As a kid, I remember thinking I had the world's strictest mom. She didn't let me date until I was 16, my siblings and I weren't allowed to go on sleepovers with friends and my curfew as a senior was 10:00. At the time, I thought: I'm going to do everything differently when I'm a parent. I'll never be 'that mom. And then I had my own children.
Mom, sometimes I feel like I'm doing everything exactly like you -- I know I'm that strict mom. But now, I know your secret -- you did it all out of love. And I'll never be able to thank you enough for all the lessons you taught me, the biggest one: above all, above everything: Family First.
6 Things I learned from having a strict mom:
1. Don't quit. I remember begging her to let me sign up to learn how to play the clarinet -- I wanted to be just like my big sister. But I got the same warning she gave big sis, her one and only condition for signing up for band: If you sign up in 4th grade, you cannot quit until you are in high school. Here's what she knew: She knew the novelty would wear off after a few months, she knew my fingers would get tired of practicing after school, she knew that I would rather be curled up under a tree reading a book, she knew I might get teased -- that I would get called a band nerd or a geek. And after a year when I begged her to let me quit, she firmly reminded me of the rule. Because here's what she really knew: That I would learn what it's like to start something out of excitement, realize it was much harder than I thought but that staying committed to something would build my character. She knew that being in band would surround me with like-minded individuals who would become friends to share in the joys and sorrows of band competitions -- as we dedicated our high school years to practice before, during and after school, weekends and holidays. She knew that I would develop a love of music that would change my life -- music is what helped me get through the delivery of my four babies, music is what carries me through my long-distance running, music helps me write. Music soothes me.
2. Be a Kid. When all my friends were holding hands and sneaking kisses with their boyfriends in 7th grade, I was wishing: Why can't that be me?! But Mom had a firm rule: No dating until we turned 16. That meant no boys calling, no holding hands, no kissing, no making out. She wanted us to be kids when we were kids. It didn't matter if my friend's mom was driving my friend and her boyfriend to the movies for a date at 13 -- you weren't caving to peer pressure. And she didn't let me, either. I got to experience childhood in all it's innocence and it's a gift I'm thankful for because so many kids have to grow up too fast. Don't tell my kids, but the age has been upped for dating to 18.
3. Work hard for what you want. During my summers in middle school, I would go with my mom to work. I'd help her file, answer phones, stock shelves. I did this for time spent with her, which I will always treasure, and lunches, just the two of us -- a rarity coming from a family of five children. When I was 15 I started working at a doctor's office as a file clerk. I wanted a car when I was 16, a senior. I thought it would be like the movies, I'd wake up and there would be a car in the driveway. Instead, I worked every day after school from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.. Handing over every paycheck to my mom. Then one day, she took me to a car dealership and we picked out my car together. I continued to work to make payments. At the time, I wished, why can't I keep my money AND she just buy me the car? But the feeling of buying something with money I worked hard for was such an unexpected gift.
4. Go outside and play. If I had my choice, I would have plopped myself in front of the TV and watched cartoons all day. Instead, my mom would often call out from the kitchen: Go outside and play! We would ride our bikes from sun-up to sunset, we would run in the sprinklers then plop ourselves down in the grass and look up at the clouds and call out the shapes we could see. Sometimes I'd sneak my books outside and climb high up into the backyard tree and nestle against a branch and get lost in a book, until I heard her call out: Time for dinner! All of this helped me learn to play independently, creatively and actively. Gifts that I hope to share with my children.
5. Weekend time is family time. Our time was spent with our family -- including our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Gatherings didn't require an RSVP or even a phone call -- everyone was welcome at any time. There was always food, laughter and no agenda other than just spending time with each other. Sometimes I wished I could be like the other kids, going on sleepovers or trips with friends, but when I look back, I have a bucket full of memories of the people that matter most in my life: family.
6. All bets are off when you become the nana. My favorite thing is seeing my mom with my own kids. She loves them fiercely, but in a different way than she loved me. She's softer, less strict -- instead of sticking to rules she seems happy to break them. And though I may be the strict mom now, I know I get to look forward to a different dynamic with my grandchildren -- both relationships full of love.
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