Archives for posts with tag: being a mother

My gorgeous madre

I decided to interview my own mother on her choices and discoveries along the path of parenting. 

My mother and I fought constantly when I was a teenager. I am a free-spirited soul, and she is more controlling — a result, in part, of having grown up in a fraught household run by feuding parents.

I had wanted a mother who baked cookies, lounged around in sweats and enfolded me in her warm and ample bosom. My mother couldn’t be further from the stereotype I’d created in my head of the ideal mother. My mother is a brilliant and beautiful intellectual, who’s above all, a pragmatist.

For many years, I felt confined by her, unseen — hampered by a narrative of mutual misunderstanding. I felt she didn’t give me what I needed. For instance, after college, she encouraged me repeatedly to go to law school. Couldn’t she see that I was an artiste??!  And that becoming a lawyer made as much sense in my life as having a sex change?

Then, when I was preggers with the boychild, I asked her if she thought I’d make a good mother. When she replied, “Darling, you’re a wonderful woman — you don’t need validation as a mother,” I wanted to throttle her. Why couldn’t she just tell me what I wanted to hear?

It’s no coincidence that I finally understood — deeply — just how much my mother loves me, when I became a mother myself. None of us are perfect. We all have hopes and dreams for our children. My mother wanted me to become a lawyer because, for her generation, such a profession signaled  independence, intellectual challenge, and financial success. And hell, after working for years in the non-profit world, I realized that maybe being a lawyer could have actually created some positive change in the world.

We all know that motherhood isn’t a picnic. We love our children, but we don’t always get it right. We don’t always manage to see our children for who they are, especially when we want them to fall in line with the routines we’ve created for them (“Working on recreating the Sistine Chapel in Crayolas? Too bad! It’s dinner time!”)

It may sound trite, but over time, I’ve realized that my mother loves me as who she is — not what I want her to be. Which is a good life lesson for any relationship. We can’t change the people we love and who love us back. But we can be grateful for the good, and forgive our disappointments.

Today, I’m relieved to say that while my mother and I disagree on much politically and socially, I think we’ve established greater intimacy and understanding. And I’ve indeed learned to even enjoy my mother’s intellect, energy, beauty and pragmatic view of the world. 

Read on.

As a mother, what are you most proud of?

First: I am most proud of the fact that I managed to stay the course and do the best I could, even when I didn’t feel up to it; give my children the best start in life; provide a first class education; keep standards high; impart morals and values (my proudest accomplishment); and keep sane and trim!!!!!

As a mother, if you could do anything over, what would it be?

I wish I could have done things differently with my own mother, who was ill-prepared to be a mother and had many needs that I could not possibly recognize.  I would have been more generous minded with her, more forgiving, as SHE KNEW NOT.  

Perhaps I would have spent more time with her, and been more patient.  It was difficult because I felt so let down by her during my childhood and adolescent years. I felt I never had the proper mentoring.  However,  if I had her here today, I would say, “Thank you for making me depend on myself, learn to be stronger, and take responsibility — even when I don’t want to.”

What is your advice to new mothers?

Do the best you can. Don’t be bullied by trends and other people’s opinions.   Read books but use your own judgement.  You probably know what is best for your baby and for you. Have a very very good baby doctor!!!!  Remember your husband!  Keep him close.  Keep him happy. Keep him important. He is very necessary to everyone’s well being.  Don’t sideline him.  Have some quiet time together, a glass of wine, a cuddle and a giggle.

What was your biggest challenge as a mother?

Biggest challenge?  Other parents. School Authorities. My personal challenge was to keep my daughters from getting hurt in ways that cannot be righted, even when you know that it is inevitable that they will experience pain.  So I tried to give you survival skills.

What was the most important lesson about parenting that you learned along the way?

That you don’t always get thanked for the good things that you do.  As a parent you learn to give and give and give again, and that is what inevitably makes you happy.   Seeing your children grow up successfully  is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Biggest lesson:  That you must not seek popularity with your children, you must seek what is right for them.

What can women do for themselves to help themselves be better mothers?

Everyone learns from others.  You watch your friends.  You listen to their view of things.  Try new methods.  Get help when you need it.   When your patience wears thin, try a time out from your children.  There is nothing wrong with some so called “me time” and a bit of space.  You will be a better mother if you refresh yourself now and again, doing things that are creative and interesting with adults.

How do you think being a mother changed you?

I am not sure motherhood changes a woman’s character.  But I think it made me a fuller person with a broader perspective.  Motherhood made me less self absorbed, and more receptive to new ideas and challenges.

I remember an older woman telling me that all you needed was Love.  I have pondered that for many decades.  What kind of love?  Motherhood makes many demands on our emotional resources that we had never previously imagined.  It forces you to think about things in a different way.  But Love has always been, at the end, the root of solutions to parenting challenges.  Motherhood makes you aware ever more of that old Christian adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

What is one of your first memories of becoming a mother?

My first memory was seeing my daughter (you!), fresh out of the oven, empurpled from a long labour, her head elongated, but with the most perfect little face, the most beautiful brown eyes, and the most elegant long arms and legs and thinking, “This is mine, and I am responsible for her.”  I was engulfed in a huge wave of enduring love.  This was the basis of the strength of my commitment to make the best possible world for you.

What’s the most important lesson you learned about life, in being a mother?

I am still learning about being  a mother by being the mother of two mothers.  Important lesson: Never give up! Certainly being a mother is the most challenging profession of all.  Everyone is different. As my old friend Justine who had three daughters once said to me when I asked her how she managed to keep them from getting into trouble, doing their homework, and being reasonable citizens –she said, and I quote, “A lot of it is luck!!!”

I believe in luck to some extent — who your children meet in school, the types of parents, the culture of the times and most importantly the children themselves, that they are healthy.  A parent can make their own good luck by educating themselves and being able to make informed choices for their children and not being passive when they need to be active.

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Part II of my interview with Lydia:

Is there anything you would have done differently as a mother? 

I think I did a darn good job. When I did go back to work, I picked someone who was very much like me –– was loving and kind, like a grandmother.  She would say to my mother, “Your daughter is an angel, the way she works and treats them and runs the house.” I did things naturally and did the best I could and I enjoyed my kids at every stage.

When Louise got older, we got her a credit card to Bergorf Goodman, and she made some mistakes and we laughed at some of the dresses she bought, but she learned how to dress herself. I see her in the morning and I tell her “Oh Louise, you look beautiful.  You look like you just stepped out of a band box.” Everyone at work thinks she dresses so beautifully, the way an executive should dress. So you provide experiences at every level. They keep growing and you keep advancing your role with your children. I’ve never been disappointed in Ned or Louise. Little things – like I wish Ned’s handwriting was better – but you can’t really complain about that.

Did you ever have issues re: trust with your children when they were older?

I would want Louise home at midnight. Louise never…really we never had any bad fights, no, we didn’t.  She just she just felt that we were a good pair, mom and daughter, we had a good relationship and I would try to explain the things as best I knew as a nurse.

My kids have never really disappointed me as far as any aspect of their leaving home. We would scold them  — like when we gave them a car in college and said they had to share a car – and I remember Ed said to Ned, “I don’t want you to drive that car until you read the whole manual and you will call me when you are finished and I will quiz you on it.”

And Louise still says, “Mom you are my role model and I love you for what you have done for me all my life.” We discuss our problems – she will tell me her problems even at her age – she’s going to be 60 this year – can you imagine? We communicate every Saturday or Sunday and we talk for one hour. I talk to Ned twice a week. We’ll just have a chat – he’ll say, “Is anything bothering you mom?” – and I’ll say “Is anything bothering you?” – so it goes on all your life.

I think that I was strict enough, and yet I gave them rein and they responded appropriately and we worked out our problems and I always followed the rule – take care of their problems when they’re small. I remember when Louise was in high school and didn’t understand a problem in math and I said “Let’s go see the teacher,” and the teacher said, “Oh, I didn’t know you didn’t understand,” and from then on Louise kept on her math skills and she almost got an 800 on her SAT, and her whole career was in math. If parents let those problems get by, they get bigger. I think just doing that one thing got her over the hump and her whole career turned out to be in maths.

You have to observe, diagnose and take appropriate action. And be consistent every day.

What’s the worst piece of parenting advice you ever received?

I can’t say that I ever got any bad advice from anybody about parenting – everyone thought I was doing a very good job with my kids. Ned and Louise, they were proud of me. Like when I was head of the PTA at the school, kids would say, “Your mom is the president!” They were so happy that their chests just stood out.

As a matter of fact I even met with the school because the children weren’t making the scholarship school across the street –– so I said there’s something wrong with the curriculum that no child ever made the scholarship school. And I’m so proud, because when I read in the church bulletin that six children made the school, I felt happy that I was able to do that.

Or when I told the Latin teacher, “You know all the kids hate your Latin course. They’re not enjoying it — you ‘ve got to change the course and make it more at their level.” He did. I did things like that.  When I went back to work, they were proud of me at Lenox Hill and I became the director of my own department. I did things to make them feel proud of me.

Do you have any other thoughts about parenting that you’d like to share?

With my nursing background, I think in terms of goals – and the goal of a mother is to develop the mind, the body and the spirit of the child. You have to be a role model to reach those goals, a teacher and a disciplinarian – you are dealing with the mind, the body, and the spirit of the child.

You have to have one hand on – guidance and values – and the hand that’s off is to allow the child to become an individual and to grow.

I naturally smile. I naturally am comforting. Just hug and touch your child, and encourage him and praise him. But you have to constantly be aware of their growing needs as they grow.

It was a tremendous experience. I know we’ll always be close. We’re family forever. And I just like that feeling that we did this, and it was a lifetime of work, and I think it enriched us and it made us more understanding people too.

She makes it sound so easy. How I appreciate the practical wisdom embedded in her words. 

At times I’ve been so terrified of sending my children into therapy that I’ve second guessed myself. Was I too harsh that time I forced my son to go to his tennis lesson when he didn’t want to? Too much of a pushover when I acquiesced to his demands for a third round of snacks in bed?

Since becoming a parent, I’ve had to establish routines, which don’t always feel easy for someone who fed off spontaneity and adventure for so many years. I haven’t always been so great at setting consistent rules. It’s not in my DNA.

But being a role model — that’s an idea I can fall back on, gain strength and renewal in — when my parenting resources seem to be running dry.

How bout you? What do you think about or fall back on when you need a parenting boost?