On my first day of college, I met my now best friend. Standing in the hallway of our dorm on move-in day, I immediately felt a connection — not just to her, but to her mom, as well. They introduced themselves and something about them just made me feel so comfortable.
As the weeks passed and we settled into our new lives away from home, we discussed our moms a lot. My friend was incredibly homesick. It was apparent she had a robust support system at home. My feelings were the opposite: I was happy to be away from my mom and often wondered what it was like to have a mother like hers to miss.
She talked on the phone with her mom once a day. I noticed during those conversations there was mutual respect and love they had for each other. She called her mom every day because she trusted her.
Her hometown was only an hour away from school, and she often invited me home on weekends. Her mother was always excited to see us, and I always felt welcomed and accepted. I knew this would not be the case if I were to bring a friend home. She always asked about our classes and our hopes for the future.
What’s more, her mom always made sure we had everything we needed before we headed back to school. She would offer to stock me up on shampoo, toothpaste, and tampons. Not only did my mother not do this for me — I bought all my necessities with money from my work-study job — she never liked any of my friends, so there was no way she’d ever think of doing anything so considerate for them.
I remember thinking at the time that maybe I needed to put more effort in with my mother. I did long to have a relationship with my mom like the one my friend had. But I also recognized a lot of my feelings about my mom were negative. I wondered if being away at college would be a good thing for our relationship. Maybe things would change when I came home.
I didn’t have a car at school, but I found a few people willing to drive me home for Thanksgiving break. One friend wanted to leave a few days early and I got the bright idea to surprise my mom. I thought she’d be happy to see me and relieved she didn’t have to make the long drive to pick me up. I’ll never forget what happened instead when I ran into the house with my bag: My mother’s face looked annoyed, not happy. She was on her way out the door to go for a walk with the neighbor and didn’t seem to care at all that I was there. I hadn’t seen her in three months. My heart sank when I realized nothing had really changed between us.
I knew I wanted something more when I had kids and my friend’s mom showed me there was a different way. She demonstrated how to make a kid feel wanted, secure, and loved unconditionally. She didn’t have to be my mom to inspire me. Watching the way she interacted with her daughter and her other four children was all I needed to witness.
Now as a busy mom myself, I think about her when I’m feeling maxed out and am tempted to tell my kids I don’t have time to do something they really want to do. Instead, I remember how she constantly said that her relationship with her kids was the most important thing to her and nothing else mattered half as much.
She’s helped me shape what I want out of the parent-child relationship, and I’m so thankful.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.