It takes a village to raise a child-Reflections of Influences on Motherhood

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. As I sat at dinner with my adult children I pondered how well they had turned out. It got me thinking about the influences I had growing up that had shaped the mother I had become, the mothering style I had employed raising my children and the values that were instilled in me that I tried to instill into them. Mother’s Day is about recognizing mothers and the work they do raising their children. But as I sat in the restaurant I realized that moms don’t do it alone. I’m not talking about dads here. That’s a post for Father’s Day. I am talking about the other women in our lives that we are exposed to as little girls, young women and eventually as mothers. The women who we sometimes hear ourselves emulating as we go about the day to day job of raising our kids.

Of course there was my own mother. She was not without her flaws, as are all of us, but she was also a very strong minded lady. In an environment that was far from idyllic, my mother managed to successfully raise two children who, by her strong influence, became inherently good adults. Knowing the hell I must have put my mother through with my rebellious ways, I think my mother did an amazing job. The fact that she did not murder or abandon me is proof of that! Many of the values that I hold dear today were modelled by her daily throughout my life. Good work ethic, honesty and the importance of family are but a few. One of the most important ones was to always be there for your children. Even when they are naughty. And especially when they are adults trying to find their own way. That is when they often need you the most to help guide them through the many obstacles in their path. But she also taught me to let my children make their own choices, without fear of judgement from me. She never turned her back on me, or made her love conditional and for that I will be eternally grateful. I never understood how challenging this was for her until I had children of my own. Hopefully I have been able to instill those values into my children too.

Mom wasn’t the only woman to influence the type of woman and mother I would become. There were friends and family who would help along the way. For instance, her own mother. My Nan, who became a single mother when her youngest of twelve was only an infant. My mother was around ten when my grandfather was hit by an automobile and killed. My Nan raised up those children on her own, along with an additional four of her grandchildren. When I think of strong women, Nan is one of the first ones that comes to mind. And she was a huge influence on the mother I would become.

For as long as I can remember we would go to see my Nan regularly. Usually on a Sunday after church. On those Sunday’s there would always be a large dinner, with enough food to serve anyone and everyone who stopped by after church. Nan always invited the older bachelors to her house for a Sunday dinner, stating that the poor old buggers must be starving half to death with no one to cook for them. We would eat in shifts in her small kitchen and I don’t remember her ever running out of food to serve. Everything would be made from scratch and cooked on a wood burning stove. I honestly don’t know how she managed to pull it off every single week but it provided an environment where I learned that charity to those less fortunate is always a possibility regardless of your lot in life.

She taught me organization skills, discipline and routine are important components of raising children. Having raised sixteen children in her house, she showed us all ways to manage our children in effective but loving ways. I have employed those methods in my own home with excellent results (although now that they aren’t small children anymore routines have become lax and my house is a disorganized mess as a result). And I suppose the really important lesson I learned is that you can live simply and still have a long and happy life. I will be thrilled if I can get to 100 years old like she did. I have, in turn, taught my children that they don’t need every new thing that comes along and that what you do get you will have to work for. Every time I think life is getting too hard to handle, I think of her and tell myself to suck it up because really I have it pretty easy by comparison.

And then there is my mother’s sister who’s house I call home as easily as my own. I lived with her for a while as a toddler when my mother was too ill to care for me. One of her brothers flew back to Newfoundland with me and I lived with my aunt. I adopted her in-laws as surrogate Grandparents. Not that I had any shortage of my own but simply because of the proximity of them to my aunt’s house. Their house was just a small gravel parking area away and I loved to spend time with them.

This aunt would welcome us into her home every summer giving us the opportunity to grow up and experience the same country childhood that most of our cousins in the neighbouring houses enjoyed. She gave love and guidance to a niece that was often times difficult to handle and who loves and respects her all the more for it. She taught me the importance of being there for your family when they need you. She showed me that all children, and especially the naughty ones, need love. And part of that love includes a healthy dose of reciprocal respect. She also showed me the value of having pride in your roots and that family history is important information to be passed down to future generations, treasured as an important gift. She continuously shows me the importance of respecting your body by staying fit while enjoying the outdoors. And even when you are not feeling the greatest, you should live your life to the fullest and not wallow in self pity. There is always someone out there who is much worse off than you are.

Growing up I had other influences from the friends of my mother. These women had children the same age as my younger brother and we spent a fair bit of time in their company. One of these ladies was my idol for many years. I loved her attitude! She was small but she was a fireball and when I was younger I aspired to be just like her. She taught me that a woman can and should be a lifelong friend to at least one other woman. Women need each other! We need someone without familial ties that we can vent to without fear of retribution and who will be there for us right until the end. This helps us to be better mothers, by allowing us to vent our frustrations elsewhere instead of at our children. She also taught me not to take any shit from anyone which influenced who I dated and who I chose to father my children, and ultimately determined how my children were raised. This woman helped me become who I am, through her flaws as well as her strengths…just as my own mother has. I am sure my mother noticed the similarities, however I am not sure she liked all of them.

The young man I fell in love with and eventually had children with and married was very close with his aunt and as a result, I had the privilege of a close relationship with her too. She was a more recent influence on my mothering and we were living in an apartment in her basement when I became a mother. I was terrified of delivery and motherhood in general. Being only twenty five when I first became pregnant, I didn’t really have the maturity or experience to give me the confidence in my own abilities as a mother and I relied on her advice many times. She taught me about patience with children. It is one of her most dominant virtues, along with valuing family time. She would spend hours with my first son when he was a preschooler, teaching him to bake muffins. They would sit on the kitchen floor together watching the muffins bake through the glass on the oven door. She taught me the value of being truly in the moment. To really listen to your children and have conversations with them. Giving time to a child is one of the greatest gifts you can give and the return on investment is immeasurable. It was by watching her interactions with my child that helped me to decide that my children would have the benefit of my time. And when it was time to be with them, they would have my undivided attention. She gave children respect and treated them like what they had to say was super important. My children are better for it and I became a better mother from having her influence in my life. For that, I will be eternally grateful!

There would be other women throughout the years that would influence my mothering style. Some modelled behaviour that I would adopt and others modelled behaviours that helped me determine ways I did not want to raise my children. I won’t call them bad mothers, just mothers who had values that differed greatly from my own, while still showing me alternatives that I knew I didn’t want to emulate.

Sitting here at 50 looking back on my mothering abilities, I hope that I have been able to positively influence the next generation of moms raising our future nieces, nephews and grandchildren. If I have a few pieces of advice for these young women, they would be:

  1. Trust your instincts. You are better at this than you give yourself credit for.
  2. Accept advice but use your own judgement. The child is yours and the final decisions on upbringing are also yours.
  3. When help is offered – take it. Other people in your life love your child and want to spend time with them too. The influence of others on your children can be beneficial, and will also give you time to rejuvenate yourself.
  4. Take time to care for yourself. You are not being selfish by having “you” time. You are giving yourself the opportunity to be a better mom to your children. Parenting takes energy. Renew yours.
  5. Be truly in the moment with your children. Don’t let things distract your attention during their time with you. If you want their respect, you will need to give them some too. One day you will want them to put down their phones and be in the moment with you, so model that behaviour for them while they are still young.
  6. Discipline is a demonstration of love. You love them enough to guide them through life. That is also a part of being a mother.

One last thought on motherhood. Any woman can be a mother…even those who have never given birth. Mothering is about the connection and love you give to a child, not about getting pregnant and giving birth. While that is one way to become a mother, it is not the only way. Some women become mothers through adoption and others by partnering with someone who already has children. Regardless of how you become one, it is one of the most trying yet rewarding experiences a woman can have. It is not for everyone, and that is OK too. Every woman is free to make her own choices and they should not be judged for not having children. Women who do not have children of their own can also have influence on the children of their friends and relatives because it takes a village to raise a child.

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