Mother’s Day is on my mind. My fiancé is hosting dinner at his house and we’re chatting up menu and dessert. And I’ve been browsing shops for the perfect gift for my own amazing mother.
Not everyone is blessed with a great mom. And many don’t have their moms with them. I know how lucky and blessed I am. My mother truly has given me a great example of what selflessness and unconditional love looks like. (It doesn’t mean that it’s rubbed off entirely on me. I am far less selfless than she is. I definitely have boundaries with my children that my mom never established with me.) My mom has placed her children’s needs as her absolute number one priority. There has never been a day that I haven’t been able to count on my mom, or to talk to her about any topic at any time of day or night. And when I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2012 and moved in with her and my dad, along with two children and a cat, she has been my angel. She and my dad were my caregivers through massive amounts of chemo and two stem cell transplants. They’ve helped raise my daughters. My mom was my number one supporter through my horrific divorce. And she is my best friend. There are no words for how much I love, respect and admire my mom.
When I graduated from college and started a career, motherhood wasn’t even on my radar. I wasn’t sure I liked babies all that much and, really, I was more focused on climbing the corporate ladder and traveling in my spare time. When I turned 31, I realized that I did want a child. My husband I and tried IVF and it didn’t work.
Long story short, over the next several years, I ended up becoming a mom through the beautiful (yet difficult and expensive) process of adoption. I traveled to Russia four times to get my two daughters. The first was almost two years old when I became her mom. She was afraid of everything, timid and inquisitive. I would look at her when she slept and cry because she was so perfect. My second daughter was nearly three years old. She came into my life ready to take on the world– fearless. They are my number one priority, the joys of my life. When I first heard the dreaded “you have cancer” words, my first reaction was “I have to beat this. I will not leave my daughters.” They gave my fighting strength.
And now that I struggle every day with being a good mom, I wonder what I can do to be better. Since I’m certainly no expert, I asked them. And then I thought about the example of my own mom. And then I asked friends. What traits make up a fabulous mom? Here are the top 10 answers.
My 14-year old daughter confides in me all the time. She needs to know that I’m not going to tell anyone else. I learned this the hard way. I used to share her stories with my husband and my parents. I don’t do that anymore. When a child confides in you, it should be no different than if a friend does the same. Your child, regardless of age, needs to trust you. Earn it, keep it.
2. Gives great compliments
Build up your child. Who wants to constantly hear negative messages, like “you’re not good at that” or “you look terrible today” or “why can’t you do anything right.” This is where I struggle. I am always nagging my children about their wardrobe choices and I really need to stop. In fact, I asked my teen what the most annoying thing I do as a mom. “Telling me how to dress,” she said without hesitation. Ugh. It’s ok to have minimal standards, like showering every day and not dressing like a hooker, but beyond that, this is probably not a hill we should die on. Children, just like dogs, thrive on positive attention, not punishment. The more you compliment and build up, the more they thrive. A good friend of mine who is also a doctor of psychology gave me great advice when I was a new mom. I was telling my little daughter not to pull the dog’s hair. She suggested that instead, I rephrase that to “pet the dog gently, like this” and then demonstrate better behavior. (And a side note: Never put your children down to other people. And if you need to vent about your children, for goodness sakes, do it out of their earshot!!
3. Leads by example
Kids smell hypocrisy a mile away. Hypocrites generally have no credibility or respect from anyone, including children. If you want to raise honest children, be honest with them. Let them see you living an honest life. I you want to raise kind children, be kind to them and others around you. If you want smart children, read to them. Do your best to be a smart mom. You get the picture. I try to speak to my children the way I expect them to speak to me. If I’m yelling at them and calling them names, why would I expect they not reciprocate?
4. Is generous with hugs and kisses
Hugs and kisses go along way. My nine year old is always giving me hugs and telling me how much she loves me. She finally embarrassed me (she doesn’t know this!) because I realized that she almost always beats me to the punch and that is just not ok. I vowed that I’ll hug her every morning before she has the chance to make the gesture first. I also promised myself to tell her many times a day how much I love her. For my teen, this is even more important. The teen years are tough. Letting my daughter know how much I love her is critical. She needs to know I’m here for her always, no matter what.
5. Sets clearly defined expectations and consequences
Children must know what your expectations and rules are. Lay them out clearly. Write them down. Better yet, discuss rules and expectations with them and set those boundaries together. Hold them accountable when they fail, as they will. Have appropriate consequences for the crime. In fact, I sometimes ask my children how they should be held accountable. Not long ago, I shut off the data plan on my teen’s phone for a week. It was an appropriate consequence. For my nine year old, I generally withhold allowance.
6. Listens, then listens some more
I read an article recently where the writer said that by the teen years, our children know our opinions on just about everything. By the time they’re that age, stop telling them how you feel and instead, listen to them. Ask them open ended question and give them time to talk openly and honestly. Don’t be critical and don’t shut them down. Be respectful, ask why and how they feel a certain way, and acknowledge their opinions. The more we listen and establish a good relationship with them, the better off we’ll all be. Conflict and strife in your household will be far better, I assure you.
7. Is forgiving and asks for forgiveness
I can get incredibly angry with my children and fail often. I have learned to apologize. I often remind them that I’m not perfect and I’m human too. I have learned that it’s ok, and necessary, to say I’m sorry to our children when we mess up.
8. Loves to spend time together
Spend quality time with your children. Establish one-on-one dates. Tuck them into bed at night when you can. Eat dinner together. Better yet, cook together. And when you’re spending time with your children, enjoy it!
9. Is fun, laughs and smiles
If your children stress you out, they know it. If you don’t like your children, they know that, too. Find joy in your children and let it show. Do fun things together. Laugh with them as often as you can. Do you want to be around someone who is clearly annoyed by you? Of course not. Your children are no different.
10. Creates a peaceful environment
Create a peaceful home as much as possible. Children cannot thrive in chaos. Tidy up your home, freshen it up. Have boundaries and structure. Bedtimes are good. Routine is awesome. Structured mealtimes, bath times are essential. A quiet place to do homework and read. Stress shuts down the learning process and creates contention and confusion. Eliminate it as much as possible.