With Mother's Day approaching, I have been reflecting on my own childhood, and the qualities my mother had that I would like to bring to my own parenting. A lot has changed in our world, but these 6 qualities are still as relevant today as they were 25 years ago when my parents were raising us in the 80s and 90s, maybe even more essential in today's busy and distracted world.
1) She knew when to listen. Kids talk a lot, and it's impossible to give attention to every detail. My mother knew when we needed her to really listen. The furrowed brow, focused eyes, nodding head kind of listening. She would drop whatever she was doing and give us her attention for however long we needed it. We purged every last detail and feeling about the situation, no matter how small or insignificant. She knew the value of allowing children a safe place to unload their emotions and feelings, especially the bad ones. This might be the single most important quality that she possessed-- the ability to listen with her whole self, without judgment.
Today, I can put down my phone and turn away from the computer screen, and I can listen to my child with my whole self.
2) She never labeled us. With three daughters, she could have easily compared and labeled us. The smart one, the pretty one, the difficult one, the easy one, the athletic one, the reader, the mathematician, the shy one, the funny one. She refused to limit our potential and who we might grow up to be with a label. She allowed us to change. At times I longed for the security of a label, but she knew it was an important struggle for us to experience. As the middle of three girls, I was doomed to a severe case of "middle child syndrome," but on the contrary I always viewed myself as "lucky" to be a both an older sister and a younger sister. Somehow I never resented being in the middle, but actually enjoyed it, which I see as a testament to my parents' ability to make us all feel special in our own way.
Today, I can see my child as more than a label, or a one-dimensional image posted on social media.
3) She told us we were good. Not at anything in particular, just that we-- our basic selves-- were good, at our core. She saw within us an inherent goodness that nothing could take away or diminish. Our goodness wasn't based on extraordinary accomplishments. We were good because we were ourselves, and that was enough. The concept of inherent goodness is often lost In our accomplishment-obsessed society, but it is essential to building a solid sense of self-worth and future happiness.
Today, I can show my child I love them for their inner self, for the beauty of their soul, and not for any exterior accomplishment.
4) She wasn't influenced by what other parents were doing. At some point I noticed my friends were doing things that we were not allowed to do yet, like having sleepovers, watching PG-13 movies, dressing like Madonna, and later getting into typical teenage mischief. We gained more freedom with age, but sometimes the answer was just "No," and we had to accept it. We got upset and fought with her at times, but she stood her ground when it mattered, even when we were furious teenagers. I am grateful I had somebody looking out for my well-being at all times, protecting me from doing things that cannot be undone and seeing things that cannot be unseen. How much more essential is doing what is right, and not what is popular, in today's Internet, cell phone, social media world?
Today, I can carve my own path for my family, in spite of the powerful messages that come to us from outside sources.
5) She didn't give us everything we wanted. We had enough money for the basics, but discretionary income was limited, so I worked to earn spending money. I started babysitting when I was 9 (I know, now we get babysitters for our 9-year-olds!). In high school I worked at a deli counter and at a doctor's office. I bought clothes, CDs, and even a bike. For my 14th birthday, my parents gave me a new mountain bike. Soon after, it was stolen while I was playing basketball at the YMCA. My parents felt terrible, and we reported it to the police, but they couldn't afford to replace it. The bike cost $300. I remember the amount because I saved up and bought a new bike, as well as a lock that I never forgot to use.
Today, I can allow my child the opportunity to know the joy and confidence of earning something, even if I can afford to buy it for them.
6) She let us fight our own battles, but with her support. In high school, I was upset about my grade in English class because I was marked down for class participation. My mother advised me to talk to the teacher and tell her how I felt about the situation. She helped me prepare note cards to practice what to say, and rehearsed with me at home. I sat down with the teacher and discussed my grade, even though I was pretty shy at the time. My mother knew I needed to learn to fight my own battles, without intervention on her part.
Today, I can support but not do for my child what he or she must learn to do for him or herself.
The world has changed tremendously, but I can still take away those core values from my upbringing, and for that I am grateful to my mother.