As the youngest of four, and considerably younger than her sisters and brother, my mother’s early life on the family farm consisted primarily of staying out from under foot. She found refuge in the home of a neighbor lady who had seven children. Apparently with seven of her own, one more hardly made a difference, especially when all this little one wanted to do was help with the babies. My mother learned to cook, sew, clean, churn butter, make soap, plant, harvest, and preserve food from her mother, but she learned patience, tenderness, and affection from a woman named Maude.
Witnessing the pleasure Maude derived from her children had a profound impact on my mother. She found a model for the kind of mother she longed to have and longed to be. Becoming a mother herself became paramount. She married my father days after graduating from high school and one month shy of her 18th birthday. They were introduced and courted primarily through letters while he was in the Navy with her brother during the Korean War. One year and three months after their wedding, she gave birth to her first child. Her dream of becoming a mother had been realized.
Surprisingly, having children was not the first priority my mother had for her three daughters. We were expected to get “an education.” I complied and became a dedicated student. When it came time for college, I didn’t realize there was a choice about whether or not to go, only where to go. Going to school became such a familiar, comfortable way of life that I kept on going. I met my future husband while working on a master’s degree and married him while we were both pursuing doctorates.
While I spent years in post-secondary education studying child development and family relationships in preparation for becoming a marriage and family therapist, becoming a mother had never been more than a fleeting notion. There simply wasn’t time. But that changed when a little girl named Mallory entered our lives.
Her father was a fellow doctoral student. He needed help transporting some new furniture to his apartment. We had a truck, so we volunteered. We knew he was married, but we didn’t realize they had a baby. She was not quite two months old, with big blue eyes, and curly, strawberry blond hair. The first time I held her, there was something special between us. My husband and I spent the next two years falling in love with this child. For the first time, we found ourselves longing for one of our own.
Nearly three years later, after graduate student health insurance finally offered coverage for pregnancy (coded as a “planned illness,” but that is a whole other article), childbirth, and postnatal care, we discovered we were expecting. Ours was to be the first grandchild on both sides of the family, so to say this news was met with excitement would be a vast understatement.
The morning I went into labor, we called my parents on the way to the hospital. About seven hours later, within minutes of our son being born, while still in the delivery room, my parents arrived. They drove from Beattyville, Ky. to Athens, Ga. in record time. Having raised three children and helped countless others raise theirs, my mother was, once again, in her element. She would be the first to say that the only thing better than being a mother was becoming a grandmother. After 29 years in a parent-child relationship, we shared the bond of motherhood.
With Mother’s Day approaching, my thoughts turn to these early days of motherhood and I’m reminded how important it is to:
• Recount our personal “becoming a mother” story.
• Discover models or mentors for becoming the mother we want to be.
• Become a parenting partner with our spouse.
• Learn as much as we can about child development and parenting, not just from parenting books. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have come from mothers I admire in literature.
• Remember to parent by the child, not by the book, because no matter how much we know or how much experience we have, every child is unique. Our parenting must be adjusted accordingly.
• Celebrate the bond of motherhood. There are as many ways to be an excellent mother as there are mothers. We must support and encourage one another in our efforts to become the best mother we can be — the mother our children need.
One of the most meaningful examples of this last item occurred a few years ago when working at my son’s school. I discovered an envelope in my mailbox containing this hand-written message:
“Dear Carolyn, I want to thank you for being such a great mom. You probably barely know who I am, but I have seen you with your boys at various school events and your dedication has at times been inspiring to me. I’m sure you’ll get lots of appreciation from your own family, but know that your love for them spreads beyond … Happy Mother’s Day! An Anonymous Parent.”
Such is the nature of all love.
Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman is a resident of Lexington, Ky. She has been married for 29 years and has two sons. She spent 15 years in various agencies and clinics as a family therapist and parent educator and has written extensively on the topic of parenting. To contact her, please e-mail paren