her, “My mother would always say the laundry will always be there but your children are small for a very short time so enjoy them”. Housekeeping has never been one of my strong suits but when my kids were little enjoying time with them did take precedent over the laundry on many a day. And now that my children are older I feel grateful for the choices I made in this regard.
From one of my Aunts I learned the value of acknowledging and validating a teenager’s feelings. When I was 15 I was madly in love with a boy in Virginia but was staying with my Aunt for several weeks in Boston. I was heartsick over the separation and my Aunt would listen and empathize and never made me feel foolish for my emotions or belittled my feelings as being puppy love. What a gift it was to express how I felt without fear of being judged. Thank you Aunty.
From another Aunt I learned endless lessons about how to entertain children. This Aunt could make anything fun for small children. When she was visiting and would drive my kids to preschool she would entertain them in the car by making up a game about a road they drove on called Frying Pan Road. They would talk about what foolish nonsensical things they would fry in the pan and she would have them in stitches. She could make a magical adventure out of taking them to a bookstore. She could take a child on the verge of a meltdown and distract them with a made up song or story and calm the whole situation down. I marveled at her abilities and learned a lot though I sometimes cursed my inability to have her boundless energy and patience. This Aunt also taught me how important it was to let a young mother know what a good mother she is and to give her feedback on what she is doing well. This was and is such a source of comfort and encouragement to me. I try to pass this along when I work with young mothers in my practice. The memory of feeling like I was failing and making a mess of motherhood is always easy to remember and I try to show compassion to other mothers like I felt from my Aunt. Much thanks and love Aunty.
From my mother-in-law I have learned a lot of lessons about resilience. My mother-in-law is a remarkable woman who had a lot of struggles to contend with in her life. She had a daughter with serious health issues and went through a period of several years taking care of both her daughter and Mommer as their health simultaneously declined. She then lost them both in the space of a year. In the time since she has lost her brother, her husband and then the cat who had belonged to her daughter. Through all of these times she took care of her loved ones (and the cat), she volunteered for Meals on Wheels—yes, volunteered for not received meals from—remained active in her church and the activities there and maintained her circle of friends. She just keeps putting one foot in front of the other and keeps living and giving. Thank you for showing me how it’s possible to keep going in the face of great loss and obstacles.
I don’t know how to narrow down what I learned from my own mother so there may be follow up posts on this topic. One thing my mother taught me and demonstrated to all who knew her was the importance of humor. I can still hear my daughter’s laugh when she was a baby and my mother sang “Sing a Song of Sixpence” to her over and over with a goofy voice and foolish hand motions. My mother and I always laughed together. The other thing I learned from my mother that I want to express was how she taught me to fully engage with other people. My mother never phoned in relationships with other people. She was an intense person who loved deeply. She was not content to ask surface questions and then let a conversation drop off. She dug deep and wanted to talk about people’s feelings and motivations, it was a good training ground for me becoming a therapist now that I think of it. My mother could talk to my three year old about her friends at preschool and my mother would know all of their names. She was a great conversationalist because she cared, she listened and she made time for people. People and relationships were always a priority for my mom and she did not understand when other people were not like that. My mom was also an enthusiastic supporter and cheerleader and she always let me know how much she believed in my talents. By being so engaged in my life I could trust her belief in me and could begin to feel that for myself. I’ll always be grateful to you Mom.
Some of these great ladies are no longer alive while those who are are at great distance. I miss them and I wish that they were here so we could all go out to dinner on Mother’s Day and I could offer a toast of thanks and acknowledgement for how they helped me grow as a mother. I hope that I have learned their lessons well so that my children may pass them on and, in that way, we will all always be connected. Happy Mother’s Day!!