For this special Mother’s Day episode, we invited past podcast guests, readers, and friends to contribute to a conversation about mothering. Enjoy, and happy Mother’s Day!
Barb: Welcome to The Fullness of Midlife. I’m Dr Barb DePree of MiddlesexMD. Today we have a special Mother’s Day episode for you. We reached out to previous guests, friends, and readers and asked them to share something they’ve learned from their mothers or from mothering their own children. And we asked what advice they’d give to a younger woman about being a mother.
We love the diversity of voices, all of which remind us that “mother” is a verb as well as a noun. To mother is to “give rise to, care for, or protect,” and I’m guessing we all do that, whether or not we have children of our own. And I know in my own life, I’ve been cared for and protected and lifted up by many.
Hi, my name is Jay Newton Small and I'm CEO and founder of Memory Well, and I'm going to answer the first question: What lessons, what wisdom did I learn from my mother. I'm a long-time writer. I spent the last decade at Time Magazine. But I remember when I was probably about 8 years old, I was writing my one of my first essays ever, and I remember my mother looking at the essay, and I was really puzzling about this particular sentence and how it wasn't really working. And my mother looked at it – actually I was probably more like 10 or 11 at the time – my mother looked at it and said well, why don't you just rearrange the words in the sentence. And I said that that's not possible, and she said of course it's possible because sentences are fungible, sentences are malleable you can you can take the words and put them in all different orders and it still makes sense and she showed me how to do that. And I loved it because it made me realize that sentence and languages were like puzzles that you could put together but in totally different ways and create different images or the same image using different words. And so it really inspired me to be a writer and gave me the love of writing that I kept for the rest of my life. So that's my mother’s inspiration to me. Happy Mother's Day.
This is Marta Hill Gray and the wisdom that I have learned from my mother was to be as gentle with myself as I would be with the other women in my life that I love and my friends. And not be so hard on myself. And I saw that through her words and deeds, and she struggled with it, but she really did impart to me that I've got to be my best friend. And also that life isn't fair, and it's not always easy, but it's certainly worth it.
This is Barbara Biziou. So what wisdom have I learned from my mother? My mother's greatest line was you make your own happiness, even when she was 99, in a wheelchair, she still could appreciate the flowers, the breeze, a good book. She was really in gratitude and understood that happiness comes from within.
Hi, my name is Carrie and what I really learned from my mom was what unconditional love is. I felt like growing up that no matter what I did my mom always loved me, supported me, and cared for me no matter what happened, whether it was good or bad, and I saw her do it, not only with me but also with my siblings. I don't think I ever really understood or fathomed just how deep a mother's love was until I became a mother myself eight years ago. Since then, I've had two boys and I tried to instill that same thing with them. Every day I tell them that I love them and let them know that that's a foundational piece for them that as they go through their day. No matter what they face school or on the playground or anywhere, that their mom is at home and their mom loves them, wholeheartedly. I tell them all the time that when I had them it wasn't that my love was divided between them, but my love multiplied with each new child. And it's just been such a tremendous blessing to become a mother and to be able to follow my own mom's example. I try to be like her every day.
My name is Cindy. The wisdom I've learned from my mother is to love your family deeply, to not talk badly about one another, and to not let jealousy ever divide you.
Hi, this is Barbara Loveland. What an opportunity to participate and an opportunity to honor my mother. Along with the usual things that one picks up from being with a person as they move through life with you, I actually have five points of wisdom that I picked up from my mom. The first one is to love and to honor good friends and family members throughout one’s lifetime. The second one is to forgive people who have offended you or as she would say, quote, done you wrong, end quote. The third one is to be joyful and think positively and to believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. The fourth point is that after being with her during her last days of her illness, and as she passed, I saw her gently move into peace. This has given me the courage and strength to not fear death. And lastly, you cannot tell people you love them too many times.
This is Dr. Barb. And I am thinking about Mother's Day this year and recalling some memories from my mother and a couple of important lessons I think she passed along to me. And they were exhibited in two specific examples in my life and one when I was about 10 years old. My mother was working not quite full time, but nearly full time, as a bookkeeper in a local furniture company, and she came home from work one day and announced to my dad that she quit her job. And the reason was that the boss had given all the other employees a raise and it happened to be that all the other employees were men, and she had not been given a raise. So she announced to the family that night at the dinner table that she was quitting her job because of that and went into work the next day and promptly quit her job at which time the boss did offer her a raise and she subsequently did stay in her job, but I think imparted to me the importance of standing up for yourself and, especially as a woman, she was able to stand up to her boss and state her the equality in the workplace. And I think that was many many years ago, really before that was recognized as an inequality.
And the second vignette was when I was in medical school. I was a second-year medical student and grinding away many many hours of studying and it wasn't the happiest time of my life, I would say. I was in a serious relationship with now my husband, but that relationship was a bit rocky at that particular time, so I called home one night and spoke with my mom and told her that I was going to quit medical school and move back home because I thought that was going to solve the problem in the relationship at the time; and if I would just be closer to my then-boyfriend, I thought that would solve the problems. And she quietly listen to me and then she asked, “Okay, well if you move home, what will you do?” And it was a profound question to me because I had not contemplated what my life would look like moving back to a small community with a major in biology and really no skill set. So her questions at just the right time in my life, I think, helped direct me in the way I needed to go and she didn't tell me what to do. I know she wanted to and I know she has a strong feeling about what I should do, but instead of communicating in a directive manner she led me to find my own answer by asking the right questions. So it's been my intention to try to ask questions and not make decisions for my children.
This is Joanie Reid and I'm going to share a few thoughts about, really wisdom from my mom. She really taught me that patience is a virtue and at kind of a really practical level, she was really good counting to 10. So, you know take a deep breath and count to 10. Another thing that I learned from my mom and don't do it successfully as she did, is really never raise your voice, you know, it just doesn't help. Also, there's always another perspective. She was really good at listening and understanding other people's points of view. I would say humility. So in our family we always felt that we were great, that we were talented, that we had a lot to offer but, no big heads were allowed. So, you know, there was the importance of humility in our family.
Additionally she was very much about appreciating and being grateful for all of our blessings, really recognizing everything that we had to be grateful for even though times were not always easy. And as part of that, we always learned to think about others who may not have been as fortunate as we were, or people who might be lonely or on the you know the fringe, so to speak. So we were always inviting people into our home to share Thanksgiving with us again, because she was so appreciative of the fact that we had so many blessings and she recognized that others did not, and part of that then led to this place of hospitality. How do you welcome people? How do you make people feel comfortable around you and in your home?
This is Kay Hubbard. What wisdom have I learned from my mother? I learned from my mother that you can do it. And she never doubted that she could do it and she proceeded to never be intimidated by anything and really gave me a great model as a strong woman.
My name is Kate Bolt. And I would love to answer the question about what lessons about motherhood have you learned from your children? And what I would then pass on to my daughter. I'm a young mom of three kids and early on I felt a lot of guilt over just not hugging them enough for not feeding them well enough for not making of baby food for them and on and on and on and a good friend said to me, there's no place in a woman or mom's life for guilt. And that's been the best advice and I just would love to pass that on. My kids definitely love it when I don't worry about the dishes and let the laundry piles pile up and just hang out with them for a few minutes instead of doing all the things that I think I need to do. So let the piles pile up and don't let the guilt get to you and have a happy Mother's Day.
My name is Kate Cole. One of the things that I learned from my children is the importance of modeling what I wanted them to do. If I just told them something they didn't remember it, they didn't particularly pay that much attention unfortunately. But if I'm modeled it for them then they understood and they were able to do it. Kind of like cleaning up the room, if I went in and said, “First I'm going to find all the dirty clothes and put them away. Then I'm going to do that, you do that, too.” So we would do it together and then he knew how to do it on his own.
One of the other things I learned was also the value of storytelling when I wanted them to learn something. When my son was a teenager and learning to drive, he was kind of like all teenagers: wanted to go fast and not pay attention. We had a little boy in the neighborhood, Charlie, and I called my son over and I said, “Watch Charlie.” And he ran down their lawn and ran straight out into the road without paying any attention in our subdivision. So I asked, “How would you feel if you had struck Charlie?” and he said, “I couldn't live with myself.” And I said, “well, pretend there's a Charlie around every corner, just waiting for you.” And he's always been a very good driver. So I think storytelling and modeling what you want children to do. I learned that from my children, and I hope it's good advice for new mothers, too. Happy Mother's Day.
[Barbara Biziou] What I've learned from my son is that you can't be perfect and your children will say back to you things that you said to them when you most need to hear it. That's something that I really learned and I guess the biggest lesson I've learned about motherhood from my son is about unconditional love. I never ever experienced love the way I experienced it with my son.
[Kay Hubbard] I learned that it wasn't as easy as my mother made it look. Motherhood is the toughest job I ever had in my life and I had great kids.
This is Lois Maassen. There's so much I've learned both from my mother and from raising three kids who are now adults. But, I think the one lesson I learned that applies across all of life is to major in the majors, to hold expectations lightly and understand which of them really count. My kids are wonderful humans, in some ways like me, in some ways entirely different, and good reminders as, my mother has said, that it takes all kinds to make a world, or I might add, a family.
This is Christine MacLean. The advice that I would give to my daughter, should she ever choose to be a mother and should she ever ask for my advice, neither of which are guaranteed, is to surround yourself with friends who are authentic. So that would be friends who are willing to be honest every day about the difficulty that parenting brings every day. I think about people who you know from watching them that they are good parents, but who are willing to ‘fess up to the fact that on some days they use parenting techniques that are not in Dr. Spock. Like, I don't know, putting the kids in front of the TV or using foods to get them to do something. I would also say, you know, look for friends were going to be honest about their kids’ struggles, struggles with school work or bullying or eating too much or not eating at all. So if you find friends like that, you will learn a lot from them about creative parenting and resilience and self care and about laughing at yourself and giving yourself some grace, which is so important when you are parenting.
And I think best of all we live in a world where Instagram makes everyone and everything look perfect except you, and I think being friends with authentic people will reassure you that you are doing okay. You're a pretty good parent and you might not be perfect, but you're good enough, and a lot of times that's all that kids need – just parents who love them and who are good enough and who are trying and showing up.
The wisdom I learned from my mother about motherhood was basically that you can let about 88 percent of everything you worry about slide. Because when you’re parenting kids number one: You will make mistakes. Number two: Anything you think about overnight is probably a guilt trip you're doing to yourself. And number three: Kids don't respond so much to what you did wrong. They respond to what you did right and mostly that you're there when they need you. So if you basically are the kind of mom who are willing to always hold your child, hug your child, be there for your child, that's what your kid is going to remember. So let go of all that guilt. Does it really have a purpose in your life but to hold you back? And worry less, enjoy more. This is Mary Jo Rapini and happy Mother's Day!
[Barbara Biziou] Advice I'd give to my daughter or another younger woman would really be, you're going to make a lot of mistakes, and that's just part of the journey. Just do your best, be in your heart, and relax, take a lot of deep breaths, because there's no perfection in motherhood. It's just really about doing the best that you could do.
Hello, this is Waltraud Beckmann. Number one don't give in or up, defend your dignity. Number two, don't be afraid, challenge yourself. Number three, love is the glue of all, follow your instincts, don't let others tell you what to do.
Hi, This is Kate Convissor. My mother was a salty old gal who had 10 children and she once said to me, when I was a young mother, “If I had it to do over again, I would make very few but very firm rules, and I would give my children lots of approval in between.” And I just thought that was so amazing because in the midst of my own mothering, I’d realize that I needed to set both boundaries for kids to feel safe within and also a whole lot of approval, which is a little bit different than love, so that they would also feel affirmed within those boundaries. I also heard another piece of wisdom that I have taken to heart since, and that goes like this: A parent should never take either too much praise or too much blame for how their children turn out. Which I love because what it says is that child is his own person, and you may affect the course of his life, but you cannot take responsibility for his life. So, those are the two things. If I had it to do over, I might do it a little differently.
[Kay Hubbard] And what advice what I give to a young woman about motherhood? I would say, let it be what it's going to be, and you don't have to love every bit of it. Every every time I see all these Facebook posts of the perfect mother I just want to scream. There days that are really hard, there are times that are really not quite as romantic as you imagine them. And you can ask for help, you can laugh at yourself, and you can learn a lot. Have a good time with your kids because you never get back those early days again.
[Cindy] The advice that I would give to my daughter or other women about motherhood: Enjoy each stage of your child's life. Enjoy the stage. It doesn't last long until you get to another stage. So delight in the stage you’re in.
Barb: Thanks to all the women who called in with their inspiring and encouraging stories, memories, and advice! We hope you enjoyed connecting to this conversation. From me and the MiddlesexMD team, warmest wishes for a happy Mother’s Day, which I hope you celebrate with the people you love.
Thanks to everyone who called in, from the entire MiddlesexMD team! We love hearing all the voices and perspectives, and deeply appreciate your willingness to share--especially if you’re among those for whom it felt risky.