They say nothing changes you like having a child of your own and I have found this to be absolutely true.
In fact, I read in “The Birth Of A Mother” from The New York Times: “At the time a child is born, the mother is born too. She had never existed before that moment. There was a woman, but not the mother. The mother is something completely new…Becoming a mother is an identity shift, and one of the most significant physical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience.”
I’m still in process of that identity shift as, at all hours, I am growing a little family of my own, learning how to be someone’s “ma-ma,” and looking for ways to bring joy to our every day.
While late-night rocking (mom-style), I started thinking about my child’s life, what his story will be and how I can make sure he has every good experience a little boy can have. It also made me think about my own story. Not surprisingly, my childhood greatly shaped who I am today. I owe so much of that to my mom, Cindy.
Now some 19 months into this thing called motherhood, I realize more every day how grateful I am to my mom for the care she gave—and gives—me. These are the highlights of what I am trying to model after my own mom as a new mom:
To feel cherished
You know that feeling you get when you’re most at ease, when you’re exactly where you need to be and everything feels right? I get it when I’m home. As Richard Evans said, “Children will not remember you for the material things you provided but for the feeling that you cherished them.” In my childhood home, I grew to be me. I put on stage performances (on the bricks of the fireplace). I learned to navigate a computer with hours of Oregon Trail. I looked forward to going in person to browse the aisles and rent movies for our weekend family movie night. I played outside with the neighborhood kids for hours while my mom sat on a beach chair in the driveway. I made popcorn and pudding and did whatever I could to avoid peas. And no matter the day, it started and ended with a hug and an “I love you” from my mom. I’ve never had a second of doubt of whether or not I am loved. And I only learned in adulthood that this is not the case for everyone.
To spread happiness
We have a saying in my family: “Get up and take a shower.” And it works. When you’re feeling down or slightly under the weather, get up and take a shower and I promise you will feel better—even if only slightly. Not long ago, I heard in a workshop that we “carry our own weather.” The instructor put words to my mom’s philosophy—if you believe external things (like other people or situations) are the source of your happiness, life will always happen to you. But we choose how we handle situations, and we can choose to be happy. When you wake up tomorrow, get up and take a shower and choose to bring the sunshine.
As a sidenote, I heard recently that you can verbally trigger a dopamine release and infect others with happiness. It’s simple: Ask “Anything good happen today?” rather than “how are you?” In doing so, you will be prompting the brain to seek an element of joy instead of hitting autopilot (“Fine, thanks. How are you?”). And happiness is contagious.
To be curious
My mom spent her time helping me experience a little bit of everything—from baton classes to dancing the hula, learning tap dancing, to t-ball and swim classes. I may have done significantly more cartwheels than scored any goals during soccer games, but my mom was still there at every one—with fresh orange slices waiting. We joined library reading challenges and went on children’s museum tours. We visited a farm to milk a cow and she signed me up for—and then led—Girl Scouts. Whether food or fun, she always encouraged me to try things to see what I liked. And that approach to life stuck with me. I also see from this side of things what a commitment that was on her part. She worked full-time but didn’t relax on Saturday morning; she took me out to discover the world.
To celebrate it all
My family loves to celebrate—pretty much any reason to gather everyone together is a good one. We simply believe there’s no accomplishment too small or age too big to throw a party. If we don’t celebrate each other, who will? My mom believes and instilled in my siblings and I that we have to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. The world is a tough place with plenty of criticisms and judgments. So at home, my mom is one to celebrate and praise.
She is also the queen of hosting us all. She decorates, plans the menu and then takes care of each of us with ease. I learned this all from her and similarly love to host gatherings. While I may not iron the tablecloths like she does, I do insist on cloth napkins. There’s something about bringing people together and the experience and feelings you can create in doing so that gives me energy. And the planning process is all part of the fun.
In “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters,” author Priya Parker says any gathering is an opportunity to create a temporary world—one where people share of themselves and face the things we all typically avoid. She gives plenty of practical advice on gathering with specific purpose, with a specific audience and a thoughtful format that reflects that purpose. I feel like her book brought my approach to and intentions for gathering to a new level.
To be kind
As a Kindergarten teacher, my mom regularly reminded me that “sharing is caring” and to do “the dracula” when I sneezed (elbow over mouth, like Dracula). But amid the list of life lessons, I most remember her urging me to be a good friend and to be on the lookout for those who need a friend. She often told me she would be proud of good grades and accomplishments, but she would be most proud to hear that I was kind. She helped me uphold my youthful obligations and work out disagreements with friends. She instilled gratitude within me and showed me how to express it. She modeled how to be honest, fair and caring. She taught me how to be kind.
Of all the ways I am grateful for my mom, I am most thankful for the way she so often tells and shows me I’m loved. I’m glad to call her my mom and my friend today. And now that I’m a mom, I’m so happy to have her advice at the ready in a whole new way. I hope one day my son will realize how deeply he is cherished, celebrated and loved—just as my mom does me. She’s unquestionably the mom I want to be.