Yes, you are an inspiration

Recently, I packed up my office at school to come home for the summer. I had collected cards and notes from students during the course of the year – thank you notes, Thanksgiving cards, and goodbye missives written by those same teenagers we all accuse of being self-centered. They’re not. Okay, sometimes they are. But they are also completely selfless when it comes to expressing their genuine gratitude. The two drawers in my nightstand contain enough evidence of teenage sweetness to dispel any rumors you may have heard of their apathy. They care, very much, especially about people who care about them.

As I gathered each note, I re-read it,  first with smiles, and then increasingly with awe. I noticed for the first time a pattern among the letters in a phrase I never expected to hear about myself: “You inspire me.” Trust me, I’m not telling you this to boast or brag. Quite the opposite, actually. This was an incredibly humbling experience for me. To be considered an inspiration to another human being – to several of them – is, as they used to say in the 70’s, heavy, man. When I think of inspirational people, I tend to think of Mother Theresa, Olympic athletes, and soldiers. Certainly not myself.

But when I really think about who has inspired me, personally, my single grandmother raising my mom on her own comes to mind. Then my mom. Then some amazing mentors I’ve had over the years. I’m not sure that any of them know they’ve inspired me, but they absolutely have. They have inspired me to work hard, persevere, be independent, think for myself, and never carry a grudge.

As parents, you inspire your children. They may never tell you that, so I’m doing it for them. I had coffee with a young man today who would impress the socks off of you, and guess what – his parents have played a primary role in the man he is becoming. They’ve inspired him to communicate in healthy ways, to help those in need, and to know when to let go. He knows and respects their bottom line, and there’s not a doubt in my mind he will go on to inspire his own children one day.

So what can you do specifically to make a lasting impact on your kids? Try the following:

  1. Be who you say you are. Teach your kids that authenticity is crucial to trust and and respect.
  2. Live out your faith. Teach your kids that prayer, gratitude, and treating others as you would be treated are basic tenets of your life.
  3. Give your kids – and everyone else in your life – the benefit of the doubt. Don’t expect them to mess up. Expect them to be amazing and then raise them to do just that.
  4. Forgive those who have wronged you. Pick yourself up and move on. You won’t inspire anyone by holding onto bitterness and becoming a victim.
  5. Always strive to be better. Set the example for your kids of lifelong learning, pursuit of mastery, and giving your all to a task.
  6. Respect yourself. There’s no better way to model high standards and healthy relationships.
  7. Be confident. If you know who you are, play to your strengths, and worry less about what others think, your kids will be much more likely to develop that same confidence.
  8. Believe in your kids’ dreams. Be realistic, but let them know that you respect and support their dreams, especially when their dreams differ from yours. They need to know that their future is their own.
  9. Have a sense of humor. When you can laugh at yourself, they learn not to take themselves and their problems so seriously. Humor puts everything in perspective.
  10. Give them the security they need to fly. It seems paradoxical, but when they know you’re always there for them, that’s when they truly find their freedom.

Inspire your kids today. Greatness doesn’t mean fame and fortune. It means being an inspiration to others.

There’s no one like a mom

Happy Mother’s Day! This is a re-post from 2014, when I discovered these eloquent words about what it means to be a mom. 

This week, I’m going to let others say it better than I ever could. Below are quotes to match every kind of mom, followed by one of my favorite poems. I hope you see yourself in at least one of these quotes, and I hope they inspire you, make you smile, and let you know that you’re not alone in the great state of Motherhood.

“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”
― Debra Ginsberg

“I felt my mother about the place. I don’t think she haunts me, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”
– Julie Walters
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
– Oscar Wilde

‘A mighty power and stronger Man from his throne has hurled, For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.’ – William Ross Wallace

“When you were small and just a touch away, I covered you with blankets against the cold night air. But now that you are tall and out of reach, I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.” Dona Maddux Cooper

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”
― Donna Ball

“Anyone who ever wondered how much they could love a child who did not spring from their own loins, know this: it is the same. The feeling of love is so profound, it’s incredible and surprising.”
― Nia Vardalos

“A mother understands what a child does not say.”
— Jewish proverb

“Any decent parent always fears that they cannot do enough for their children.  Any decent parent of a disabled child knows that they cannot do enough for their child, yet tries all the harder to keep that child from figuring it out.”
— unknown

“She has to have four arms, four legs, four eyes, two hearts, and double the love. There is nothing “single” about a single mom.”
― Mandy Hale

 

Mother to Son

By Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

A love letter to moms everywhere

From my 2014 post, I thought I’d share a Mother’s Day blog that is timeless. Enjoy!

This week, I’m going to let others say it better than I ever could. Below are quotes to match every kind of mom, followed by one of my favorite poems. I hope you see yourself in at least one of these quotes, and I hope they inspire you, make you smile, and let you know that you’re not alone in the great state of Motherhood.

“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”
― Debra Ginsberg

“I felt my mother about the place. I don’t think she haunts me, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”
– Julie Walters
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
– Oscar Wilde

‘A mighty power and stronger Man from his throne has hurled, For the hand that rocks the cradle Is the hand that rules the world.’ – William Ross Wallace

“When you were small and just a touch away, I covered you with blankets against the cold night air. But now that you are tall and out of reach, I fold my hands and cover you with prayer.” Dona Maddux Cooper

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”
― Donna Ball

“Anyone who ever wondered how much they could love a child who did not spring from their own loins, know this: it is the same. The feeling of love is so profound, it’s incredible and surprising.”
― Nia Vardalos

“A mother understands what a child does not say.”
— Jewish proverb

“Any decent parent always fears that they cannot do enough for their children.  Any decent parent of a disabled child knows that they cannot do enough for their child, yet tries all the harder to keep that child from figuring it out.”
— unknown

“She has to have four arms, four legs, four eyes, two hearts, and double the love. There is nothing “single” about a single mom.”
― Mandy Hale

 

Mother to Son

By Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

The imperative of parent friends

True friends validate you as a parent. – Me.

Yes, I just quoted myself. You can do that in your blog. Question for you: Do your friends support you, encourage you, nod agreeably and say things like, “I know exactly how you feel! I would have done the same thing,” when you’re telling them how you handled your kids in a specific situation? If they don’t, you need new friends, Because one of the most important support systems any parent can have is friends who are also parents and who can validate all of your erratic emotions, flummoxed confusion, and epic failures.

I have always said that I have some of the best friends in the world. Without getting too personal and really setting off my own kids, I’ll just say that I have friends who have 1. housed my upset kid when I wasn’t around, 2. reminded me of the specialness of my kid when I was worried sick about said kid, 3. nodded heads sagely while I vented about my parenting frustrations, 4. reminded me to forgive myself when I have royally screwed up, and 5. treated my kids like important additions to the conversation, with acceptance, respect, and love.

My friends have saved my butt on more than one occasion by being there to support me as a parent. I like to think I’ve done the same for them, maybe saying what they needed to hear at the right moment or letting them know that I understand the emotion they’re having and have been there myself a few times. It’s not rocket science, really. It’s just empathy. And lack of judgment. And acknowledgment that this parenting business is insanely hard work.

Parenting elicits emotions like you have never had before. Sometimes, they’re inexplicable. Friends help you accept that. Just by having felt the same thing, they relieve some of the weight that is parenting. And parenting well? Well, that’s really stepping up your game. Now you’re talking patience, a willingness to try an endless array of conversations and tactics to get desired results, and a level of love so strong that every statement, every action, every embrace brings on a torrent of feelings that will drown you if you let them.

But friends are the lifesavers who won’t let you drown. They keep you treading water, even when you think you don’t have an ounce of energy left. Good friends don’t sit in the boat and watch you struggle. They don’t judge your technique or look away from your desperate attempts to stay afloat. They get in the water with you, hand you a life preserver, hold your hands so you don’t flail, and talk you through your exhaustion.

I know this intimately. One time, when I was sure I was drowning in uncharted waters, a friend of mine took my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Do you have any idea how incredible your kids are?” Then she recited a litany of examples to support her heartfelt assertion. She had watched my kids, studied them, and knew I needed a reminder of how wonderful they were, right there, right then, before I gave myself up and descended into the depths, the bubbles of my last breath marking my demise. We all need reminders. We need someone standing outside of us observing the parent-child dynamic and assuring us that we’re doing fine, better than fine, maybe even really, really well.

My greatest hope for you is that you have friends in your life who validate your efforts at the hardest job in the world and let you know that you’re never alone. My second greatest hope is that you will be that friend. Reach out to your parent friends and remind them why their children are incredible. Then make sure they know that the incredibleness came from somewhere.

Parenting a graduate – a lesson before crying

I’ve been to 26 graduations in my 47 years on this Earth. That includes 16 ceremonies I’ve attended for students, 4 of my own, 2 of my husband’s and two each for my children. That’s a whole lot of pomp under a whole lot of circumstances. I’ve participated in ceremonies held in a rodeo arena where my heels got lost in the sawdust, a concert arena that seated 10,000, a cathedral-like church, and everything in between. Despite the venue, an unmistakeable air of tradition and respect pervaded the atmosphere. Graduation ceremonies – despite the occasional cow bell or bull horn – elicit a feeling of grandeur as regally-robed participants process toward a school official who with one handshake sends this silent message:

This end, this thing that you’ve worked so long and so hard for, is really just preparation for the real work that’s about to begin.

As parents watching our children graduate, we know this, which is why graduations are the very definition of bittersweet. We are proud of our children’s accomplishments because they are also our own accomplishments. Graduation says we did something right. We got our kids through school. We gave them the tools they needed to find success. We supported them when they needed it and made them accountable for their own learning when they didn’t want to be. So when we cry tears of joy, we are happy not only for their good decisions and hard work, but also for the part we played in raising them into fine young men and women.

Our tears also hold sadness, however. We are sad that an important stage of our children’s lives is over. We are sad that they must now grow up and be exposed to the adult world without our protection or the safe haven we have provided them. We are sad that reality will demand much from them  – pursuing a college degree, fostering a career, paying bills, leaving childhood behind. We are sad that they are doing exactly what we hoped they would – leaving us. Moving on. Moving out.

Graduation – heck, parenthood – is painful. It swells the heart and crushes it at the same time. It is endings and beginnings and regret for what is lost and excitement for what is to come.

So as someone who has experienced an inordinate number of graduations, let me offer some advice as you prepare yourself for your children’s next steps. Are you ready?

1. Try not to cry.

That’s really the only advice I have to give. It ruins your makeup and makes your face splotchy, which you will lament years later when you revisit the graduation photos. And on a much more serious note, it makes your kids uncomfortable. They hate to see their parents cry, especially on what is supposed to be a happy occasion. They need graduation to be about them, not about you. They need you to beam with pride and joy and complete confidence that they are absolutely ready for the next stage of their life. It really is all about the tone you set at this point, and you must convey a tone of positivity and the full belief that your children are about to be even more amazing, even while you secretly die a little inside.

Once you’ve accomplished that, and your graduate has gone off to a party or gone to bed for the night, have a good cry. Let it all out. Feel every emotion of pride, heartsickness, relief, worry, and love. Then pull yourself together and start strategizing. Because you’ll have to hold it together again and again, with every bump they encounter and every landmark they reach, for the rest of your life.

That’s what parents do. Congratulations, Mom and Dad. You done good.

Who are you when you’re not a parent?

“My kids are the center of my universe.” I hear parents say this all the time, and it’s not necessarily a sentiment I applaud. Should your kids really be the be-all and end-all of your life, the sun around which everything else revolves? What does this intense love and attention do to the rest of your relationships and, for that matter, the rest of your life?

Twenty-six years ago, before there were kids in my world, I went on my very first trip with my brand new husband. We honeymooned in Jamaica, a place I have since thought of as paradise, likely because it was my first jaunt out of the country and my first time spending seven full days with my husband. We loved it so much that we vowed that every year on our anniversary, we would take a trip somewhere, just the two of us. Our vacations varied over the years based on work schedules, the amount of money we had in the bank, and our changing desires for different locales, but we never missed a year, regardless of what was going on in our lives.

This meant that eventually, we had to leave our children. The third year, our first child was only 6 months old. I sought the advice of our pediatrician, a wizened, jovial doc with a lot of parent-observation years under his belt.”Do you think it’s okay to leave her at this age?” I’ll never forget his response. “Of course it’s okay. When you take a break from each other and explore other interests, it makes everyone appreciate each other all the more. Go, have a great time, and let your parents enjoy their time with their grandchildren.” I was beyond relieved. Dr. Duckwall (the most perfectly named pediatrician on the planet) gave me permission to have a life outside of my children, to cultivate my marriage, and to relax without feeling guilty for it. It was a tremendous gift for which I will forever be grateful. It shaped my ideas about parenting and no doubt strengthened and supported my marriage over the years.

It saddens me when I meet a woman (my apologies for this gender-specific comment, but the truth is the truth) who has wrapped her entire world around the needs and desires of her children and who now suffers as they grow up just as they should and leave her in their proverbial dust. It hurts me knowing that every day mid-life couples around the world are waking up, looking at their spouses as if seeing them for the first time, and saying, “It’s just us now. I’m not sure how I feel about that.” Their life has focused only on supporting their kids and giving to them until it hurts… their identities, their marriage, and their relationships with other people.

Of course, it’s all with the best intentions. We’re supposed to love our children with a love that can’t be measured. We would give our lives for our kids without even thinking about it. But some parents feel the need to demonstrate the intensity of their love by constantly giving, hovering, and supporting to the nth degree. They can’t leave their kids because doing so would imply a love for other people and other experiences, and this would somehow threaten their special parent-child relationship.

But I argue the opposite. Love is not synonymous with martyrdom. It shouldn’t be cutting yourself into pieces and giving yourself away to others, including your children. It should be balanced giving of what matters most to who matters most, including yourself.  Wherever you may be on the parenting spectrum – a new parent or a veteran dealing with teenagers – take some time to reflect on the energy you put into the priorities in your life, other than your children. These can include your marriage, your career, your ambitions and dreams, your faith, your health, and your other relationships. Are you neglecting them in an effort to give everything to your children? And in doing so, are you setting a good example for your kids?

It’s important for our children to see that “parent” is just one of many roles we play. Give yourself permission to have an identity outside of your kids and your kids will learn to cultivate their own identities in turn.

No matter your age, you’re still your parents’ child

Going back to your parents’ house is like returning to your childhood. Mom makes your favorite foods, Dad teases you about the same things he teased you about when you were 12. It is oddly comfortable becoming a child again, letting your parents take care of you and leaving the adult world behind.

I spent the last week visiting my parents, an adult myself, but still, forever and always, my parents’ child. I was reminded of this in a multitude of moments – when Mom rushed for the Band-aids when I sliced my finger, when Dad suggested that I take a jacket out on the boat – but one particular dialog perfectly illustrated the parent-child dynamic that exists regardless of age.

Here’s the setting: Mom and Dad are thinking about moving into a different retirement community and we are meeting with the realtor to look at some homes. During a bit of downtime, I step outside to take a call from my editor in New York and when I return, I find Mom and Dad talking about me. Mom is explaining that I’m writing a book about parenting teens, and I’m uber-qualified because I’ve taught teenagers for 17 years. Dad adds that I also have my doctorate, and then mom piggybacks that I was valedictorian and spoke at graduation. The realtor nods kindly and smiles indulgently, and I quickly change the subject and remind everyone that it’s time to go see houses.

My parents were bragging about me. I’m 47 years old and they were as proud of me at that moment as they were when I swam my first lap as a Shaler Seadog at age 6. Nothing has changed in all of these years. To them, I am still their child, accomplishing great things, and they want people to know about it.

The next day, we met up with some of mom and dad’s friends for breakfast. The conversation turned to me and someone asked about my kids. I was thrilled to talk about my daughter, a born teacher who works incredibly hard every single day, and my son who is graduating with a degree in economics and finance and who had a second interview with a great company. My parents’ friends nodded kindly and smiled indulgently, and there I was, beaming with as much pride as I had when my kids took their first steps and learned how to read.

And it’s not just the good stuff that keeps us parenting into old age. I remember not too long ago calling my mother to discuss a concern I had about one of my kids. I said, “When does the worrying stop, Mom?” and without missing a beat, she instantly responded, “Never. I worry about you all the time, every day, and it never gets any easier. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” We think we’re parents for 18 years and then we’re friends with our kids, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But we’re still parents crying when our 40-year-old daughter gets divorced and shouting from the rooftops when our 50-year-old son makes partner at his law firm.

Image

With my husband, Mom and Dad, always happy

A parent’s love, concern, pride, worry, and nurturing never, ever end. And really, who wants it to? It drives my kids crazy that although they’re in their 20’s, I still call them “kids,” but some day, they’ll appreciate it. They’ll realize then that being your parents’ kid means that you are loved with the greatest earthly love there is.