My mom has been in my thoughts a lot lately. I couldn’t have written my book without her as inspiration. I miss her bigger than life personality, and I believe she would be tickled at my book’s success, even as she would chide me for the title. Even though my mom was not a nurturing caretaker, she did teach me how to have fun. She was the perfect role model for me. She lived a BIG life, and she inspired me to do the same. Without her example, I would never have had the chutzpah to dream of a life that included writing a book, making television and radio appearances, and spinning a web of love over a room full of harried parents or disconnected teens. My mom would have loved my audacity and success; I just wish I could share it with her.
I’m still sad that I wasn’t closer to my mom when she was alive. I made a choice to stay mad at her for all her parental shortcomings. Goodness knows I had reason to be mad; my childhood memories were filled with loneliness and neglect. But there was so much more to my mom than her lack of parenting skills. Recently, I was talking to my youngest about how embarrassed I was when my mom started driving my school bus. My daughter responded, “Gramma DROVE A BUS! Was there anything she didn’t do?” Nope. She lived life to the fullest by her own definition. She flew planes in her 20s, drove race cars in her 50s, and taught canoeing and sailing to Girl Scouts in her 60s. She traveled to five out of seven continents in her ninety years on this earth. All of this was done in a time when women did not do those things. When she raced cars, she was one of a few women on the circuit, and the only grandmother. My mom was a pip. But she wasn’t a good parent — and that’s okay.
Being a good person is not always synonymous with being a nurturing parent, and that’s why I wrote my book. My mission in life is to help wolf babies (my term for those raised by wolves) or others who want to parent their children differently than they were raised, but they don’t know how. If you fit this description, here are a few steps for beginning a new parenting plan.
- Forgive your parents for their mistakes: They did the best they could at the time with the tools they had. When you forgive your parents you can create a new relationship with them and create some different memories for all of you.
- Forgive yourself as well as your parents: Accept yourself as the parent you are, warts and all. Until you can accept yourself as you are, you will never be able to change for the better.
- Define the feeling you want to have when you’re with your kids: If that feeling is closeness, then do something in the next 10 minutes that will bring you closer to your kids. Maybe that means you both turn off the electronics and pick up crayons and paper. Or maybe it means that you snuggle with your kid and watch TV instead of going into the other room to watch your own show.
- Define your family values, whatever they may be, and parent from that place. Don’t worry what everyone else is doing; they are not part of your family. If your family values involve being kind to other people, start by being kind to yourself. Speak to yourself with compassion and rest when you need rest. Self-care is one of my most important family values.
My mom was my first reader, or really listener, as I was reading parts of my book out loud to her while she was in the hospital. I was trying to distract her from the pain of Stage IV cancer. She hated being immobilized, and I hated seeing her robust spirit shrunken down to a frail old woman in a bed. Since I was writing the book while I visited her (that was my very rough first draft), I thought I could entertain both of us by sharing. I started reading, and she settled as she listened. After I finished the first chapter, I asked her, “What do you think?” She responded, “That author really knows what they’re talking about.” I said, “Mom, that author is me. I wrote it.” “Aww, Ter, it’s really good, honey! I didn’t know you could write like that. I should have, though; you can do anything!” That was the first time I had ever heard her say anything like that, and I started to cry. Why did she have to wait so long? When I asked her, she responded, “I’ve always thought that; I just didn’t want to give you a big head.” Yep. That was her all over; filled with love and no tools to show it. Right then and there, I decided to forgive her, and we had another six weeks of connecting in a way that I never thought possible.
I don’t spend a lot of time in regret, but I regret not forgiving my mother sooner. I wasted so many years staying mad at her. In so doing, I missed years of basking in her strength and sassiness. At my mother’s funeral, my middle daughter sang “Make You Feel My Love”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and I kept thinking how lucky I was to have my particularly flawed mother for as long as I did.
Last month, I was in a restaurant with my husband when I got a phone call to inform me that I booked a TV spot I really wanted AND the Washington Post had just endorsed my book. As I was rejoicing in this success, “Make You Feel My Love” came over the sound system. I burst into tears, to the confusion of my husband and other diners. I knew that was my mom’s way of saying “Atta’ girl!”