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Mothering 'Mistakes' are Life Lessons

In honor of Mother’s Day, don’t look at your mothering mishaps with remorse.

As a kid, my mother never made a mistake — or so I thought. She was tough and consistent.

She had no problem telling me no, negotiating was never an option and if something was too expensive, we knew better than to ask. We could never beat her down at the grocery store. My mom was one of those sugar-free, no-soda, no-chips, no-doughnut moms. The options were Wheaties or Cheerios, never Captain Crunch or Fruit Loops. 

“You can ask me a thousand times, but the answer is still no,” she said. If she replied with a smile, the anger and outrage over kid unfairness and injustice was only amplified.

Questioning her tactics was greeted with additions to our weekly chore list or days to a punishment. For fun, I love reminding my mother of long-forgotten mishaps of her childhood lessons.    

She often snaps back with, “Oh, don’t remind me. I made so many mistakes with you kids.”  

Mistakes?

I never viewed them as such. The truth of the matter is when we misbehaved and ignored instruction (which was often), we were punished. And rightly so, we deserved every bit of consequence thrown at us. Granted, I grew up in the 1970s when spanking and the tight, arm-out-of-socket-style squeezes were perfectly acceptable in public. A swift smack to the fanny was embarrassing enough to get our attention.  

We were allowed to fail. There was no buffer or parental takeover when a project was due. We suffered the consequences of not studying enough for a test, taking the forbidden car for a joy ride or trying to sneak back into the house after a night of sin. Mom never backed down, never gave a break. No matter how exhausted she was, there was always enough energy to discipline our budding independence.  

She always knew the friends that were up to no good and the ones that were too good, usually too pure for my taste. The way I saw it, life was too short to have boring friends. Pushing the envelope, while not getting caught, became an art form. But, when I messed up, I did it well. Our actions had direct consequences, good and bad.

Instead of sparing or masking feelings, I learned truth. She wasn’t afraid to let us feel disappointment and unfairness. My mother was a full-time working woman, still an emerging vocation to most of my childhood friends. I often envied my friends who had mothers at home to bring their forgotten lunches or return overdue library books. If we forgot something, too bad. “Maybe next time you’ll remember, Cami Ann.” By her inaccessibility, we learned to become more independent, relying on ourselves to catch the bus or begin prepping dinner.  

When we stalled or dragged our feet (usually to church), she’d pipe up and say, “Hurry up! This isn’t a wait-for-Cami day.”  The humility and candid truth of the world not revolving around me were frequent topics of “discussion.”  She had an ingenious way of deflating an ego while restoring confidence. 

Through her, I learned it’s okay for my kids to be angry with me. It’s okay to let them cry it out.  It’s okay to tell them no. As my mother used to say, “I’m your mother, not your friend.  I’ll be your friend when you're out of college.” And what a friendship it is! In honor of my mother, and all mothers for their sacrifices and life lessons, thank you. Happy Mother’s Day.  

EC May 14, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I cannot begin to express the flood of emotions I felt when I began reading this today. This is the 18th Mothers Day without my mother, my daughter is 17 and this is the time in our lives when I'd give anything to have her by my side during these years, to help my husband and I guide her through life and more important the right now is college. I missed that support during my college selection process, and It is something that I think about often. Which is why we would cherish the process together. I am so very blessed & thankful my mother for all she did teach me, all the nagging and rules I had to follow. Because when she was taken from us FAR too early I was able to take care of my father, sister and a household (not well, it took practice, but we survived) LOL!! I am always wondering if she would approve/ disapprove of our parenting skills. We had a similar upbringing, one difference being my mother had a career outside the house and my husbands mom was a stay a home mom. We took rules, boundaries, expectations, and most importantly the mistakes we've learned along the way! Thank you for posting this! I feel better reading your story, being so similar to mine. I'm also hoping maybe she is seeing this and knows how much we miss her.
Nancy usich May 15, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Not only is the beautiful , well written article an affirmation to all mothers to stand your ground and use common sense, but the heartfelt comment from EC squeezed my heart and made me remember. Thank you to you both. Nancy Usich

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