Happy Mothering Day!
My husband and kids have gone way out of their way to make me feel incredibly special (including a “coupon” book from my kids that included a day without complaining, 1x make my own lunch, pick up the living room, rub Mom’s back and my favorite — “no farting during dinner”).
All day, I have received beautiful messages from friends, classmates, former students, and current students who have thanked me for being an inspiring mother or being someone who served as a mother to them. I even received a message from a Marathon B4 Mastectomy reader who wrote, “Thank you for your blog. Because of your words, I have been able to talk more about my own journey with my family and my kids. This has made me a better mother.” Thank you, reader, for taking the time to write this. I am so very grateful.
I am far from the perfect mother. Most days, I’m more like the Perfect Storm — swirling around, rocky waves, lots of yelling, and the occasional sharks.
But, I do know that I have mothered some really awesome kids. We have many, many, many things we could and should do better. We have more bad moments than good moments. But, those good moments — they are really good.
This list is possible because of the role models I have in my own life — mothers, non-mothers, and all sorts of folks in between. Thank you for shaping me and my own approaches to mothering.
TEACH DIVERSITY. Okay, okay. This was an obvious one. But, people, I mean it. TEACH diversity in your homes and in your lives. We are way past the “I/my kids are colorblind” and the “My kids don’t notice difference” days. I’m telling you — you aren’t colorblind and yes, they notice difference. Our job is to assure them that different is just fine. That different isn’t anything less. It’s just different from you. And, guess what — they think you’re different, too.
So, if we can accept that different is just fine, then let’s move to DIFFERENT IS NECESSARY. Teach your children that different is interesting, that different is worth understanding, and that different is worth embracing. We do this by talking about it together. Let’s stop “shhhushing” when kids notice. If they see someone who is blind, and they say, “Look Mom! That person is blind!”, shhhushing them only signals that they shouldn’t have noticed. Instead, say, “Yes, I believe that person is blind.” If your child actually says something unkind, then address that it is unkind.
When my daughter Joli lost her eye to cancer, we still had to go about our daily lives — grocery stores, out to eat, etc. I’ll never forget the one time we were in a grocery store and she was riding in the cart (she was only 2 years old). A child, just a few years older than her, screamed out “MOMMY!MOMMY! THATGIRLHASNOEYE!!!” The mother looked at us, pulled her child away, and shhhhhhshed him. That made Joli and me feel terrible. Ugly. Freakish. That probably made the little boy feel like he couldn’t notice.
What would have made this better (and I’m only speaking from our own experience)? If the Mommy had responded, “Yes, she does. And she’s beautiful.” Hell, if that mom had reacted that way, maybe I wouldn’t have cried in the middle of the grocery store. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt terrible. Maybe my daughter would have felt affirmed, beautiful, and worthy of love. Instead, we felt ashamed, angry, hurt, and afraid.
Today, my children are amazing. When they see someone who is different, they smile. When they ask me, “Mom, why is that guy’s body like that?” I say, “I’m not sure. But, I’m glad you noticed him. Would you like to smile at him?” Sometimes, I’ve said, “Well, we’re all different.”
My children aren’t afraid of differences, and it’s my hope that their reactions to difference help others feel good about theirs, too.
DON’T SET THEM UP FOR FAILURE. We all learn in increments, and oftentimes we treat our kids as if they should just know it and do it. Lots of times, I have to remind myself that they are 9, 7, and 4. “They are just kids,” I tell myself when I’ve expected too much. In my work as a director of intercultural affairs, I give the analogy of building a house. When you build a house, you need lots of permits, documents, and blueprints before you can even start building. Then, you’ve got to do a ton of digging (only if you’ve already gotten permission) and then set a foundation. Only after you’ve set the foundation can you actually start building UPWARDS. If you don’t set the foundation, the house comes down.
Take the time to build the foundation. Even before that, take the time to get the permits, the documents and the blueprints. Learning takes time. Our job is to make sure that learning happens so they can be successful.
SET THEM UP FOR FAILURE. Kids need to fail. They need to know how to manage defeat, how to reflect on what happened, and to come up with a solution for dealing with the consequences. Do this with them. Not for them. Teach them that the lessons from failure are as important as the cheers of success.
SHOW GRATITUDE. I’m thankful that my children have “manners” — nearly all of the time, they use please, thank you, May I?, and know how to behave in different situations. But, even when they forget to “use their manners”, I know that my kids know and practice gratitude. Gratitude is an act of appreciation. Gratitude is an act of acknowledging a relationship. Gratitude is an act of connection. Gratitude is an intentional show of support.
At the end of each day, my kids share their “happy and their crappy” — the parts of their day that brought them joy and the parts that weren’t as good. If their happy had to do with a specific person, I follow up with “That was very kind of that person. What do you appreciate about that person?” or “Sounds like it didn’t feel good. Was there a way it could have happened differently?” By the end of the night, just before bed, we give thanks for both the Happy and the Crappy parts of their day. It helps them to understand that our days will be filled with both and that we are grateful for the many lessons we learned today.
IF YOU NOTICE SOMETHING, SAY IT. I’ve spent most of my life talking about bystander behavior — the act of seeing something and not saying anything. We often do not say anything because we are afraid, because we just don’t care, or because we don’t know what to do. When I conduct workshops for adults on intervening when they see something (e.g. acts of bias, bullying), they often respond with, “I don’t say anything because I was taught to mind my own business.” Well, I’m teaching my kids that our business is always intertwined. We are all part of this small world, and we need to treat each other like valuable members of this world. So, if you see someone being bullied, say something. It may not always be to the person doing the bullying. Maybe you say something to the person being bullied like, “How are you feeling? Are you okay?” or “I noticed they weren’t treating you nicely.” I don’t tell them to always get involved with the perpetrators unless they are ready to; I believe the most important actions are often with those who are vulnerable.
I absolutely believe that our interactions with the most vulnerable are often the greatest markers of our character.
ADMIT TO THEM WHEN YOU ARE WRONG. It took me a long time to admit I was wrong. It took me a long time to admit that I was scared, unsure, and in need of support. But, I think these are the most important lessons my kids are learning. I’ve especially learned this after I have lost my temper or yelled at them. It almost always ends with a 1:1 conversation about my behavior, what triggered it, and how I felt. I spend time asking them how they felt when it happened and really listening. I want them to learn that conflict is real and that we can negotiate it together.
KNOW WHEN TO TURN IT OFF.
I have a lot of roles: mom, wife, chauffer, doctoral student, singer, writer, programmer, speaker, diversity educator, anti-racist parent. These identities are all integrated. But sometimes, all they need is for me to be a warm body. They don’t need me to have a dissertation or business cards or a blog. They don’t need me to have a playlist of recordings or a calendar of training workshops. They don’t need me to be a diversity educator or social justice advocate. They just need me to be there. They just need Me.
And, as I hear the beckoning calls of “MOM!! COME KISS US GOOD NIGHT!!” at 9pm on Mother’s Day, they need me. To be Me.
Happy Mothering Day to all out there, and thank you for reading along.
Peace, love, and every-day-is-Mothering-Day,