My mother was a cross between Florence Nightingale and Attila the Hun -- and maybe that's what it took to raise me. I got into plenty of trouble. After all, I was a boy. The school kept a rollaround piano in the hallway for use in various classrooms. I spent about a third of sixth grade hiding behind that piano after having been kicked out of class for one thing or another.
It couldn't have been easy to be my mom.
It was in her uneasy moments I'd try to remind her that I wasn't a felon, I didn't break any "real" laws and there were kids much worse than I. None of that held water with her. Results were what mattered. As quickly as credits could be accumulated (and acknowledged), debits could be applied for sloppy work, a messy room, a bike that wasn't put away, dishes that weren't rinsed, etc. etc. etc.
My mom held me to a very high standard -- hers. She and my father were equal teammates, but as was the case in those days, it was my mom who spent most of her time on the front lines. It was my mom who taught me to dig in and just finish the job. It was my mom who made me face my fears. It was my mom who said (when I worried about asking someone out), "What's the worst thing that can happen... she'll say no? That's not such a big thing."
Basically, my mom was tough. She'd lived with disappointment and had decided that dwelling on one's problems was just a waste of time. She rarely raised her voice, but her "stern look" could stop a clock. These characteristics gave me pragmatism, efficiency and a certain level of skepticism.
My wife, JoAnn, the mother of our four children, is a wonderful blend of Florence Nightingale, a significant helping of Mahatma Gandhi and much less Attila. When it comes to parenting, JoAnn possesses an internal calm that rivals Tony Stark. She has always taken her role as a mother very seriously. In fact, a good portion of Common Sense Dad's common sense is derived from conversations with JoAnn and from watching her in action.
At the same time that I was teaching our children how tough and cold the world can be, JoAnn was busy showing them that "home" was a loving place where problems could be discussed and solved. She continues to set an example of patience and understanding that, at times, baffles me. My friend, Dr. Ron Pion, believes that we are "would be learners" -- that by watching others succeed or fail, we learn how to behave. I have "would-be learned" quite a lot from my wife.
So, why am I writing about these two mothers (aside from the fact that it's almost Mother's Day)?
I'm writing because somewhere between the toughness that was my mother and the compassion of my wife, we were able to find a blend that worked well for our family. That's why the first chapter of my book deals with setting an example and determining which parenting characteristics we want to bring from our past and which we want to redefine or reinvent.
Being a mother today is no harder or easier than it ever was. It's always been a really tough job. But what my mother and my wife have in common seem to be things that have allowed them to succeed in different ways:
- They set high standards -- and neither of them backed off.
- They believed in their ability to do the job -- even when winging it.
- They had the confidence to let their children make mistakes, and the brains to be there to help explain them.
- They considered their children's "business" their business.
In other words, they were active, engaged moms who were fully present in their young children's lives despite the fact that they were also working outside their homes for extended periods of time.
As we roll up to Mother's Day, I'd just like to note that there are many different ways to get the job done, but without solid Mothers keeping us in line and teaching us to listen and be compassionate, we'd probably all be killing each other.
Happy Mother's Day... and don't forget it.