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The Most Important Thing My Mom Taught Me About Parenting

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The other day I was looking at a photo of myself at my toddler daughter's age. I marveled at how much she looked like me, and I relished the family resemblance. We don't have the same eye color, but we do have the same eye shape and the same long eyelashes. I realized that, although I was hoping she would have my blue eyes, she has hazel eyes like my mother. Then I pulled out a photo of my mother crying on her first birthday. I could see my daughter's face in hers, since my baby has that exact same expression when she cries. I realized the family resemblance ran through at least three generations. These moments are especially bittersweet since I can't share them with my mother because she died six years ago from pancreatic cancer. But the family resemblances don't end at our face shapes and our shared hair color; my mom taught me a lot of lessons about parenting, and often, I'm a reflection of her.

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Toddler me in 1979. My daughter looks just like me.

1. The love of reading.
Every Saturday of my childhood, my mother would take me to the library. She was an avid reader and always had her name on a list to reserve the latest must-read book. I spent countless hours at our city library stacking up the piles of books she let me check out. I remember when she got me my first library card and how proud I was to be responsible for my own books. I remember my mother said once she could survive anything in life as long as she had her books to take her away on a new adventure. She instilled her love of books in me. I don't take my children to the library as often as she did, but I take them frequently. In the summer, I read a large chapter book to my children for a few minutes every night. They're always begging me to read more chapters. Whenever I see one of my kids reading a book independent of a school assignment, I get a little thrill.

2. Parenting doesn't stop when your child turns 18.
After my mother died, I was going through her things and picking out the books I wanted to keep while the rest would be donated. Among the thousands of books I found in her collection was a book about parenting from an empty nest. To think that my mother was worried about parenting her children right even after we were adults let me know how much she truly did love us and want us to succeed. I was married young, and after I had only completed two and a half years of college. My mother constantly encouraged me to go back to school. She wanted each of her children to have a college education, and it was an important goal for her since she never got the opportunity. After the birth of my second child, every so often my mom would ask me when I was planning on going back. Once I made the decision to quit my job and go back to school full-time, my mother supported me completely. She and my dad even paid for the semesters not covered by financial aid. It took me two years to graduate, and my mother couldn't have been prouder. I'll always be thankful she was there to see me graduate, since she died six months after I donned my cap and gown.

3. Loyalty.
My mom always taught me that "blood is thicker than water," or that you should always stand up for your family no matter what. She taught me that you should always have your family's back over other people. I think I learned this lesson too well, because one of the earliest memories my younger brother has is of me taking off my shoe in the foyer at our church and hitting a kid with it who was teasing him. My mother especially wanted her children to have a close relationship as siblings. I think it's because she instilled that loyalty to my family in me that my sister and brother are two of the most important people in my world. I try to instill this in my own children, too, which is why it's especially painful for me when they fight with each other. I want them to know that most friends come and go, but family is forever.

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Mom on her first birthday. My toddler looks just like this when she cries.

4. Your life doesn't stop because you have children.
When I became a mother for the first time, my mother told me that children are supposed to fit into our lives, not the other way around. Because of this I have not lost my whole self in motherhood to the point where that is my whole identity. While I love being a mother and parenting my children, I have retained my hobbies and my friendships and I encourage this with my husband as well. I completed my Bachelor's degree when I had two children, and plan to complete a Master's degree when my youngest gets out of the toddler years. Active parenting is such a short period of time, and while most of my time is devoted to parenting, I hold a small space that is just my own and only belongs to me.

5. Talking.
My mother was somebody I could always talk to. I would lie in her bed with her for hours talking about my life and my problems. Even during my cranky teenage years, my mother was someone I could always talk to, and she would always listen. She would even put down her book long enough to pay attention to me. Years later, as an adult, even though she only lived five miles away, I would call my mom and we would spend hours on the phone. I've had friends tell me that they could never talk to their mothers the way I talked to mine, like a friend. I remember the first time I reached for the phone to call my mother after she died, and realized, with a slap to the face, she wouldn't be on the other end if I called her number. I still have the very last voicemail she ever left me, singing me a birthday song and wishing me a happy birthday. As my oldest is about the enter the teenage years, I have tried to develop this relationship with her. She comes and talks to me about school, her friends and the boy she likes, and I try to listen without judgment. The other day she told me liked hanging out with me, so maybe I'm doing a good job at this.

6. Accepting me for who I am.
I was flipping through a book about mothers that my in-laws gave me one Mother's Day when I came across this quote by Fredelle Maynard and it struck me:

Beyond all lessons, beyond the model she provided, my mother gave me a parent's ultimate gift; she made me feel lovable and good. She paid attention; she listened; she remembered what I said. She did not think me perfect, but she accepted me, without qualification.

My mother always accepted me for who I was. She didn't try to change me or push me into doing things I didn't want to do. I mean, within reason. She did expect me to finish my vegetables at dinner. She didn't try to change me into the Homecoming Queen when I was a book nerd. She let me make my own mistakes and learn from them. A lot of parents try to make their children in their own image, and that is not what my mother did. She let us find out who we were without expectations or qualifications, like Maynard said. As a mother, I have loved watching my children's personalities unfold, and like my mother, I try to not push my own view of who they should be on them. I want them to grow up to be exactly who they are.

7. Time is a gift.
The most important thing my mom taught me about parenting is that time is a gift. The reason why time is so precious is that you never know when your time is going to end. My mother died when I was 29 years old. I believed that we had at least 20 more years together. I thought she would be around to watch my children grow up and to be an active grandparent in their lives, but she's not. That has made every moment that I ever spent with her special. I don't know how much time I have with my children on this Earth. That means the time I do spend with them is precious to me, and I want them to know it's special, too. I can't think of a greater gift to my children than to give them my time.

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My daughter and me on her first birthday.

This post was originally published on the Iron Daisy blog.

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