Starting at age 13, and until I had my first child at age 28, my number one priority in life was to make it very clear to everyone, including my mom, that I was not like her.
I don’t know what it is about the teenage years that makes us so desperate not just to establish our own identity, but also to separate ourselves from our parents. I guess separating from them is part of growing up, but I wish it wasn’t such a cruel process.
It took me fifteen years to accept that while my mother is not perfect, no one is, and that she has many qualities that I admire; that she loves me deeply – probably more than I realize; and that being like her would NOT be the end of the world.
Now 39 (almost 40!), I look at my 11 years old daughter, who loves me with all her heart and respects me immensely, and I wonder. Will she be like me as a teenager? Will she rebel against everything I stand for? Will I lose her for fifteen years or so? It’s difficult to imagine going through something like this, and part of me hopes I won’t have to. But another part prepares for the possibility that it will happen.
Older and wiser, I now look at my mom through very different eyes. I am in a place where I am able to forgive her mistakes, and ask her to forgive me for mine. I love her deeply, not just because she is my mother and I must, but because I think she’s an amazing person – smart, sharp, resourceful, and fiercely independent. Many of the qualities I like in myself I got from her, and – yes – some of those that I dislike too, such as the tendency to worry too much.
The things my mother taught me, she mostly taught by personal example. She never believed in “Do as I say, not as I do” parenting.
1. Be independent. Now retired, mom was a career woman – a banker – for many years. She always took care of herself, and never allowed herself to become dependent on anyone. In fact, at the age of 17.5 she finished high school and started working to support her own parents, who were struggling financially. Despite winning scholarships to several top notch colleges, higher education wasn’t in the cards for her. Her family was too poor and needed her help.
2. Do the right thing. For eight years, from the day mom started working and until she got married, she gave half her salary to her father, to help support him, her mother and her two younger sisters. It never occurred to her that she could have fun with that money… buy more clothes, enjoy her late teens and early twenties. Her parents needed her, and she was there for them, even if it meant giving up on her own dreams.
3. Be strong. Mom is the strongest person I know. She’s not just strong – she’s tough, and I mean that in a good way. I know she sometimes doubts it, and worries that if something truly bad happens she’ll collapse, but I am certain that whatever destiny throws her way, mom will deal with it beautifully. She always has.
4. Work hard. Mom worked full time from age 17.5 until she retired at age 62. She hardly ever took sick days, and except for 5 months of maternity leave after the birth of each of her two children, she basically worked nonstop. Mom was never afraid of hard work. She’s always been an early riser and was always the last one to go to bed at the end of the day. I’m happy for her that now she finally gets to sleep in and stay in bed a little later in the morning. She deserves the rest.
5. Marry a good man who respects you and stay away from “bad boys.” Mom always wanted me to get married and have kids – there was no question abut that, but she never wanted me to compromise. She issued stern warnings against “bad boys,” and apparently she had issued them early enough – while I was still young enough to listen to her – that they sunk in. I’m sure that the fact that she had married a kind, faithful man – my dad – helped too. I never wanted anything to do with bad guys, and except for a very brief period of dating a jerk, I always found smart, kind, and faithful men irresistible. I even married one. 🙂
6. Respect money and be financially responsible. Mom grew up poor. Really poor. A family of five in one bedroom (the living room was converted at night into a second bedroom), no heating, and food that was carefully portioned out. She worked hard to pull herself out of the working class, all the way into the upper middle class. Just like all people who grew up poor, she knows how important money is, and the hardship people suffer when they lack money. It’s not that she views money as a goal – but she appreciates financial security and financial independence in a way that someone who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth simply cannot.
Thank you for these important lessons, mom. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.
In the photo: Mom and I, Jerusalem, 1972.