I am so happy to be included in “Mother and Child,” by Claiborne Swanson Frank. She has the patience of a saint and the unbridled joy of Mary Poppins. Miraculously, Claiborne managed to convince my reluctant and photo averse children to cooperate. By the end, they didn’t want her to leave. A few days later, Claiborne sent me a list of questions that really got me thinking. Here is what I came up with.
How do you honor the spirit of your child?
Accepting them as they are rather than trying to mold them into something I want them to be. As writer and psychologist Dr. Andrew Solomon writes in Far From the Tree, “We cannot help but be proud of how different we are from our parents but cannot help but be a little bit sad by how different our children are from us.” I remind myself to make peace with this on a daily basis.
What lessons have your children taught you?
My children have taught me about the value of play and creativity in our lives. While I am certainly not the next Jeff Koons and have limited artistic ability, thanks to my children, I have rediscovered how much fun it is to make and create things. And even when they don’t turn out well—and they often don’t– the joy is in the doing.
How do you describe your personal style of mothering?
I have learned that it is better to spend more time with my children and less time on them. Instead of feeling the pressure to schedule lot of after-school activities and classes, I prioritize downtime and free-time for play.
How do you prioritize your self-care and the cultivation of passions while balancing obligations, responsibilities and family?
For me, the notion of balance is a myth. Having a full life and wearing many hats, by definition, unbalances me. I think of that as a good thing. I do many different things with and for many different people. It’s a privilege, not a burden.
What morals and values do you hope your children embody?
Kindness, courage, compassion and curiosity. To value goodness over greatness.
If you had one lesson to teach your children what would it be?
To have an open mind and a humble spirit.
How would you describe your partner’s best strength as a parent?
Humor. My husband has an uncanny ability to defang a stressful moment by making me laugh.
Who do you rely on? Your mother, aunt, sisters, mother-in- law, or caregiver?
There are those who would have us believe that we should “go it alone” and not to rely on others. I disagree. It takes a village. I am grateful for the support of everyone in my life.
What is the role of your mother in your life now?
While we don’t live in the same city, my mother is a constant presence in my life. Whenever I have a question about something or am in doubt about a decision, I either call her up or ask myself, “What would Mummy do at this moment?” She has excellent judgement and perspective and always takes the high road. I try to channel her dignity whenever I can.
What is the role of your mother in your child’s life?
My children absolutely adore my mother. She is full of energy and takes them on adventures whitewater rafting and mountain biking. Yes, she makes sure they sit up straight and know how to use a knife and fork, but she is also the one sneaking them Gummi Bears before lunch!
What was the best advice your mother gave you?
“Go and make yourself useful” My mother used to say this all the time when I was a child. She would whip it out whenever she suspected my sister or I were not making use of our time or up to no good. She was especially fond of using it in the summer. Whenever we dared to complain that there was nothing to do on a hot afternoon, we knew what she would say. And she meant it. Making ourselves useful meant weeding the garden, sweeping the gravel, cleaning the garage, picking rocks out of the drain, washing the car or doing something, anything that would shake us out of self-absorption.
As much as I didn’t enjoy weeding the garden, it was gratifying. It was tedious but also purposeful. Those weeds would grow back but making a tiny difference in that moment felt good.
That’s the awesome thing about being useful—when you contribute to something beyond yourself, no matter how insignificant it may seem, you forget yourself and all the little things that are bugging you.
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Photo Credit: © Claiborne Swanson Frank