We’re just a week away from Mother’s Day–a complicated day for many people. I have friends who are estranged from their moms, mother-friends who are grieving the loss of children, friends who are struggling to be (and who would like nothing more than to be) mothers, as well as friends who are feeling a little weird while spending their first Mother’s Day as an orphaned adult.
Next Saturday, my family will be together when my daughter graduates from college. On Sunday, I’ll get to spend time with both of my children again. I know I’ll feel deeply loved and appreciated at the end of Mother’s Day weekend, which is all I think any mom wants on any day of the year. Last year, Mike turned to me at the end of Mother’s Day weekend and said “Your children love you very much.” And even though I already knew that, my eyes filled up with tears–because being loved by your children is not, as I’ve already noted, a given. It’s a gift you have to work really hard to get.
I try every day to be the kind of person my kids want to continue having a relationship with. In some part of my brain, even when my kids were just learning to walk and speak, I always understood that the end game of parenting is to send your children out of the house with the knowledge that they won’t be back right away. But I always wanted to be sure they did come back. That’s why I worked to build a personal relationship with each of them. And that’s why it matter so much to me that our relationships are still thriving.
It’s really easy to beat yourself up for being a less-than-perfect mother. But today, I’m going to do the harder thing and give myself a little bit of credit for the things I’m pretty sure I did right.
I listened to my kids.
When I say listened, I don’t mean that I let them talk while I nodded and went about the business of getting dinner ready. I mean I listened. To endless hours of middle school drama. I suggested explanations for why someone was behaving in a particular way. Sometimes I offered a potential plan of action for dealing with the situation.
I didn’t particularly enjoy this, but I did it. I knew that if I didn’t listen when my kids were talking about the things that were important to them, they wouldn’t trust me to listen when it came time to talk about the things that were important to me.
I was honest with my kids.
My guiding theory as the parent of small children was that a kid who was old enough to articulate a question was also old enough to understand an honest answer. This didn’t always make me popular with other mothers. One neighborhood mom tracked me down at a swim meet to inform me that my daughter had explained the facts of life to her daughter. (Although she also said, “I have to admit, it sounds like she did a pretty good job.”)
I wanted my kids to rely on me for the facts. That meant I had to be ready to offer them. I wanted my kids to trust me, and that meant I had to tell the truth. Even when doing that was uncomfortable.
I hung out with my kids.
This means I watched approximately one million episodes of iCarly, The Fairly Oddparents, and Spongebob Squarepants. You may think this wasn’t entirely necessary, and it’s possible you’re right. But I get all their jokes and references now. I can even follow up with my own.
The ability to talk and laugh with each other–without having to stop and explain every reference–is a pretty good reward for the time I invested in building these relationships.
I didn’t pull rank with my kids.
My daughter is fond of saying “You’re my best friend–but Mom first!” That’s exactly as it should be. But I didn’t get to be “Mom first” by pulling rank. I don’t think I ever told my kids to do something because I said so. There were good reasons why that task needed to be done. I’m quite confident that I never said anything like My house, my rules. There were logical reasons behind those rules. I was happy to explain them.
In our household, we all lived by the same principles. I never expected my kids to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself. I hope I never spoke to them in a way they wouldn’t be allowed to speak to me. I’m still “Mom first” to my grown-up children only because that’s the role they’ve given me on their home team.
I empathized with my kids.
Because we’re a family of introverts, I understand the difficulty of making friends and being social–one of the big jobs of childhood and adolescence. Many adults seem to think of these as things children do naturally. (Some do, of course, but not all of them.) On top of that, we live in a culture where we’re told “You have to put yourself out there!” over and over again. It’s exhausting.
And while it’s true to a certain extent–we all have to be able to function in the world outside our homes–it’s also true that there are many adults (like me) who are happily living mostly introverted lives. Part of my job, as a mom, was to teach my baby introverts that they weren’t defective human beings. They could balance time alone with time out in the world. They could be successful people and still live life on their own terms, just like I do.
Being a mom is the hardest and most important work I’ve done in my life. The reward for those efforts, though, is two adult kids I genuinely enjoy hanging out with. No mom could ask for more than that.