Mothering Like Our Mothers

By Janet, Michigan

No one really teaches you how to be a mother.  Not exactly.  But your mother is your primary role model, for better or for worse.  You can choose to be like her, or you can choose not to be like her.  Or something in between.  And occasionally, it’s involuntary—you know, you say something to your kids and you stop and think “Oh my . . . that was my mother talking!”

With my firstborn (a daughter) about to leave for college, I’ve been thinking lately about motherhood, what kind of mother I am, and how my mother has influenced me.

When mothering my own kids, I remember some of the things my mother did that made me feel loved and secure.  She gave the best back rubs, so it’s something I do.  She was very nurturing when I was sick in bed, checking on me regularly and bringing whatever would make me feel better (ginger ale, Saltine crackers, toast and jelly, scrambled eggs, French toast).  I check on my kids so much when they are sick that my daughter tells me to go away and stop bothering her!?

My mother respected my privacy:  she didn’t go through my things, open my mail or listen in on phone calls.  She trusted me and knew when to give me space.  I try really hard not to ask my kids too many questions, hoping that they’ll share when they are ready.  But I trust them and try to be involved from the right distance.

I was taught the value of education and the value of being able to support myself.  You see, as a college graduate herself, my mother was an early supporter of women’s education.  And she was always very involved in her kids’ education.  She showed me that volunteering at school could make a big difference in your kids’ lives and that being their advocate was part of being a parent.

I have tried to instill her values, and mine, in my children.  Be responsible.  Be a hard worker.  Be dependable.  Be respectful.  Stand up for yourself.  Write thank you notes! (My kids are still working on the thank you note thing, but I won’t give up.)  Oh yes, and Never give up is a biggie.

My mother taught me about self-sacrifice and being a supportive parent, but also about setting rules and enforcing them.  Kids need limits even when they don’t think they do.  And it’s tough when your kids do stupid, irresponsible things (and they all do).  But at those times, you must “separate the ‘being’ from the ‘doing’” as mom would say.  You may not like what they have done, but it’s not who they are.  They are still good people deserving of your love.

Now, as Dr. Phil would say, “Let’s get real.”  My mother did many things I don’t want to do, but sometimes can’t avoid.  She was a yeller.  I see it in myself.  I don’t like it.  Gotta work on it.  She complained about my dad to me.  I rarely criticize my husband to my children and strive to avoid it.  Mom compared me to other kids unfavorably when she got frustrated.  It’s easy to fall into that trap, too.  Sometimes I choke on those words when I feel them try to come out of my mouth.  No good comes from projecting this on your kids.

And there were many difficult years when we just were not able to communicate very well, particularly my teen years.  I struggle often trying to stay close to my teenage daughter but find I can’t always say the right thing.  Sometimes saying nothing works the best!

When I first became a mother my mom was hurt that I didn’t ask her for advice about how to take care of the baby—that I asked other young mothers instead.  I never quite knew how to handle that and still don’t know what I could have done differently.

Over the years whatever rifts we had have somehow been smoothed over.  I’m not sure how it happened.  Perhaps as mom and I have aged we have both been able to put things in perspective.  I appreciate the fact that she won’t be around forever.  I am able to put most of the negative things behind me and try to focus on mom as a person and not just as my mother.

More than once in recent years my mother has paid me the ultimate compliment.  She’d say, “I think you are a really good mother.”  As someone who always wanted my mother’s approval that made me feel great.  And I would respond, “Thanks mom.  I owe it all to you and the example you set.”  Let’s face it.  All moms need validation, from their mothers and from their kids.