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6 Parenting Lessons I Didn't Know My Mother Was Teaching Me

05/06/2014 03:33 pm ET | Updated Jul 06, 2014

Sometimes I close my eyes and travel back in time, peering at my 13-year-old self, angry and crying to my mother for going on a date so soon after my father passed away. Then I see my little brother and me at the seashore, splashing around and laughing, boogie boards in tow, while our mom sits in a weathered, rusty beach chair gazing at us. Looking closer, I notice she's alone. My mind jumps to a family gathering, enjoying time with our cousins, aunts and uncles; their families were complete. Ours wasn't. My young self feels bad for me, but my adult self aches for my mom. I've gained perspective -- I'm a mother now -- and I can't imagine how she did it.

Back then, I didn't know that she was teaching me. I thought she carried me through life, but actually, she showed me how to carry myself. Motherhood is by far the scariest (and most rewarding) thing I've ever attempted, and I couldn't do it without her lessons, including the below, as my guide.

1. Never tell a lie (especially not to your children).
This is the most important value my mother instilled in me. Nothing good comes from a lie. You usually get caught. And if you don't, you feel guilty about it. You stew. You question. My mom has always been open with me. When I was a child, she didn't shelter me from my father's sickness; she helped me learn and understand. If I had questions, she answered. When my father was in a coma for five weeks before he succumbed to brain cancer, she didn't say there was a chance he could recover. She told me that, if he managed to survive, he'd be a vegetable for the rest of his life, and what kind of life would that be? She didn't sugarcoat the truth. She always wanted me to be prepared for life's curveballs.

2. Don't hold them back.
This is a struggle for me. I often make my 3- and 5-year-old daughters promise they will never, EVER leave mommy and move far away; that they will go to college in the state of New Jersey; that they will always come home, no matter what. If I said this in front of my mother, she'd roll her eyes and quote the cliché: "Give them wings, and teach them to fly." Of course, she is right. I can't shelter them forever, even though my heart wants to keep them on a leash like some kind of puppy dog. I think of how my mom pushed me forward when I held myself back after I graduated college. I had a journalism degree, yet I wanted to work at her home-based party planning business. "No way," she said. "Get out into the world. Go to the city. Get a job! You will NOT be stuck here with me in a suburban basement." I listened to her advice, and I'm eternally grateful to her for the experiences I had along the way. Although I want to keep my girls close, as they get older I will encourage them to attempt new things, test their limits, even travel the world (but I'll still run to the bathroom and cry if they leave!).

3. Have fun with your children.
My mom was older than most of my friends' mothers, but she never acted like an "old mom." At Six Flags, she would go on all of the rides with my brother and me, even the upside-down roller coasters. On a random school night, she'd take us to Stewart's for dinner, where we'd eat cheeseburgers and sip root beer in our car. She had all the stress in the world, but she rarely passed this on to us. She kept things light, she was spontaneous, she played board games, she even let us skip a random school day to have me-and-you time. I tend to get hassled over little things, and I try hard to remember that sometimes, you just need to just let things go, turn the music up and do a silly dance with your children.

4. Communicate.
Communication was like an open door in our home. My mother encouraged me to talk to her about anything that was on my mind. School problems, friend problems, boy problems. Always patient, offering advice when necessary, rarely interrupting or judgmental. Even my friends opened up to her, she made it so easy. I could tell my mom the truth and own up to my mistakes, regardless of the consequences. My mom also taught me the importance of being a good listener, how to accept feedback and constructive criticism. She showed me that we are all a work-in-progress, but you can never better yourself without hearing what others have to say. Even though they are young, I continually remind my daughters that they can tell me what they're feeling, good or bad, and that I'll always be there to listen.

5. Forgive.
My mom rarely holds a grudge, and she has always urged me to let things go. Life is too short to stay mad at people. Call, talk things through, say how you feel, see how she feels. After my father died, my mom lost touch with my dad's best friend and his wife. It was difficult having two people who were such an important presence in our lives suddenly disappear, even though they were still here, living in the neighboring town. Years later, in the local grocery store, my mom saw them. Embarrassed, they turned the other way. "There we were, in the tuna fish aisle," she recalled to me. "I couldn't let them walk away. We had too much history. We loved each other. People make mistakes. I made mistakes, too." They stood there for an hour, talking, reminiscing, laughing, forgiving. They are as close today as they ever were, those few lost years a distant memory.

6. We're all human.
My mother has been the rock of my life. She dealt with numerous hardships while raising two children. She made mistakes along the way, and admitted them to me. She pushed me when I needed to be pushed. She held me when I needed to be held. When I was 8 years old, my best friend and her mother (my mom's best friend) were killed in a car crash. I knew my mom was devastated, but I could see her staying strong for me. One night shortly after the tragedy, we were watching the movie Beaches. Toward the end, my mother slipped out of the room and went upstairs. I followed, and found her in the darkness of her bedroom, crying, sobbing. It was the saddest sound I had ever heard. And it was the first time I ever saw her show this kind of raw emotion. I walked over to her, hugged her, and she hugged me back. We sobbed together. Then she wiped away my tears, I took her hand, and we went downstairs. In that moment, my mom took care of me, and she let me take care of her. In that very special moment, my mom showed me she was human.

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This post is part of HuffPost Parents' Mother's Day series, exploring the lessons our moms taught us about parenting. Read them all here.