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.