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Mothering 'Mistakes' Are Life Lessons

In honor of Mother’s Day, don’t look at your mothering mishaps with remorse.

As a kid, my mother never made a mistake — or so I thought. She was tough and consistent.

She had no problem telling me no, negotiating was never an option and if something was too expensive, we knew better than to ask. We could never beat her down at the grocery store. My mom was one of those sugar-free, no-soda, no-chips, no-doughnut moms. The options were Wheaties or Cheerios, never Captain Crunch or Froot Loops. 

“You can ask me a thousand times, but the answer is still no,” she said. If she replied with a smile, the anger and outrage over kid unfairness and injustice was only amplified.

Questioning her tactics was greeted with additions to our weekly chore list or days to a punishment. For fun, I love reminding my mother of long-forgotten mishaps of her childhood lessons.    

She often snaps back with, “Oh, don’t remind me. I made so many mistakes with you kids.”  

Mistakes?

I never viewed them as such. The truth of the matter is when we misbehaved and ignored instruction (which was often), we were punished. And rightly so, we deserved every bit of consequence thrown at us. Granted, I grew up in the 1970s when spanking and the tight, arm-out-of-socket-style squeezes were perfectly acceptable in public. A swift smack to the fanny was embarrassing enough to get our attention.  

We were allowed to fail. There was no buffer or parental takeover when a project was due. We suffered the consequences of not studying enough for a test, taking the forbidden car for a joy ride or trying to sneak back into the house after a night of sin. Mom never backed down, never gave a break. No matter how exhausted she was, there was always enough energy to discipline our budding independence.  

She always knew the friends that were up to no good and the ones that were too good, usually too pure for my taste. The way I saw it, life was too short to have boring friends. Pushing the envelope, while not getting caught, became an art form. But, when I messed up, I did it well. Our actions had direct consequences, good and bad.

Instead of sparing or masking feelings, I learned truth. She wasn’t afraid to let us feel disappointment and unfairness. My mother was a full-time working woman, still an emerging vocation to most of my childhood friends. I often envied my friends who had mothers at home to bring their forgotten lunches or return overdue library books. If we forgot something, too bad. “Maybe next time you’ll remember, Cami Ann.” By her inaccessibility, we learned to become more independent, relying on ourselves to catch the bus or begin prepping dinner.  

When we stalled or dragged our feet (usually to church), she’d pipe up and say, “Hurry up! This isn’t a wait-for-Cami day.”  The humility and candid truth of the world not revolving around me were frequent topics of “discussion.”  She had an ingenious way of deflating an ego while restoring confidence. 

Through her, I learned it’s okay for my kids to be angry with me. It’s okay to let them cry it out.  It’s okay to tell them no. As my mother used to say, “I’m your mother, not your friend.  I’ll be your friend when you're out of college.” And what a friendship it is! In honor of my mother, and all mothers for their sacrifices and life lessons, thank you. Happy Mother’s Day.  

Marcie May 14, 2012 at 05:08 PM
My goal is to raise my kids so they don't need me. :) Independence is the theme in my house. I do get sad thinking my oldest will be in High School and my youngest is only three months. LOL. Thanks for the insight.
Christine May 14, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Wonderful column Cami! "this isn't a 'wait-for-Cami' day" is awesome! I'm stealing that to use on my sometimes pokey girl--sometimes lazy boy! Thank you for another great Monday read :)
Elaine O'Brien May 15, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Another great column Cami!
Susi May 15, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Ditto on the stealing your mom's phrase. She raised one great woman and you have wonderful kids. Thank you for this and the article.
Danna Gauntner July 04, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Don't know how I missed this column Cami. Thumbs up for another great piece. I am going to have Molly read this one! You are a great mom!

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