Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things My Mother Taught Me

In honor of Mother's Day, I thought that I would share some things that I learned from my own mother.  Some of what she did was very, very good. Some not so good.  Some downright sucked.

On my 21st birthday, I asked my mom what she was like at my age.  At 21, my mom was married, had a new born infant (yours truly), and was about to be divorced. At 21, here I was trying to decide just how many bars I thought I could hit before I threw up.  So I asked her: Was she born mature?  I could barely get to class on time, how was she doing it all and raising a child?  Her answer has stayed with me, pretty much verbatim, these last 15 years:
"I was just like you, wanted to be out with my friends, and wasn't sure what to do most of the time.  Maybe I didn't always make the right choices, but I always did the best I could. And what I thought was best for you."
Huh.  You mean she wasn't born knowing everything?  It was a pretty radical idea to me at the time.

And this little gem of an epiphany can have the honor of being the first important thing I learned from my mom:

Being a Mom doesn't mean you have to be perfect.  You just need to try your best.
On the days when I feel like I am not Enough - enough of a provider, mentor, role model, playmate, teacher, employee, boss, friend, daughter...I just take a deep breath and ask if I am honestly trying my best.  And sometimes I'm not.  Sometimes I am slogging away, taking sloppy shortcuts, or short changing myself (or others).  But most of the time I am.  And I always, always do what I believe in my heart is the best for The Boy.  Sometimes doing what is the best isn't always obvious, so I in the wise words of my Mom: I just do the best I can.

Ex-husbands don't go away, they just become more annoying over time.
If you share a child with someone, no matter how much you can't stand them, wonder why you ever married them, think they are an idiot, etc., well, most of the time, they ain't going anywhere fast.  Even the deadbeats show up at some point.  And your child wants them around.  Regardless of what a loser Dad may be, every child wants their Mom and Dad to love them.  When split parents can't get along, even if it's just for an afternoon, your child starts to pretend it doesn't matter if both are there.  Or worse, starts doing more and more alone, because they are more worried about hurting their parents than about their own needs.  No 8 year-old should worry that they can't have both of their parents at a school concert, and they have to choose between their parents, because even 8-year olds know when people don't like each other.
And yes, this lesson was taught not because she did it right, but because she & my father did it wrong.  I was that 8 year-old.  And the 17 year-old that felt bad walking away from her Mom at her high school graduation to say hi to her Dad.  The 21 year-old that had to choose who got the 2 tickets to college graduation (damn that rain!).   Burned into my memory is the night of my wedding rehearsal,  at the Church practicing the ceremony, and turning around to see my mother jabbing my father in the chest with her finger.  Yup.  They were at it again.  At the time, I didn't understand what they could possibly have to argue about, they hadn't been married for over 30 years by then, and hadn't even seen each other for almost 10 years.  Dealing with a jack hole ex-husband myself now, I understand better where the acrimony lies.  My mom could give a rats ass about her own relationship with my father, that's not what they were fighting about.  They fought because she was the one that saw me hurting and dried my tears each time he disappointed me.  And it pisses her off to no end when he shows up to take a bow about what a great father he was.  It's hard as a parent to have an amicable relationship with someone that is both disappointing and hurting your kid more often than doing the right thing.  You want to rip them up, limb by limb, spit in their face , curse them, put a voo-doo hex on them, toothpicks under their get the idea.
My ex is annoying.  He is a deadbeat.  He is a bad father.  He was a worse husband.  And my son loves him. Wants to see him, wants his approval, and in his own little almost-3 year old way, makes it pretty clear that he wants his dad to be a part of his life.  My son is too young to understand that this man can be dangerous - that he can't live a normal life with a family, responsibility, and a genuine relationship.  What my ex can do, though, in a very structured and supervised way, is play with my son for a few hours, feed him lunch and then fade off into the sunset until the next time.  I can suffer in silence  with a smile, and if that fails, take a Xanax

It is a parent's job to make sure their child can take care of themselves. 
My mom drilled it into my head that it was her job to make me self-sufficient.  By 7, I did my own laundry and made my own lunch for school every day.  By 13, I cooked dinner Monday-Friday for the family.  By 16, I had a part-time job.  By 24, I bought my own home.  You get the idea.  Kids need to learn how to manage their money, balance work/school and a social life, pay their bills, and feed, bathe, and clothe themselves well before they move out on their own.  It is my job as The Boy's mother to make sure that he can hack it out in the real world.  To provide him chances to make mistakes, while I can still help him to clean them up.  I know he is only almost-3, but little things like letting him get the milk out of the fridge, help me to pour it, to not always drink with a lid on his cup are just the beginning of letting him spill it a little.  It's hard sometimes to stand back and let him do it, but when he turns around and announces "Mommy, I do it MYSELF.  I bigger now!" tell me I am on the right track with this whole independence thing.

Respect the privacy of others.
My mom never went through my stuff, tossed my room when I wasn't home, or read my diary.  Privacy was something that she valued, and she expected me to knock before I came into her room, ask before I borrowed something that wasn't mine, and not snoop around where I didn't belong.  And she extended the same courtesy back to me, even as a teenager.  By treating my privacy with respect, she taught me to respect other people's.  She also taught me that she trusted me, and that trust was something that I didn't want to lose.

Love what you do, work hard at it, but find your balance.
My mom has made an amazing career for herself.  No college education, and worked her way up the corporate ladder at one of the largest companies in the US.  But she missed a lot, too.  I know it was different in late 70's and 80's to be a working mom when employer's weren't so concerned with the looking politically correct and family-friendly, and technology allows me to be connected even if I am not physically present in the office.  I love my job, love the people I work with, love the money I make, and I love my time with my son.  I used to think, because everyone said so, that I must be sacrificing either my career or my child on any given day, that the elusive "work/family life balance" was like the holy grail of working mothers. I have realized over the past few weeks that is just bullshit.  There is no reason why I can't have both and do a kick ass job at all of it. Not saying I don't have help; I have amazing childcare, my cleaning lady, and the mental & emotional support of great friends.  And The Boy is pretty spectacular in doing his share - he packs his little backpack each day, because he knows that he is going to school, and Mommy is going to work.  School is his work, where he goes to learn new things, play with his friends, and have fun, and that's what mommy does at her work, too.  I don't want him to feel that I "have to" work; I mean, I do have to work, but I love it - I want to work.  I love the thrill of giving a kick ass presentation to a group of sales exec's and seeing them be engaged in what I am saying.  I love looking at the budgets and figuring out how to manage costs better and drive more revenue.  I love working with my team on solving new challenges, figuring out how to train more and more complex software packages to people with less time and less it all.  I hope that growing up with a mom that loves her career inspires him to find something that he loves to do; I hope that him seeing this helps him to support his future spouse (eek!) in her career when they have a family.  I hope that he is Michael Phelps, acknowledging his mom and all she get the idea.   Kids from working-parent homes were always called "latch-key" children.  That always sounded so sad to me..."Oh, poor Tommy is a latch-key kid.  No wonder he _________ (does drugs, gets bad grades, is difficult).  His mother WORKS."  No one ever says, "Tommy really thrived in college, when lots of his friends were binge drinking and not getting up for class.  He knew how to wake-up on is own, do his own laundry, and was comfortable making choices when he wasn't being supervised every minute of every day.  What a great job his mom did!"  I don't  think having responsibility is a bad thing for kids as they grow up; quite the opposite. They need to develop all of these skills of personal responsibility the same way they need to learn their ABC's.

So on Mother's Day, I would like to say a big old "Thanks Mom" for doing all that she did, and teaching me more than I am sure she realized or intended.  The lessons weren't always easy to recognize.  In fact, I didn't see a lot of the value of what I had learned from her until I became a mother myself.  The thing I hope you take with you from this rather long post is that we spend so much time trying to teach our little ones manners, sharing, taking turns, etc.  But it's the lessons that they witness each and every day that make the lasting impression when they are on their own.  Now if I could just remember to try to do my best to make sure the lessons I am teaching are the ones I want The Boy to learn, we will be just fine.

Happy Mother's Day!


    1. I love this. So honest, so from the heart. And I am amazed how similar our stories are.