What kind of mom are you?
Are you always sweet and gentle with your children? Do you always say just the right thing when your child is disappointed or frustrated or angry or hurt?
If you answered yes to either of those questions, I would love to hear from you because in my experience, perfect mothers exist only on television or in the pages of novels. In fact, all of the mothers I’ve met have one thing in common–they all wish they’d done it differently at least some of the time.
But, no matter how many regrets you may have about what kind of mother you were or are, believe me when I tell you that it is never too late to take responsibility for mistakes you’ve made. Whether your “child” is five or fifty, she or he is not too young or too old to hear you say you are sorry for whatever you regret.
So the good new is that it’s not too late. The bad news is that it won’t be easy. After all, most of us have spent years defending our choices because we believed that if we didn’t, the world as we knew it would literally fall apart. I mean, if we have regrets about the way we took care of our children, doesn’t that mean we were bad moms? And, really, what’s worse than a bad mother?
What’s worse is how many mothers I meet who feel like failures because they didn’t do everything perfectly and sometimes they didn’t even get close. And yet, aren’t we all just doing what we learned from our mothers, and they did what they learned from their mothers, and so on through the generations?
I believe that we have all done the best we could under difficult circumstances because being a mother in our culture is never easy. Even those who have full time help feel guilty, at least occasionally, for not doing more themselves. And those who have little or no help–well, all I can say is God bless them. Their world is one impossible task after another.
Either way, when you decide to have a child, you sign up for more joy and stress than you could ever imagine. You sign up for a job that quite literally never ends. You are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week–for the rest of your life because you don’t stop being a parent when your child becomes one–it just gets a little more complicated. But, because you never stop being a mom, it is never too late to change the way you do it.
And what if I told you that, by changing, you have the opportunity to make life better for your great-great-great-great grandchild? Sounds far-fetched? It’s true. You have that power. And all you have to do is let the world as you know it fall apart so that you can put it back together again—differently.
Below is a picture of me, my daughter, and her daughter–my daughter is a better mother than I was, and I know my granddaughter will be even better!
Burk and my daughter Jolie (a few years ago)
When my son was about twelve, I dropped him off at the hair salon for a haircut. About ten minutes later, our stylist called me. “Uh, Lynn, Burk says he wants me to cut his girlfriend’s initials into the hair on the side of his head. He says it’s okay with you—are you sure?”
Is it crazy that I was? When Burk had asked me if it was okay, all I could think was—“he’s not having anything pierced, he’s not getting a permanent tattoo, he’s not smoking anything or cooking drugs in the garage—why shouldn’t I let him do this?” And, more importantly, what would he learn if I told him “no”? That I didn’t respect his ideas? Or that I was more concerned with other people’s opinions than I was with his feelings?
I don’t take credit for the confident, sensitive man he grew into—it’s just who he is, but I did try to make choices that supported his confidence and encouraged his sensitivity.
So when you’re taking your nine-year old granddaughter to her first Broadway play and she insists on wearing jeans instead of the cute dress you bought for her, don’t argue and get frustrated. Remember that although she’s only nine, her opinions matter. Then, smile and hug her and tell her she’s beautiful no matter what she wears.
And when your ninety-one year old father wants to eat toast and ice cream for dinner, don’t tell him he should have something healthier. Remember that although he’s getting old, his opinions should still matter. Then put the grilled chicken away, drop some bread in the toaster, grab a couple of bowls, and dish up some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.
These days I don’t get to vote on his hairstyle, but he makes really good choices!
Because, my friend, hair grows back and nine-year olds look really cute in jeans and every once in awhile we should probably all have toast and ice cream for dinner.
Did you know that angels don’t always have wings? I can tell you a story that proves it.
While my mother was alive, my father was our favorite entertainment. He made up words and sang silly songs. He laughed himself to tears with his own bad jokes. But when my mother died, his laughter seemed to die with her.
A few months after her death he had heart surgery. We were very worried about him—he was 78 and depressed. Can you imagine our surprise when, only a few days after surgery, he was smiling and laughing more than he had since my mother’s memorial service?
It wasn’t until a few weeks after he was released from the hospital that we found out that he’d had been doing more than recovering during his hospital stay.
We found out, in fact, that while he was in the hospital, he had been “courting” his very attractive (20 years younger!) nurse, Gail. He told us that, at first, she had refused several of his invitations. Poor Gail, we could have told her that was futile. My dad (AKA Prince Charming) was, when he wanted something, irresistible.
Less than six months later, she accepted his proposal and they were married. With Gail by his side, Dad smiled and laughed and his blue eyes danced with joy and mischief.
Gail challenged him with her quick wit and sharp mind. She learned to play golf, although tennis was her game. She adopted his friends, and embraced his chaotic, slightly crazy family.
And, in his nineties, when his balance began to fail, she walked next to him and held him up. She cut out newspaper articles for him to read and found television shows for them to watch. She invited his friends and family for dinner.
She never stopped encouraging him. She never stopped loving him, and, when he was with her, he was always smiling.
Maybe some angels have wings, but I can assure you that at least one of them has red hair and the most generous spirit I’ve ever known.
Dad and Gail
I just saw the movie, Hidden Figures, and I am, once again, humbled by the strength of black women. As a middle class protestant white girl, growing up in the south in the fifties and sixties, I was sadly ignorant of the often nightmarish reality faced by “people of color”—black women in particular.
I was one of those lucky white children portrayed in The Help. Like them, I had the incredible good fortune to be cared for by more than one kind and affectionate black woman.
These women hugged me and kissed me and fussed at me when I disobeyed. Of course, I loved them, but did I appreciate them? No more than I appreciated the food my mother cooked or the hours my father worked at his office. However, the time I spent with them taught me more about generosity of spirit and the simple strength of goodness than any other experience in my life. I cannot imagine what it cost them to care for me when their own children were taking care of themselves.
Like the main characters in Hidden Figures, these women suffered the humiliations of segregation and the abuses born of prejudice, but they never stopped singing God’s praises. And, when they laughed, as they frequently did, joy spilled in all directions.
By now I’m sure many of these amazing women have claimed a special place next to God, so I send my small prayer of thanks for His great goodness in sharing them with me, and hope they will hear how well they are remembered.
They say that at some point our bones start getting shorter, and we begin to shrink. (For those of you under sixty, try not to be alarmed, but I feel I should warn you. Thanks to gravity, our skin gets longer.
In fact, as I leave my sixties behind and slide (way too quickly) into seventy, I feel more and more like a corded phone or a black and white television—historically interesting, but no longer relevant. “Oh, come on,” some of you are probably saying—“Aren’t you being a little dramatic?” Maybe, but think about this.
I used to enjoy age-related style suggestions in women’s magazines even when I didn’t agree. Then I turned sixty, and there was nothing to disagree with because, guess what? There are no suggestions for women over sixty. Do the editors believe that after sixty women never leave their homes? Or do they think that women over sixty don’t care how they look anymore?
The irony is that women over sixty actually need more help than younger women because we have more “issues”—like our knees and our upper arms and our elbows and even our backs (why did I ever even LOOK at my back?). You know what I mean?
By the time I find a top that doesn’t make me look six months pregnant or, maybe worse, cling to and reveal every aging bulge, I have to hope there will be a color that flatters my aging skin and hair. If I’m looking for a dress, well, it has to be long enough, but not too long, right? After all, my calves and ankles are about the only parts of me that don’t have droopy skin. And, don’t even get me started on finding a pair of pants!!
More magazine is great for women over forty, but don’t you think it’s time someone focused on the fashion needs of women over sixty?
Well, in the two weeks since my first public presentation about my novel, no one has offered me a movie deal. Do you think it was something I said?? Or maybe something I didn’t say? Maybe it was what I wore?
Now before you go clicking your way back to Pinterest or Kindle or Houzz, give me another line or two. Truth is I’d be perfectly happy with a television series.
You know I’m joking, right? Trust me, I’d be delighted with another small speaking engagement!
But, wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? Publish a book, speak at a luncheon, next stop, Hollywood. But it’s crazy to dream like that, isn’t it?
It’s crazy to dream of going to the Olympics or performing on Broadway or playing music in Carnegie Hall. It’s crazy to imagine being on the cover of Vogue or walking a Paris runway or shooting a scene on a movie set in Hollywood. It’s crazy to think you could be drafted by the NFL or the MLB or the NBA.
I mean the odds are against us, right? Only a few people get to do those things. On the other hand, a few people do get to do those things. Why not us?
Motivational speakers and self-help books tell us all we need to do is visualize, surround ourselves with positive energy, and believe in ourselves. Other people tell us that all we have to do is believe in and trust God.
Maybe you’re thinking, “All I need to do is visualize and have faith? Cool, I can do that.” Well, keep reading. I’m afraid I forgot to mention a critical piece of this process. Every dream requires a lot of hard work—physical, emotional, or intellectual. There are no magic words. There is no magic wand.
But, you’re willing to work hard, right? You’re willing to pray and visualize and your faith is solid, right? You’re doing everything you’ve been told to do. You’ve got this, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Other than, well, pretty much everything.
Because, sometimes we don’t get what we want even after doing everything we’re told to do. Sometimes no matter how much we visualize, no matter how often we pray, no matter how hard we work, what we want still doesn’t happen.
What then? What do we tell ourselves when we do everything right, and things still don’t work out the way we want? I can’t speak for you, but I usually figure I didn’t visualize clearly or often enough. I didn’t pray the right way or with the right words. I didn’t work hard enough.
I go straight from putting my trust in something bigger and stronger than I am to dropping the blame right back onto my own scrawny, mortal shoulders.
Now, I hope you’re not expecting some brilliant conclusion here—some parting words of wisdom that explain why good things don’t always happen to good people. I’m sorry to tell you I am not that wise.
I can tell you that if you never let yourself dream, if you never allow yourself to imagine wonderful things happening in your life because you are afraid they won’t happen, more than likely, they never will. If, on the other hand, you open your heart and let those hidden wishes and hopes and dreams spill out into the world, one or two of them might just break the odds, and you’ll find yourself, at the age of 67, at a luncheon where people are calling you “the author.”