Monday, May 3, 2010

All you need is love...unconditional love

 Amber, Sherry, Jenny in 2008

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel May 3, 2010)
This year will be my 30th Mother's Day. It will be the first for my oldest daughter, whose son was born last July. Unfortunately, 2010 is the first year my husband will be without his mother, who died in February at age 93.

Mother's Day has always been a bittersweet holiday for me. My own mother is still alive, but she suffers from Alzheimer's and lives in a nursing home in South Florida. Even when she was well, our relationship was rocky because our expectations about life were always so different.

When parent and child do not share the concept of unconditional love, conflicts are bound to arise. I did my best over the years to stay close. I tried to be the daughter my parents expected me to be while staying true to myself. That proved to be a difficult – if not impossible – path to follow.

The good thing about bad relationships is that they can teach us how
not to be. When I began to have children, I was determined not to be like my mother. I wasn't naïve enough to think I wouldn't make mistakes — I just didn't want to make the same mistakes my mother made with me.

I wanted my children to grow up feeling loved no matter how they looked, what work they did, how many times they changed jobs or with whom they chose to share their life. It was important to me that my children feel not only accepted but also treasured, respected and appreciated for their individuality.

For the most part, I've succeeded. My four children have put my parenting philosophy to the test on multiple occasions, but we've all managed to survive those challenges with our relationships intact. Our clashes have not resulted in prolonged silences or seething rage, throbbing aches or irreparable damage. I like my children, and it appears they like me back.

Liking one another is such a simple concept, it should be a given. Unfortunately, it's not. Parent and child may love each other — that's automatic — but liking each other is another matter. Liking someone takes work, respect and a willingness to relinquish responsibilities and relax roles.

This year I'm reaping the dividends of my parenting efforts. Not only am I watching my oldest child, Amber, turn into a loving, kind and patient mother, I recently received an essay written by my daughter Jenny in which she put into words her own feelings about our mother-child relationship.

Jenny wrote:

"I feel a lot like my mother these days. It hits me the most when the phone rings — as it does so frequently — and I am quick to answer it with that professional, upbeat tone in my voice: 'Hello, this is Jenny.' It's just the way my mother answers the phone. Actually, it would be difficult to tell us apart, with the exception of the name, of course.

"Each day I put on one hat and take off another. This happens many times throughout the day. Ever since I was young, my mother proclaimed herself to be 'a wearer of many hats.' When I was little, I always thought this meant that she liked hats and that she had many different kinds that she wore. Though she did have an awful lot of hats, now that I'm grown up I know what she really meant.

"It's 8:30 in the morning, and I am on the phone answering questions about an apartment we have for rent. Next, I am talking to a cleaning client who wants to reschedule an appointment. As the day continues, I switch hats to become a nanny. I have a paper due in the morning that I haven't written yet, and when I get home, there is dinner to make and laundry to take in and fold. It's getting dark, and I'm finally home and so is my husband. A quick kiss as we push open the door and set our bags down. My phone rings. 'Yes, I'd be glad to give you more information about the apartment.'

"I feel a lot like my mother these days. I wonder as I'm falling asleep if we really do eventually all turn into our parents.

"I think it wouldn't be so bad if I did. My mother has the prettiest smile and is one of the nicest people I know. But, just to make sure I stay a little different, sometimes I let the phone ring without answering it. Whoever it is can leave a message. I'll call them back later."

I've always admired women who stayed close to their adult children. Years ago, when I became a mother, I hoped that over time my children and I would grow together rather than apart. My wish has come true, and I couldn't be more grateful. People can buy any number of Mother's Day presents, but the best gift of all is unconditional love.

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