I have written previously about the death of my father suddenly in 1986 when I was 14 years old. I feel very blessed that I was raised by an amazing mother who always supported me in every way possible. I am always encouraging other parents to find their own path even if it goes against the way they were raised. Sometimes it is easiest to see the things we know we want to do differently than our parents. Here I celebrate the positive lessons I learned from my mother that are instrumental in my own parenting journey. I was a free range kid in a time when that was just considered being a kid.
1. “Never say never”
This is the phrase that runs through my mind regularly and that my girls know already at 6 1/2 and 8 years old. I am not sure if my mother ever said this to me pre-1986, but she certainly drilled it into me afterwards. Perhaps it was a lesson she learned then that anything can happen to anyone – none of us are protected and safe. Over the years she would call me on it if I acted judgemental and said “I would never…” Usually people say “I will never do/be/say…” about things they really have no concrete experience with. Whether it was referring to something negative I didn’t think I would ever do (get into credit card debt) or something positive I didn’t think I would ever have the guts to do (almost any sporting activity that involves adrenalin and risk) the lesson served me well. I can think it may not happen right now, but there is no absolute in this life apart from death.
I now say this to my girls regularly to drill it into them from a young age. I want them to be open to experiences and ideas and also not be so black and white in their thinking.
2. By example my mother taught me every day ”you are stronger than you think”.
When my father died she carried on and knew that she now had to take care of me, provide food and shelter, and help keep my sister in college. She became a qualified teacher, got her master’s degree, kept going. I went out and got a part time job and continued to work all through high school and college to have the education I wanted. My father had taken care of everything prior to then and she could very easily have allowed herself to give up. I learned from watching her that no matter what life throws at you there is a choice to keep walking forward or to give up. This is what has made me a survivor.
In my own little family my kids have learned resilience and to survive changes. We have moved house seven times (including an interstate move) in the 8 years we have had children. We have tried to teach them that change brings opportunity rather than being something they should fear.
3. No one is perfect!
I think a lot of people grow up believing their parents are perfect and then suffer greatly when at some stage they make a big mistake. The illusion is shattered, the damage seems great.
It serves us well to be up front with our children about our mistakes, especially while the mistakes are still small. I apologise to my children all the time. They see me struggle with things and sometimes come out on top (learning a new skill), other times fail (many ruined pots on the stove come to mind).
Listening to my mother, I learned that she was not perfect, nor was life. At 39, I still struggle with perfectionism, but refuse to pass this on to my girls. I strive through even greater communication to drive home the point that they do not need to be perfect, they do not need to win a ribbon at the school sports day, nor do they have to get all As. I want them to have the freedom to try whatever their heart leads them to and enjoy it for the sake of it rather than what might (or might not) come later.
4. It’s never too late to change your mind.
I spent my whole life planning to be a lawyer. My family thought I was going to save the world ( I wanted to join the Peace Corps, become a human rights lawyer and someday go into politics). Amazingly a desire to save the world is not enough to fund a law degree in America. Already hugely in debt for college fees I knew that the only way I would be able to repay insane law school fees on top would be to work in a corporate firm for a few years of 90 hr weeks for lots of cash. At the end of my 3rd year at college I went off back to NYC for 3 months to intern at one of the top corporate law firms to see what it was like. I learned very quickly that this would not be the life for me even for a year… I felt awful working there involved in a case that went against everything I believed in. I returned to school for my final year of studies. Everyone I knew was preparing for law, medical or business school, but I bought an enormous world map and spent that year saving more money than ever before. It was not to fund a law degree but rather world travels on my own. I had studied International Relations and would follow a different (more direct) path to see the world.
My mother did not even blink an eye (at least not on the outside) as I scrapped every ambition I ever had. She knew that the most important thing was to be true to myself and better to do it now, than to wait until I was $300,000 in debt. I knew people who were headed to law school who did not really want to go. They admitted that they were doing it because their family are all lawyers or someone “expected” them to do it. I felt so empowered by my mother’s lack of control over me – I realised I was 100% in charge of my future even if it did not match up to everyone’s expectations.
5. Accept that your children are totally separate from you and give them the freedom to explore life, make their own decisions and have adventures.
This lesson must have been the hardest for her to offer me, but the one she endorsed so frequently. This is the lesson that guides my parenting even when my body aches to hold my kids tight and keep them safe from the pain I have known.
At 11 years old I was accepted into a top school in Manhattan and she let me commute alone (after the 1st year) 3 hours round trip each day on a bus and 2 subways. She had faith in me that I would be aware and capable of taking care of myself. She gave me the freedom to go out in the evenings with friends, sleep at their houses, travel late on the trains etc. I never had a curfew in my life. The message said I trust you enough to let you find your way. Free range parenting at its best.
My number one interest in life has always been travel and learning foreign languages and culture. She stood back as I went overseas for the first time at 16, having been awarded a scholarship to live with a family in Greece for the summer. Then she threw me a going away party as I set off alone to travel around the world at 22 years old. I did not know when I would be back (and we did not have regular email yet – just a monthly collect call). Having met the man I was to marry, I then went off to live overseas permanently. She has never once made me feel bad about choosing a life thousands of miles away even as she misses her grandchildren.
What is something you learned thanks to your own parents that you will pass on to your children?
Find your simple,