It’s Mother’s Day, Take The Day Off From Screwing Up Your Kids

Mother’s Day is here again, and thanks to the brilliant and creative marketing departments of the greeting card companies, with it comes a certain amount of pressure. Like New Year’s Eve, it can have an element of forced fun and build-up, and before you know it your expectations exceed what is attainable, and your Mother’s Day is left feeling disappointing or even exhausting. Whatever you do as a mother, you can’t screw up your kids, but you can’t screw up Mother’s Day either!

For years, I dedicated Mother’s Day to the matriarchs of my family. I spent the day shopping, buying gifts, and cooking a big meal for my grandmother and my mother until at the end of the day my knees hurt from standing up all day, and afterwards I was left with a kitchen full of dirty dishes. Hmmmm, I’ve never seen that Hallmark commercial.

So this year, I gave myself the day off. No cooking, no dressing up and going out to brunch. No having to shower and race off to church first thing in the morning. I also gave my kids the day off.

My kids said, “So to get this straight, the thing you want most for Mother’s day is NOT to be a mother for the entire day?”

“Yes! Perfect!”

(Did that sound too joyful?)

But then I thought about it and realized that it’s only because of my three children that I get to be a mother in the first place. They are who made my life what it is. They are, and all mothers know what I mean by this—who gave me my purpose. So in gratitude, for Mother’s Day, I thought I’d write a list of all the things that I’ve learned while being their mother—especially for my two daughters, who will hopefully get to experience the joy of being mothers themselves one day.

So here goes the list…

*Have the difficult discussions—about sex, drugs, relationships, confusing feelings, questionable behavior, toxic people, moral responsibilities, money management, religious views–whatever it is. Say the hard words, and ask the tough questions. Let them know to come to you with their issues or concerns—and be prepared that when they do it will knock the wind out of your soul for a bit, but they did the right thing.

*Say “I’m sorry” because you as a mother are going to make mistakes. They are two little words that do a lot of good when said, but can cause decades of harm when left unsaid. And just for the record, those words are not followed with a “but…”

*Having said that, make no apologies for how you choose to keep them from the trap of drug/alcohol addiction or criminal behavior. Every possible attempt to protect them from these is fair, no matter how cruel or harsh it seems at the time. You can’t read a book on how to perfectly navigate through these issues with children, because the nature of such evils has no logic, just ask any parent who has already experienced it. Do whatever you have to do, period. Your children can yell at you years later for how you chose to parent them through it, and if they are yelling at you sober—you still won.

*Save “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’m” for the military, the classroom and the courtroom. I grew up in the South, and for many of us, this formality was upheld in our homes, and still is, but just pay attention, because instead of being a show of respect it can turn into a strong hold of power, fear and resentment between child and parent. Do you want your child to respect you just because you demand them to or because you deserve it?

*Tell your kids when they are dating the wrong person, and hopefully they won’t end up married to the wrong person.

*Your children owe you nothing. Nothing. Not one thing. You brought them into this world. They were not asked to be born, so don’t expect them to be grateful for the fact that you work hard to keep a roof over their heads, or food on the table—in fact, you don’t get credit for these things as a parent. because they are “givens” but—having said that, if you do your job correctly your children will just naturally be grateful. Give them time. They will show you gratitude when you least expect it, and it will be glorious.

*Try not to apply guilt to leverage certain behaviors out of your children. Guilt is toxic and causes your parenting efforts to backfire. If you are trying to get your children to do something or feel something out of guilt you might as well just douse them with bear spray. Try to get your children to do the right thing by doing the right thing yourself. They will follow your lead when it counts.

*Leave your ego in the hospital delivery room. Prioritize your children’s needs over your own selfish ones—I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take care of yourself, but you know in your heart the difference, and you should listen to your heart.

*As a mother, don’t ever pick a man over your children. I’m not saying don’t prioritize your marriage—you should do that, if you want your marriage to be the foundation of your family. I’m saying don’t let a man convince you that he’s more important to you than your children, because no real man of any worth would ever ask that of you to begin with.

*If your job doesn’t allow you to prioritize the demands of your family find another job.

*Keep some of your opinions to yourself. Don’t say things to your children that you wouldn’t say to a friend. The worst thing you can do to your child is allow yourself to be the negative voice in your grown child’s head. Kids all grow up with their own self-inflicted negative voices, the last thing they need is another one. A mother’s words hold a lot of power, use them carefully.

*Let your kids be imperfect, and let them fail. Even when you sometimes have the power to fix things—don’t. It’ll be one of the hardest things you’ll do as a parent, but also one of the most beneficial for their independence and survival skills.

*We already have enough Kardashians. Let your kids be ordinary. I’m not saying they “are” or they “will be” ordinary, and I’m not saying you, as a mother, will EVER think they are ordinary. What I mean is let them be ordinary to the rest of the world—if that’s how they appear, it’s okay. One of the greatest hidden treasures of humanity is how much extraordinary there is in most ordinary people.

*Tell them you love them. That sounds simple, and something that a mother shouldn’t have to be reminded of, but some mothers are not comfortable with emotions. Some think of it as a sign of weakness, and it’s actually the opposite. It’s your child’s most basic human need being met in the easiest way possible– with three words. Say them. Say “I love you” most of all when you are not sure you feel it, because be assured those are the days they need to hear it the most (and believe me, every mother knows those days).

*Hang on to your hats here, it’s not very philosophical but if you want the advice I believe in the most:

Don’t let your kids have a cell phone until they are driving. 

We’re so reliant on them now that the thought is terrifying, inconceivable, almost impossible, but it’s not. Every generation that lived before the invention of the cell phone is proof. When your child is old enough to drive alone, at that point the safety benefit cannot be denied, but until then the cell phone is just an invitation for every evil or negative influence possible to circumvent you as a parent and get directly to your child way before they have the maturity to handle it. I know most parents would argue that they give a cell phone so they can find their child at all times, but frankly that’s the parent’s job, not the cell phone’s job.

*Don’t compete with your children for the spotlight. This is their time, step back, get out of their way and let them have it. Let them be better than you were in athletics, let them be a better dancer than you were, make more money than you did, let them have a more active social life than you did, have a better marriage than you do, if they are let them be prettier/more popular/funnier than you were at that age without feeling the need to be a part of it, and somehow relive whatever shortcomings you might feel from your childhood. Let them have their time alone with their friends and don’t get offended when they ask you to leave. Don’t you sometimes want to be alone with your friends without them hanging on your every word? You should.

*Be to your kids who you needed as a child. WHATEVER that need is…nobody’s childhood is perfect, it’s unnatural to think that, but we all know what we would have liked to have had more (or less) of as we grew up. It’s healthy to want to provide every generation with a little bit more emotional or mental stability than we had—what’s not healthy is repeating toxic cycles.

Now I don’t have a degree in child psychology nor am I a mothering expert, but quite frankly being a mother is something that’s nearly impossible to be an expert at anyway, because what works for one child doesn’t always work for another. And this isn’t meant to be a how-to for mothers, but advice for my children on what I discovered while parenting them.

Who knows the discoveries my own daughters will make while mothering their children, but I hope if their idea of a great Mother’s Day is not to be a mother for the entire day they speak up and get the day off as well. Because as any decent mother realizes within five minutes of becoming a mother: if you screw up your kids, nothing else in your life matters (no pressure though).

So take one day off. You’ve earned it. You’ve still got 364 more days to screw them up.

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