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Top 5 Things Every Mother Needs to Know for Mother's Day

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Last week, I was fortunate enough to discover a blog written by my oldest daughter listing 13 things she's learned from me.

It warmed my heart to read her thoughts. I was glad to see she never said I was perfect, because, lord knows, no mother is perfect. But I thought I could impart my version of what I've learned about how to be a decent mom for all you moms out there who are wondering...

1. Your most important job is to teach your kids to take care of themselves. That means letting them (or even making them) pick out their own clothes, get their own glass of water, make a half-decent breakfast, keep themselves basically clean, and do their own homework. It's not because you'll never help them. It's so that they appreciate you when you do, but more importantly, so that they know how to take care of themselves if you're not there. Teaching them to take care of themselves gives them a sense of self-esteem that can never be attained through external words of praise. It's the kind that comes from within. A knowing that they are capable and independent--priceless!

2. Treat them with respect, especially in public. At home or in the car you can critique their behavior or express your demands with gusto, but once you're out of the house and in public, you are a united team always on each other's side. They quickly learn that if you don't embarrass them in public, they won't embarrass you either. It makes for a much more pleasant life in general. If you do need to communicate something in public, it's better to use your eyes (one day I'll do a video for y'all on all the "Mom Eye" techniques I have!) or pull them aside and whisper.

3. Understand that 90 percent of their issues can be solved with food and sleep. Cranky? They are either tired or hungry. Temper fits? Tired or hungry. Listless and moody? Tired or hungry. Mysterious rashes and behavioral problems? Probably food. However, each kid is different, so it's a bit like being a mad scientist experimenting with different potions. Yes, they need fruits and vegetables. But they also need fat and protein and carbs. Here's what they don't need: lots of sugar (some is fine) and toxic chemicals. Think of your kid as a furnace that needs a conveyer belt of fuel going into it in a steady flow--snacks are essential! Even right before dinner if it seems like it's going to be hard for them to wait. Vegetables and ranch dressing or cheese and crackers go a long way toward making dinner more pleasant for everyone. And for the other 10 percent of problems that can't be solved with food? Never hesitate to get help.

4. Get them excited about life! Take them lots of new places. Expose them to things that open their minds and push their thinking. Even take them places that seem beyond their years or slightly inappropriate. Take them to movies that they may not like but you know you will (although, please, no violence!). Kids are like sponges; they absorb all sorts of things. And don't give them a choice about it, either! I mean, who is the grown-up? YOU are. Give them some snacks to distract them, load them in the car, and surprise them if you have to. Before you know it, they'll be asking where you're going to take them next!

5. Don't look to THEM to make you happy. Make YOURSELF happy, and their happiness will follow. No kid truly wants to be the center of your universe. Kids want to be the center of their own universe. But you are like their sunshine--your brightness makes them feel good; your clouds make them feel dreary. Plus, they can never meet your grown-up needs for love, desire, appreciation, and fulfillment. You have to set the example of how it's done because they're watching your every move--even if their nose is stuck to a screen all day. And after all, one day they will grow up and live their own lives, and you don't want to be standing there wondering what to do next. The more you delay your own pleasure and your own happiness, the harder it will be to deal with that transition. And the harder it will be for them to learn how to be happy independently.

If all this sounds a little bit like tough love, it is. But tough love gets the best results and builds the strongest, most resilient people. And then, when Mother's Day comes around, you can feel good no matter what happens (or what they give you or don't give you) because you've already given yourself the most important gift of all: the gift of your own happiness.

Oh, but one there is more thing. And it's the most important thing about being a mom: unconditional love. It's our job. And it's the most important job in the world.

Happy Mother's Day!

P.S. This list works for dads too!

For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com