As a grown man, I can proudly state that I consider my mom to be one of my best friends. When I wasn't so grown, things were difficult for her. She spent many years as a stay-at-home mom while my dad worked long hours as a professor at a local university -- and my identical twin, older brother and I terrorized the hell out of that poor woman. Not a day would pass that didn't involve one of us attempting to break a piece of furniture, each other's bones or her spirit as a parent.
The good news for us is that we never succeeded with the last item on that list -- and now that I'm a dad to two little girls (4 years old and 21 months old, respectively), I can look back on my upbringing to document five memorable lessons from my mom that have helped me be a better man and dad.
1. Be authentically you.
Quick -- do you find yourself trying to do things to impress people who don't really matter? If so, don't feel bad. Millions of people do it. When I was younger, I wanted to fit in so badly with the "cool crowd," but I couldn't, because I was skinny, not very good-looking and socially awkward. Of course, I was bullied like crazy due to the aforementioned -- but I figured if I changed to become someone I wasn't, people would automatically gravitate toward me.
Finally, my mom sat me down and said, "You are amazing in ways you don't even know about. Let's sit down and write a list." I thought she was crazy at the time, but that's exactly what we did together. When we were done, the list was a few pages long, and I'll never forget how great that made me feel. Her parting shot from that activity was, "Now who in their right mind would not want to be friends with someone like you? Just be authentically you. Nobody in the history of the universe has a 100 percent approval rating. The right people will love you for being you." As a dad, husband, public speaker, author, and blogger, I now understand that no matter what I do, some people just won't like me and will judge me. That's totally okay. But one thing I know for sure is that I'll always be authentically me, and I owe my mom big time for teaching me the extremely valuable lesson of keeping it real.
If you're a parent who believes in the power of having an Enya sound machine playing on endless loop in your kid's bedroom, then own it. If it works for you and your family, don't let anyone influence you otherwise. (Note: The Enya sound machine works, by the way)
2. Parenting can be the worst thing ever if you don't have a sense of humor.
Remember that time when you were out with your kids by yourself and they both crapped themselves at the same time? And then you realized that you didn't pack the wipes, and you chased an extremely fragrant toddler through a CVS when you were also trying to buy poop-preparedness supplies before almost drifting into unconsciousness due to the equally fragrant infant strapped to your chest in a baby carrier?
Yeah, that happened to me.
Regardless of the nasty looks I received from other parents, I laughed them off because the situation was way too insane not to be funny. Even today I can remember my mom laughing when we tried to separate the sanity from her mind as rambunctious kids. It never worked, because she always found humor in the craziest moments. Now that I'm a dad, I find that I'm the same way with my girls.
The undeniable truth of parenting she shared with me is that it can be the absolute worst gig of your life if you don't have a sense of humor. Besides, our kids will only be this little for a limited period of time, and then they're heading off to college, getting jobs and starting families of their own -- so why take everything so seriously?
Recently my mom told me how much she missed the chaos she endured when we were kids. And you know what? I actually believe her.
3. If you don't have your word, you have nothing.
Do you want to know the quickest way to piss off my mom? Tell her you're going to do something and don't follow through. After being raised in her household, I'm now the same way, and I'm raising my kids to be accountable. Granted, they're too young to grasp this concept completely, but I keep every promise I make to them. If I tell my daughter that we'll watch Frozen together at 7:00 p.m. and the basketball game I was enjoying goes into overtime, I'll just have to "let it go" and watch Elsa freeze up her damn kingdom for the 13,035th time.
This stuff matters. Kids need to know that the adults in charge of raising them are trustworthy and accountable. If we aren't, how can we expect them to be?
4. You're going to mess up a lot, and that's OK.
Have you ever shared a parenting mishap with other parents, only to hear them laugh: "HA! That would never happen to me"? Just know that response is a steaming pile of hot garbage. If that didn't happen to them, you can rest assured that they probably did something even dumber. My mom told me to embrace my failures/mistakes because they'll help me to become a better man, which helped me become a better dad. Every moment above ground is a moment to learn and improve. Anyone hoping to become a perfect parent raising perfect kids will be humbled very quickly.
5. Everyone deserves your love. Sometimes it can be loud and sometimes it can be silent, but everyone deserves your love.
This lesson always sticks with me. My mom doesn't care if you are white or black, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, thin or chubby, rich or poor, etc. She only cares about what's in your heart. If your heart is pure and kind, she'll be "loud" about it and let you know. However, when we encountered racist or other ignorant people growing up, she would silently love them and walk away. Granted, I haven't quite mastered that part yet, but I'm much better than I was before I started blogging and became a dad.
One thing I know for sure is this: hate will kill you. Seriously, it will slowly snack on your soul until you're left with nothing but emptiness and bitterness. Nobody can live a happy life that way. No parent can be a good parent that way. Tolerance and forgiveness are two words synonymous with my mom and me, and I plan to pass these two gifts down to my kids.
In closing, I want to thank you, mom. You're my hero, my homie and my mentor, all rolled up into one extremely amazing lady. You beat cancer, you raised three boys into men who adore you more than you'll ever know, and you did it all with class and dignity. If I can be a fraction of the parent to my kids that you were (and still are) to me, then I will have won this daddyhood game. I love you!
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