At several points in my childhood, I remember my mom saying to me,
Call the child abuse hotline — I’m sure they would be thrilled to hear about how terrible I am.
This was usually offered in response to a number of grievances: having to finish the food that was on my plate, the fact that our dinners were almost never followed by dessert, not being able to watch as much TV as I’d like, etc. A few times, I actually got out the phone book (remember those?) and checked to see if there was a child abuse hotline. I was never able to find it.
If I had been able to find the child abuse hotline in the phone book, and if I had actually called it ( God knows I was ready to!), I’m certain that the person on the line would have chuckled at the insignificance of my struggles. Of course my Mom knew this. By telling me to call the child abuse hotline, what she was actually telling me was, “Look, I’m really not all that bad.” Turns out she was right.
As I got older and more adept at finding phone numbers (and detecting sarcasm), my mom’s advice to me changed. When I would complain about something she had done or not done, she would say to me,
When you have kids you can raise them however you’d like. That’s how it works.
For many years these words brought me comfort. While I had to endure unspeakable torture as a child, I knew that my children would not have to. Things would be different in my house. Turns out I was wrong.
Funny what happens when you have kids of your own. I have been a father for nearly 17 months now, and the best advice I’ve received on raising my daughter has come from my mom. When she is sick, I call mom to see what I should do. When she falls and hurts herself, I call my mom to hear her say, “That stuff happens…she will be fine.” When I have a question about anything, my mom is there to give an answer.
As I think about all the things that bothered me as a child — the having to finish dinner, the not being able to eat as much sugar as I’d like, and the relative lack of television — I realize that my daughter is experiencing many of these now. She will continue to experience many of them for the next 17 years or so, not because I want to be a mean parent, but because I realize that they have contributed to who I am today.
Truth be told, I’m pretty happy with who I am today, and I have my mom to thank for this.*
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to mothers everywhere. The world is a better place because of you.
*Dad, I haven’t forgotten about you, but this isn’t your day.