This I believe.
I believe in my mom’s way.
There were seven of us. She never hit us, not that I can remember. But then we never dared do anything that might cause her to want to. She made her expectations clear, using no more words than were absolutely necessary, and gave out praise only if super-human effort had been expended, and as if there was only so much of it to be had, so it had to be rationed carefully.
I was raised in what I would call a “strict Catholic” environment. I learned about the seven sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and some unknown number of “Gifts of the Holy Spirit”, most of which I can’t remember. One I do remember was called “Fear of the Lord”, and I remember it because I couldn’t figure out why it was called a gift. And I knew that whether I received this gift or not, I wasn’t near as scared of disappointing the Lord as I was of disappointing mom. I hadn’t really had a lot of personal dealings with the Lord, after all, but I definitely knew my mom. Over the years, I’ve learned that what I knew as fear back then was actually that thing Aretha sings about, and it’s spelled r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
At some point during my teen years, I decided there was a better way than mom’s, and I made up my mind that I was going to be different. I was going to talk to my kids more, give a detailed explanation (not just “because I said so”) when I said no, always tell them what a great job they did, and do more for and with them. If they asked me for help with their homework, I wouldn’t tell them to first go to their room and try to and do it themselves. I was going to provide all the things I felt I had been deprived of in my upbringing.
As my boys grew up, I was super mom. Den mother, room mother, PTA volunteer, sports booster. My kids would think nothing of saying that they had a science project due on Monday when it happened to be Sunday at 7:00 p.m.. “Mom”, (that’s me) would naturally drop everything and run to the store to buy the requisite poster paper and other needed supplies. No matter that if I or any of my siblings had told my mother that we had a science project due the next day (which we would never ever in a million years do), she would have said…..”Well, Patricia, looks like you’ve make a really bad choice which will result in a zero grade on that science project.”. Not that we ever did that, heck no, I would work for weeks on the science project, which my mother MIGHT take a second glance at and tell me that a word was spelled wrong in the 1st sentence in the 2nd paragraph, but that on the whole, I had done an adequate job. At which point I would beam with pride. If mom said that something was adequate, you knew it was darn good, and chances were you’d get an “A”. I was convinced that if I did more for my kids than my mom did for me, that they couldn’t help but be successful.
What I missed about the whole deal was that if someone does something for you, you have no ownership. Pride can’t grow without planting the seed of personal accomplishment. Working for a good grade or doing a chore for a monetary reward is taking the wrong road to get to the right place.
I work in a credit union and I’ve never seen a mom come in with seven children. I guess when people have lots of kids these days, they don’t bring them out anywhere. I have, however, seen moms come in with one or two that they absolutely couldn’t handle. Kids that run into places they shouldn’t, kids that grab everything in sight, and kids that throw temper tantrums if their moms don’t do exactly as ordered. When I see them, I remember how it was “in my day”, when we walked in a public place with dignity and respect, said please and thank you without being told to, spoke only when spoken to, and just knew that if we ever wandered anywhere beyond my mother’s line of vision, the earth would open up and swallow us whole.
When my siblings and I get together, very often the topic is how mean mom was. “Remember when she wouldn’t let you go to the beach with your friends every weekend”? “Remember how she made us practice the piano for an hour every day”? “Remember how she used to make us get the little ones dressed and ready to go to school”? “Remember how she made us go to church every Sunday”? “Remember how we had to do chores every day”? “Remember how she made us write a thank you note for any gift we ever received”? Why, today these things seem to qualify as child abuse, but they were the things that taught us personal responsibility and never let us take even the smallest privileges for granted.
I believe in my mom’s way. I believe that you can’t and shouldn’t be friends with your kids. I believe kids should have to earn every dollar and every privilege. I believe that you have to have the intestinal fortitude to let your children fail, and to let them learn about consequences at an early age. I believe that being scared of, being mad at, and yes, even sometimes saying you hated your mom is natural and healthy. I believe that the real problem is that it’s harder to say no than to say yes. I believe that love isn’t all presents and rewards and smiles, sometimes it’s criticism and challenges and rules.
I’m not writing this as a tribute to my mom, although it could be taken as one. I’m writing it because maybe some parent, wondering if they’re doing the right thing, might need some reinforcement. I’m writing it because I see parents today who let their children run their lives. I’m writing it because I did it wrong, and I was taught to admit my mistakes. There are thousands of books on parenting, some touting money-back-guaranteed ways of making sure your kids come out right. You can read them if you want to, but I can save you the time. Do it like my mom did. She was right. That’s what I believe.
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