'4 Lessons I’ve Learned From Being Your Mom:’ A Letter on Parenting From My Own Mom
In honor of Mother’s Day, my mom (!) wrote me a letter about the four big lessons she’s learned in motherhood.
A note from Polina: For those who have been reading this newsletter, you’ve gotten to know me from a singular perspective: my own. But today, I want to share the perspective of one person who’s known me for as long as I’ve been alive: my wonderful mom.
In honor of Mother’s Day, she wrote me a letter about the four big lessons she’s learned in motherhood. It’s filled with wildly embarrassing stories and details that I had myself forgotten. Send me your thoughts, and I’ll make sure to forward them to her. I hope you enjoy.
I recently came across this letter from a little boy to his mom:
I just wanted to tell you that Mother’s Day wouldn’t be possible without me. I will be waiting for my present in the living room.
It made me laugh, but it also made me realize the truth behind this statement. Thanks to you, I’ve been a mom for a long time now, so happy Mother’s Day to you! I couldn’t have asked for a better child, and I am very proud of the young, beautiful, smart woman you are today!
You might be wondering, "Where is my gift?" Well, you are a mother yourself now, so I decided that the best gift would be to share a few lessons I’ve learned from being your mom. Here we go:
No. 1: Ask for help even when you don’t want to
You can learn a lot from the women who have navigated the ups and downs of motherhood before you and listen to them (even when you’d rather not). It’s a humbling experience, but it’s also invaluable.
I was very young when you were born, an age where I believed I was an adult, and anything was possible. It wasn’t until I was holding a baby in my arms that I truly felt the weight of the responsibility. I realized I had to raise a human being! Babies weren’t just these sweet little things to hug and kiss! They are tiny humans to take care of and guide and teach for the rest of your life. That scared me, but there was no going back — only forward.
Luckily, I had a huge support system — my mom, my grandparents, and my sister happily (and sometimes not-so-happily) stepped in whenever I needed them. They also gladly shared their opinions on how to raise you even when they weren't asked. Of course, it was annoying at times, and I had to uphold a boundary more than once, but looking back now, I realize how lucky I was to have them. They spoiled you rotten any chance they had and loved you more than anything else. I hate to tell you this, but the cliché, “It does take a village to raise a child,” really is true.
No. 2: Give your child the freedom to learn from trial and error
I learned this lesson early on in my career as a mom, and I never forgot it.
When you were five years old, I took you to get a haircut. You sat in the chair, and told the stylist to cut all your hair off. When she stared at you with a puzzled look on her face, you told her you wanted it short — really short.
Two adults spent an hour trying to convince you that longer hair would look so much better on you when you matter-of-factly said to me, "If you like it so much, you keep your hair long. I want mine short, please." This was the end of the argument and you left the salon with short hair.
Only after the fact did you realize that you didn’t like it, and I've never seen you with short hair since.
But we both learned a lesson that day, and mine was: “Let her try everything she feels passionately about.”
Over the years, I rarely said ‘no’ to the things you wanted to try — whether it was drama classes, soccer practices, acting school, and even … roller-skating. You name it, we tried it, and we had fun doing it — even when you weren't the best at something.
You recently wrote about the audition for your high school’s drama program. I remember how much you prepared that summer, and I also remember your disappointment in the car on the way home. Although I never, ever wanted to see you feeling down, I also knew that I could never discourage you from taking risks.
If you had stopped trying things you were passionate about, you would’ve never discovered the school newspaper and taken a chance on the passion of your life: writing.
No. 3: The best thing you can teach your child is to know the difference between right and wrong and learn to make good decisions
There’s a fine line between encouraging your kids to take risks and letting them operate life with no rules.
You can be their best friend when they need one, but you have to be able to recognize when they need discipline.
Your heart breaks every time you have to be strict and uphold a boundary, but this is how you can teach them right from wrong and hope that they will learn to make good decisions on their own.
I am pretty sure you can write an entire book about all the times you thought I was mean or unreasonable, but if you look back now you'd agree that you needed it and I was right.
I struggled a lot with discipline. I didn’t like making you upset or seeing you unhappy every time I had to put my foot down (what parent does?). I questioned myself for years: "Is this right? Am I too strict with her? What if she hates me for the rest of her life?"
And then, there was a moment I will never forget.
You came home from school and said, “Mom, you have no idea how many girls hide in the bathroom to smoke. Today, I walked in and thought, ‘What would happen if I try this?’ But then, I pictured your look of disappointment, and I knew I’d never do it.”
You probably don't even remember this conversation, but for me, that was the moment when I was able to take the deepest breath in years and said to myself: “She will be alright. She is already making smart decisions on her own.”
No. 4: Don’t just tell your kids you love them — show them, too
The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a mom is to appreciate the challenges of every age — from "I can walk on my own now. Don't hold my hand," to "You did my hair wrong. That’s not how I like it,” to "I can't wait to go to college and get out of here," to "I am a mom now, and what the hell is ‘swaddling?’”
I read an article you wrote when you became a mom titled, “10 Practical Pieces of Advice for First-Time Parents.” The final piece of advice was, “Remember there is no substitute for unconditional love.” And what I’ve learned is that parents don’t always get it right — perfection is a myth. But as long as your child feels loved and supported through the good, the bad, and the ugly, you‘ve done a wonderful job.
Time does go by fast, and you can miss a lot if you don't make it a point to pay attention. On the bright side, “mom” is a title you have for life and no matter how old you are, where you go, or what you do, you can be sure I’ll be right there next to you.
Happy Mother's Day!