I don’t know if it was intentional or not. Maybe my mother’s approach to parenting reflected an overarching theory of child rearing, but just as likely, it reflected prevailing cultural norms, and more than a bit of exhaustion from managing a home while working full-time. Whatever the explanation, she gave us space to grow.
As young children, my brother and I walked to and from school every day—a half mile each way—without adults. Kids were everywhere. On weekends and summer days, we roamed the neighborhood, riding bikes in the streets, hitting stickballs in the schoolyard, and playing tag in the alleyways. Our lives were like a Peanuts strip: grownups were out there somewhere, but rarely physically present. My mom’s parenting style was typical for the 1970s, though some would call it subversive today.
She knew what she was doing. She raised four children, had a master’s degree in early childhood education, and taught elementary school for decades. She understood children. She was present when we needed her, reading stories at bedtime, rubbing calamine onto mosquito bites, and pulling us together at night for dinner.
My mom was the opposite of today’s tiger mom or helicopter parent. Her touch was powerful but light, her words encouraging but non-directive. She filled our home with books but never told us to read them. We reached for them ourselves. Like all siblings, my twin brother and I squabbled, but she rarely intervened. She let us figure it out. She also let us stumble sometimes so we could learn to walk, and she let us chart our own paths towards our own destinations.*
As a parent (and Program Director), I believe in the ability, resilience, and good intentions of the people I care about. I try to emulate my mom: to support without being smothering, to encourage without being controlling, and to be available while knowing when to step away.
My mom is 95 now, and I spent last evening with her, along with my siblings and their significant others, celebrating Mother’s Day. I’m long past childhood, but I haven’t stopped being her child. She gave us a warm home, endless love, and the space we needed to grow. For these gifts, and far more than I can name, I will always be grateful.
Happy Mother’s Day to all,
*As long as mine was cardiology, gastroenterology, or pulmonology...(😉).
PS: Congratulations to our very own Dr. Lauren Ferrante on her recent article on two physician households: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2733664