Let Your Kids Be Your Guide

Family with Grammy (2)

Good times were even more fun when Grammy was in the house.

By Kathy P. Behan

I’m a good mother — no brag, just fact. How do I know? Well for one thing, I come from a long line of good mothers. Nana, for example, my maternal grandmother was a caring, loving woman, who despite being an Italian immigrant widowed in her thirties, and working six days a week in a factory sweatshop, would schlepp her four children to the beach by subway on the seventh day. She protected and nurtured her brood with a leonine ferocity. Then there’s my mom, a woman whose sense of humor, childlike wonder, and up-for-anything attitude made her my kids’ all-time-favorite companion.

There were so many things that these women did right, but one of the most important lessons I learned from them was to make your children feel good about themselves. My mom and grandmother always made my two sisters and I feel that we were smart and good and special. We didn’t all get the same treatment though. We were loved and cared for equally, but differently, based on our individual needs. When we set off on our own, we were armed with healthy egos and a strong sense of self — important ammunition in a world that seems to delight in destroying self-esteem.

My family also knew the value of good communication. One of Nana’s favorite lines on how to raise kids was “Esplain, esplain, esplain,” meaning: make sure your children understand what you need and expect from them. Even though her English was shaky, her philosophy was very sound.

In turn, my mom started the practice of heart-to-hearts early. I remember sitting in the kitchen after kindergarten, and having her ask me questions about my day while I munched on some cookies. She got to know us real well from these chatting sessions. That’s probably why we felt so close to her, and could tell her just about anything.

Another reason why I loved my grandmother and mom so much was that they actually played with us. They weren’t just spectators watching our games, they were active participants. To our delight, they often quite literally got down and dirty with us.

On-call forever

But what really sets them apart from lots of other mothers was they knew that being a mother doesn’t stop simply because your “child” has reached a certain age. A good mother is “on-call” forever. My mom knew that there are times when mothers need mothering as much or more than their children do. “I hear that tone in your voice,” she  would say when I was trying to pretend that everything was OK, but I was really at the breaking point. “I’ll be right over.”

My mother continued to say and do this despite the fact that we moved to Massachusetts, and she and my dad, to California. Mom was undaunted by distances; when she was needed, she was there.

My mom was also very supportive of us. She often told us what good parents we were, and was wise enough to let us parent our children without (too much) interference. She knew we were the experts on our own kids, and enforced our rules — even when privately, she’d try to talk us into changing some of them.

Even though great role models help a lot, luckily, you don’t have to have good parents in order to be a good parent. To hone your mothering techniques, you may want to read parenting books and magazines, talk to women you think are good moms, or consider what my family taught me. But wade cautiously through the advice, suggestions and “experts.” Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what works best for you and your kids. Just remember what’s really important. Children need your patience, time, attention and love.

Motherhood is not an exact science, so short of mentally or physically hurting your children, no one can really tell you you’re doing it wrong. Just try to stay open to different philosophies, and let your kids be your guide through the perils of parenthood. Once you tune into them, they’ll teach you almost everything you need to know.

After all, this is what my mother taught me — and she was the best.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.


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