The Top Five Things I Learned From My Children

Last week I did an interview with Dr. Portia Jackson for her daily podcast on her website Working Motherhood.  It’ll be up on their site in a few days and I’ll share it then.I realized as I was preparing for her interview that we’ve passed an important tipping point. What were traditionally called “working mothers” (referring to moms who work outside the home, even though everyone knows all mothers are working mothers) are now the norm.We are no longer the aberration. We are normal—over two-thirds of mothers with children at home.  In 1860, the number was just 7.5 percent. Though that’s not a fair comparison because most everyone male or female worked at home then, or on the farm or in the family business that was like part of the home.Still, it was about that time that her mother’s selflessness nursing soldiers during the Civil War inspired Anna Marie Jarvis to start what has become the modern Mother’s Day.The day subsequently became defined by such canned sentimentality and excessive card and gift giving that Jarvis pivoted from its most devout advocate into its fiercest critic, lobbying to rescind the official proclamations she had sought.Mothering itself has changed just as dramatically. For example, I read a very good article yesterday about the need for strong female protagonists in children’s books. I agree wholeheartedly with that. But what caught my eye is that the article was written by a woman who identifies herself as a parenting coach.Parenting coach? Whoever heard of such a thing when my children were young? You just had them and were supposed to know automatically what to do with them.  You gave them the run of the neighborhood and were mercifully oblivious to what they did every minute. Parents today make play dates and obsess about everything from way before conception. And Working Mother magazine’s Mother’s Day spread this year is all about power moms  who would have been the object of scorn a generation ago.Mother’s Day has taken a 180 degree turn for me personally too.FamilyPhotoSince my mother, Florence Feldt, died in 1998 , I look not toward the generation before me, but to my children for the real meaning of this day.Linda, David, and TammyThey defined my life. They literally made me what I am today. I love them more than it’s possible to describe. I feel that I should send them Mother’s Day cards and flowers instead of the reverse.Here are the top five things my children taught me.

  1. To focus on what’s important and forget the rest. They taught me to pare away many things that seemed essential at one time. Like sleep, manicures, and ironing. If I wanted to get my college degree and create a professional life while still baking their birthday cakes and attending school events, it was incumbent on me to multi task and delegate. They seem to have grown into functional adults despite my putting cereal boxes on the table the night before and keeping the fridge stocked with boiled eggs and calling that breakfast.
  2. That all mothers are powerful, for good or ill. My daughter Linda, a stay at home mom of two fabulous boys during their early years, reminded me of this when I was writing No Excuses, my book about women’s relationship with power. She cautioned me against focusing solely on women in the workplace and politics. She’s right that the person who shapes a child has immense power.  Still, the scariest part is it’s a crapshoot which of your carefully chosen words will be remembered as you intended them, remembered entirely differently, or not remembered at all.
  3. That if you can manage a bunch of kids and a house, you can pretty much manage anything. It was my best leadership training.
  4. That childhood is short but parenthood never ends. Yes, I still I worry about each of them every day whether they need it or not.
  5. That the heart can expand to love far more deeply and widely than I ever imagined, and that when grandchildren come along, they more than redeem every moment of frustration one’s children ever caused.

Happy Mothers Day, Tammy, Linda, and David! Thank you for teaching me and loving me and putting up with me all these years.And Happy Mother’s Day to each of you.