It is only since I’ve become a mother myself that I can fully appreciate all that my mother did for me growing up.
She became a single mom when I was 5—when she was six months pregnant with my younger sister. When I look back on those years of my childhood, I remember a certain brokenness to our lives. I missed my father. My mother was sad and worried. We were constantly moving, and there were huge financial strains.
And yet, my mother continued to care for her two young daughters. We always had a warm home, healthy food, and the rock-solid stability of a woman who did everything she could to nurture and provide for us. My sister and I have grown up to be successful, kindhearted women. In other words, despite it all, my mother succeeded immensely at parenting us.
I consider it a privilege to be raising two sons with a dedicated husband and giving father. But it’s still damn hard. Knowing what I know now about how exhausting, isolating, and financially stressful parenting can be, I admire my mother even more for doing it alone. Not only do I credit her with raising me well, but also with some of my own parenting successes.
Here are some lessons my mother taught me about raising kids:
1. What matters most about parenting is showing up.
My mother taught special ed and was dead tired after school. Like many kids, my sister and I would arrive home from school cranky and difficult. Sometimes my mother would lose patience with us. Voices were raised; heated words filled the air. But my mother never remained angry with us. Each night ended with cuddles on the couch. She was always there for us—exhausted as she was, imperfect as she was. She was reliable; her love was unconditional. She taught me that perfection in parenting is overrated and that what kids need most is presence and love.
2. Wealth doesn’t equal happiness for kids.
I remember going to the food stamp office with my mother. I was told I couldn’t get the same toys the other kids had or the same designer jeans. I felt embarrassed at times about our lack of funds, but it taught me some very important lessons about what is really valuable in life. I realized early on that my creative spirit and independent streak would get me much farther in life than what clothes I wore or what material possessions I had. I am teaching these same lessons to my sons.
3. Mothers have unimaginable strength in them.
When I’m having a particularly difficult day as a mother, I think of my own mother who was able to find strength and power she didn’t know existed. And I realize that no matter how much I complain about having to care for my kids for 12 hours a day, I always have a husband whom I can throw the kids at as soon as he walks in the door and who pitches in during the dinnertime/bedtime mayhem every night.
4. Children are more resilient than you realize.
It’s not that I have no scars from my childhood. I do; they are something I face every day. But I also see how courageous I am. I see that as difficult as it is to live with the wounds of a broken family, every day I show up for my own family and for myself. And I know that my husband and I have made parenting mistakes and will continue to make them. But I believe that as long as we provide a strong foundation of trust for our kids, they will be just fine.
5. It truly takes a village to raise a child—and it’s OK to ask for help.
When I was 12, we moved to an apartment around the corner from my maternal grandparents. It really was a godsend. My grandmother cared for my younger sister after school. My grandpa would walk us to the bus stop when my mother couldn’t. My grandparents bought us shoes, clothes, and took us out for meals. It took courage for my mother to ask for help, but her parents were willing to pitch in this way, and my sister and I developed close bonds with them.
Now my mother is the one who helps me with my kids—and she offers help without question or pretense. She will drop everything to come pick my son up from school if I’m not feeling well. And she comes by weekly so that I can go to the grocery store without a couple of kids in tow (see: I told you she was saintly).
I only hope that she can feel the magnitude of my appreciation—not only for what she does for me now, but for all the years she persevered and sacrificed as a single mom so that I could have a good childhood. She succeeded in more ways than she knows, and now she is helping shape me into the mother I always wanted to be.