Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Learning to celebrate our mothers a valuable life lesson

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 5/9/2014

Becoming a mother changes Mother’s Day. It’s not because you are now the “star” of the day, but more importantly because it changes the way you celebrate your own mother. In her story “My Mother, My Friend,” published in our book about thanking our moms, Elizabeth M. Hunt explained how having children of her own changed the way she viewed almost everything about her mother.

Elizabeth had a difficult childhood. Her mother had kicked out her father and worked multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. Elizabeth often took care of her younger siblings in the evenings while her mother worked late shifts. The family lived in a trailer.

Becoming a mother changes Mother’s Day. It’s not because you are now the “star” of the day, but more importantly because it changes the way you celebrate your own mother. In her story “My Mother, My Friend,” published in our book about thanking our moms, Elizabeth M. Hunt explained how having children of her own changed the way she viewed almost everything about her mother.

Elizabeth had a difficult childhood. Her mother had kicked out her father and worked multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. Elizabeth often took care of her younger siblings in the evenings while her mother worked late shifts. The family lived in a trailer.

As a child, Elizabeth had blamed her mother. “I was sure that my parents’ divorce was just another selfish act of my mother’s,” Elizabeth wrote. And she resented the fact that when her mother came home in the evenings “she only had enough time to make us a quick meal before heading out the door again to either her second job or to school.”

When Elizabeth became a mother herself, everything her mother had done came into focus. She saw that her mother had left her father because he had refused to obey the law. She understood that all the time her mother spent on jobs and school was intended to make a better life for her children. And she realized that her mother had done the best she could. Elizabeth wrote, “With all that she had to fit into one day, my mother still found time to keep house, do laundry and put dinner on the table, and even after a 10-hour workday, followed by four hours of class, she would still come home and tuck us in and sing to us.”

Although my mother didn’t have to struggle like Elizabeth’s, I still didn’t appreciate everything that she did until I had children of my own. Then I finally understood the sacrifices that mothers make, the exhaustion they power through, and the fact that they never stop worrying for one minute about their children’s welfare. Celebrating Mother’s Day with that new understanding of my mother makes it all the more special.

•••

“You have pre-diabetes.” Those were the words that Kathryn Wilkens saw when she opened a letter from her HMO. She was shocked.

Kathryn had clear ideas about her identity, and being pre-diabetic wasn’t among them. Kathryn thought of herself as a healthy person because she exercised and she had always felt well. “I was in my 60s, and I had always eaten whatever I wanted,” she wrote in her story “Numbers Don’t Lie,” published in our book on positive thinking and health.

But that last bit — eating whatever she wanted — turned out to be the important part. She was daunted by the idea of changing this part of her identity — she’d always been the one to try every dish at a party and then compliment the host — and she didn’t see how she could do it with her current state of mind.

“Before I could change my habits,” she wrote, “I had to change my thinking.”

She started with outward changes. “I quit bragging that I could eat anything,” she wrote. Then she focused on herself: “I realized that I can’t eat deep-fried foods and desserts every night.” But she found that the word “can’t” sounded too negative, so she changed it to “don’t” and wound up with messages for herself that she found more convincing. “I don’t eat pie, bagels or donuts. I love potatoes, but I don’t eat them every day. I don’t drink sugary sodas.”

She repeated these phrases and others to herself for weeks, which, in a way, changed her ideas about her own identity. “Then the good habits fell into place easily,” she wrote.

It helped that she wasn’t too hard on herself. She didn’t say, “I never eat potatoes”; she said, “not every day.” And, she wrote, “When I see tempting, fat-ridden foods in TV commercials, I tell myself, ‘I’ll eat that again someday, but not today or tomorrow.’”

After a year, Kathryn saw the positive results of her changes, and she was happy to learn that there was another part of her identity that no longer applied: “pre-diabetic.”

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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