With Mother’s Day approaching, it has me thinking about all the lessons I have learned being a mother. Forget my master’s degree, internships, counseling experiences, supervising experiences and trainings. Being a hands on mother in the throws of motherhood is what has taught me the most. I use all my training daily as a mom, but I also learn a lot as my children grow, and as I grow as a mom. I told my son that as he is growing up, I am also growing up as a mom. I feel like I started out as a newborn mom and have graduated to being a teenage mom. My children are ages 15, 13 and 9 years old. Fifteen years of learning and growing as a mom. What did I learn this year?

I don’t even know where to begin but let’s start with my shift to focusing more on myself in the situation at hand. This is going to seem like common sense to all my therapist friends who read this. I realized I was focusing too much on what my child was doing and not enough on what I am doing. I only have control over my own behaviors. Whether it is with my child, my husband or my friend, I need to focus on how I am acting in the situation. How am I making it worse or better? What can I do to help? Am I reacting, or am I staying calm? Am I taking the pause, or am I saying things that I will regret? If we all focus on our own contribution, we can make it so much better. I am the answer to things taking a turn for the better or worse.

I still mess up. I think at some point along the way I thought that I would just get it and be good at it and be done. This is not true at all. I am forever evolving and none of us will ever reach perfection. I have become so much easier on myself. I want to do a good job. I want to learn and grow. I also accept that I will still screw up while parenting my kids. My daughter Ella says to me, “You are only human, and we make mistakes.” I’m showing my kids that it’s okay to mess up sometimes.

Take a step back. Max’s gym teacher screwed up his grade and he said he would keep talking to him and handle it, and he did. Ella said she wanted to set up her book table and she did. Take a step back and let them do it. Every time I let my kids do something they are gaining confidence and independence. Is it easier for me to swoop in and get it done? Absolutely! This is not always good parenting and I need to take a step back more and more as they get older. I’m learning how to parent older kids!

They will always need me. Do you ever get sad that your kids are getting older? I miss my babies and I also love seeing who my children are becoming. I may need my mom differently, but we always need our moms. Max may be 15 and able to do a lot himself, but he still wants to talk to me about his life. He still needs a hug. He still has a list of ways that he needs me. It changes but it doesn’t go away.

I underestimate my kids. Clear and simple. They can do a lot more than I think they can. They can handle hard things and hard emotions. They can help me. They can get things done without me. I don’t realize how capable they are. I am learning and growing with them. “Mom, I can do it myself,” is Lillie’s favorite line. She has been saying that to me since she wanted to put her own shoes on at 4 years old. She would get so frustrated with me putting her shoes and coat on. She has always been fiercely independent. I realize it may get done faster or “better” by me, but I need to take a deep breath and give us more time and let them do things on their own.

I can’t be everywhere. Another lesson in motherhood that I have discussed before, but I keep relearning this lesson. I used to think that I can’t miss anything my children do. I can’t go to every soccer game because sometimes our kids are in three directions. I can’t go to every field trip because we have to share with other moms too. I can’t go to everything even if I want to. I have to be realistic and understand that when you have three kids you won’t be able to go to everything. I don’t have the superpower to be in three places at once. That would be cool!

I can’t volunteer for everything. I started out strong with a ton of energy. Max started school 12 years ago. It has been 12 years of fiercely volunteering for things at school. I still volunteer for a lot, but I don’t volunteer for everything. My kids are in three schools. I have to pace myself and take care of myself and I also have my own things to take care of including this blog that took me hours to write. I think we should volunteer our time and I also think we need to have limits and boundaries too.

It doesn’t need to be perfect. When they do things by themselves, it may not be how I would have done it. Maybe they put their laundry away messy. Made their bed in a way that I wouldn’t. Cleaned their room up how they wanted it to look. Organized the bathroom how they want it. Cooked or baked something their own way. It doesn’t have to be perfect it just needs to be done. I also need to leave it alone. I need to not redo it because what message does that send to my kids or my husband. I just need to appreciate that they did something and let them do it their way. Whether it’s schoolwork or housework.

It’s okay for my kids to be upset. This used to really bother me. I would cry by myself about it or to Seth. Of course, I don’t want my kids to be upset. I also know that it’s going to happen. My kids go to school all day without me. They go to activities for hours without me. Sometimes they fight with their siblings at home. Kelly Hutcheson explains on her podcast Harmony in the Home that our kids (and us) will have ALL the emotions. All the normal human emotions. Sometimes they will be good emotions and sometimes they will be the trickier emotions. This is very normal and to be expected. I would love for my kids to be happy all the time and I also know that is not realistic. I try to discuss perspective with them and how to look at things differently but let’s be real – they will get upset. That’s normal. We can support them, and we also can’t always fix it. We can also normalize all the feelings for them to help them learn to cope.

I need to listen more and say less. You have heard me say this before. I tend to talk too much. This goes in general in life. I am learning to talk less and listen more. My husband just told me he was looking for a one sentence answer and I gave him a monologue (this is normal). There are many times my kids just want to vent out what they are feeling. This was actually Ella’s advice to me when I interviewed her. She said parents need to just listen and not try to fix it. I can listen more, talk less, and let them learn to fix it.

I have learned over the years to focus on my children’s good behavior and what they do right. This applies to everyone in my life. If I’m focusing on what they are doing wrong, then I get more of that. If I focus on what they are doing right, then I get more of that. I want to shine a light on the good things. I want to point this out to them too because then they want to do more of it. If I say thank you so much for helping me. I love how you cleaned the bathroom. You did such a good job organizing and mopping the floor. That will make her want to do it again vs. criticizing her on what I didn’t like about her cleaning. My husband likes to joke about how I used to tell him he did the dishes wrong and then he didn’t want to do the dishes. Now I really focus on just saying thank you to him to get more of it. The other day I stayed calm in a conflict and my daughter Lillie pointed it out to me. It made me so happy because she was repeating to me things that I say to her.

This is their life to live not mine. My children will have their own ideas about their own life. It is not their job to make me happy. I want them to be friends with who they want to be friends with (within reason as some kids aren’t a good influence). I want them to date and marry who they choose (someone who treats them well is what I keep telling them). I want them to choose a college and a career that will make them happy not me. I want Max to play soccer if he wants to not because Seth wants him to. Seth and I have our own chance to live our own lives how we want and now we help our kids live their lives to fulfill them. I am just the guardian angel and tour guide to help give them the best life that I can.

Each child needs time with me. One on one. They don’t always want to be with their siblings. They talk more when it’s one on one. They all deserve and benefit from some one on one time. I think it is one of the best things we can do for our kids, and it doesn’t have to be long. That is one of my biggest lessons in general in life. Whatever it is – family time, husband time, kid time, friend time, exercise, reading….it doesn’t have to be a long thing. Even fifteen minutes is very beneficial.

Forced family fun is something that I will continue and think it’s good for all five of us. I may get their input, or I’ll choose something that I want to do as a family, and I just tell them they are coming. I don’t always ask because a lot of the time Max and Ella (the teenagers) would say no if I let them. Thankfully my nine year old is still up for everything and I hope she always stays that way. In this stage of the game, we will continue to have forced family fun dates.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that every stage is exciting. Parenting is never over. Having babies was wonderful and exhausting. Having toddlers was wonderful and exhausting. The same with having kids and teenagers. There are different challenges with each stage and different bonuses too. Last night Max chimed in with his opinion about something that Seth and I were arguing about, and I was so impressed with his calm and intelligent input. I get to have really in depth conversations with my kids now and it will only get better. Every new stage will be exciting. It was so exciting to send Max to high school. This is something new and different for my family to experience. Max is talking about driving next year. I can’t even believe it. Ella applied to be a web leader at her school and is excited for this new adventure. Lillie will start middle school in the Fall. Things continue to move forward, and I get to watch my children grow into these great people.

My advice to all of us is to embrace parenting and all the new stages. We will never completely master parenting. I will tell you that your kids will continue to need you to change and grow and learn with them. Isn’t that exciting! Hold on tight and enjoy this ride of motherhood that we are on together. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and grandmas celebrating this weekend. I look forward to writing this again next Mother’s Day and seeing what new lessons I learn along the way. There you have it. 15 lessons in motherhood in honor of my 15 years of parenting my children.

Laughing, Learning, Loving,

Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R

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