From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom


You can be anything you want to be: the word “impossible” isn’t in our dictionary.
~Gladyce Blunden (Joan’s mother)

For the first thirteen years of my life I lived an idyllic childhood in a small suburban community in Northern California. My mother was a stay-at-home mom to my brother and me, and my father was a prominent physician in the community. My parents had struggled to have children, and they finally adopted my brother Jeff as a newborn baby. They brought my brother home when he was just three days old. Mom’s friends came to give her a shower; however she was in the bathroom sick to her stomach. Little did she know, she was pregnant with me! As soon as she stopped trying to have a baby, she must have become less stressed, and she got pregnant and carried me to term with no difficulties. So I was born less than eight months after my brother Jeff, and we were raised, essentially, as twins.

My dad was an avid private pilot, and we travelled a lot as a family in our plane. When I was thirteen years old, my father needed to fly to Southern California on a short business trip to speak at a medical convention. He had asked my mom, my brother and me to accompany him since it was a brand new plane. Mom said no, thinking we shouldn’t miss school. She later changed her mind, picked us up and drove to the airfield (no cell phones in those days to call and say we were on our way). As fate would have it, just as we pulled up to the runway, my father’s plane was lifting off the ground. We missed him by a moment. I stood and waved goodbye, totally unaware that this was the last time I would ever see my father. His plane crashed during a bad storm, in Malibu Canyon returning home.

I’ll never forget the knock at the door in the middle of the night when the police officer came to tell us that my father’s plane was missing and they feared the worst. My mom had been up all night waiting, worrying and was now weeping uncontrollably. Life can change in an instant, and that night would change our family forever. My mother became a widow at age forty, with two young teenagers. She had been active in the community but she was not a career woman; she had devoted herself to raising us. However now she had to take the lead in our family and had to support us as well. So while dealing with her grief, she also went back to school, got her license to sell residential real estate and joined the forces of working moms.

We were typical teenagers; we just wanted life to be the same. I was also a stridently independent young woman and challenged my mom every step of the way. When I grew up and became a working mom, and later a single working mom, I often thought of how I had challenged her and how tough I was on her. So this is not only a “Thanks Mom” but also a “Sorry Mom!”

Mom had always been ferociously protective of us; our home was surrounded by a big wall, perhaps modeled after homes in Mexico, where my parents often vacationed. My brother joked that we weren’t allowed outside the big wall. But my mom actually worked very hard to make sure that we were exposed to a lot—museums, ballet, theater, circus, trips, and foreign countries. She wanted us to see the world, to “broaden our horizons”—those were her words.

My mom also made sure that she always talked about my dad, and how he had saved so many lives and taken care of so many families, so that my brother and I didn’t lose his influence on what we should do with our lives.

My dad had been born in Australia, raised in China before coming to America where he became an oncologist, and spoke several languages. He was a world traveler, yet I think it was my mom who really made me the adventurer that I am. She would often tell me to “Hitch my wagon to a star.” She wanted me to know no boundaries and to always reach for the stars. Mom constantly told me that I would do great things with my life. Those were positive affirmations that had a long-term effect. An important ingredient for success is self-confidence, and I got a huge dose from my mom every day.

While a parent might naturally want to keep children near and protect them, it’s important to let children go and expose them to new things. When I was graduating from high school I had applied to several colleges. However my mom had other plans for me. Unbeknownst to me, Mom actually took my college essay and filled out an application for me to attend World Campus Afloat, a university aboard a ship that travelled around the world. She told me about her clever deed when I was accepted. That three-month experience changed me and my expectations of life dramatically. It was actually a very selfless act for a widowed mom. I had skipped grades in school so I was only sixteen when I set off for that college adventure round the world and she could have tried to keep me closer to home, but instead she made sure that I had an amazing growth experience.

My mom’s influence on my brother and me was enormous. She always wanted us to have a positive attitude, to always try to do the best we could. My mom’s friends had always called her Hap, which was short for Happy. And no wonder—she always saw the glass as half full, and taught me to approach each day with a smile. Mom tried to teach us to be fair, to care, to have integrity and to think big.

Perhaps the quality that I am most grateful to her for instilling in me is never holding a grudge. It’s such a waste of precious time, a drain of energy, and frankly it solves nothing. My mom believed in kissing and making up, forgiving and forgetting. If we had a disagreement, Mom insisted that we talk about it, get it out, and then let it go, and it was never long before she would reappear with a smile on her face, as if it had never happened. I loved that. I consider that one of the greatest attributes I got from my mom.

When we see our mom exhibit strength, it makes us strong. When we see our mom “let things roll off her back” it teaches us patience and compassion. When we see our mom challenge herself and dare to try new things, it teaches us that we too can expect greater things of ourselves. Motherhood is one of the most important and challenging jobs in the world! The rewards are rich, but the demands can be overwhelming. Every day we do our best to take care of our home and our family and help make them happy, healthy and successful. It’s been said many times that “kids don’t come with instruction books.” Most of us feel so unprepared when we become parents. However we all have actually spent many years preparing under the tutelage of our moms; we have learned by example and know much more than we think we do.

When I was little, my mom picked me up from school every day and took me to my dance lessons and piano lessons and singing lessons. When I look back on it, she truly was a taxi service. On weekends I had parades, shows and recitals. She was my stylist and my assistant. Yet when we would get home, it always smelled so good in the house. When I asked Mom how she did that, with all the running around she did for us, she said, “As soon as we’d get home I would run right in to the kitchen and put some onions into a pan with some butter and start cooking them, and that would make the whole house smell good.” Those are the little things we remember.

I think being a mom used to be much easier in general, for it was more defined and the responsibilities and roles were not questioned. Today we don’t know if we are supposed to stay at home and take care of kids, or hold down a job and help support the family, or both. And if we do both, how do we do that, and do both jobs well? Can we be as good as our mothers, who devoted themselves only to taking care of us? Today’s mothers juggle many balls, struggle with overwhelming schedules so that their children can play every possible sport and take every special class, and yet always feel like we are not spending enough time... with our kids, on our jobs or volunteer activities, with our mates, supporting older parents, or maintaining our homes.

Now that we have it all, how do we do it all? I remember my early days on television, before working mothers were as common, when I brought my babies to work while I was breastfeeding. In those days I’d start Good Morning America as Joan Lunden and end the show as Dolly Parton! One particular morning I was interviewing a U.S. Senator about then President Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economics. You may remember that economic theory, but what I remember about that interview is that all of a sudden I was experiencing inflation and “trickle down” firsthand. It was time for my baby Jamie to feed and my boobs knew it. I’ll never forget frantically blow-drying my very wet silk blouse during commercial break.

Embarking on motherhood is the ultimate “on the job training,” learning by trial and error, and that of course creates stress and frustration. The pressure is really on mothers to make it all work—the house, the meals, the kids. And for many women, they must do that in addition to holding down a job outside the home. That has left many women worn out, stressed out and unhappy. We all know that when Mom is happy, everyone else is happy. Studies now show us that happy moms mean happy kids. So it’s important for moms to recognize how much they bring to the table, having learned from their own moms. It’s important for moms to have support and help from their partners. It’s important for moms to find ways to get breaks, and to ask for help. If we never talk to our husbands when we are overwhelmed, and we never ask for some equal distribution of duties in the household, then we will remain resentful and tired, and our families will just think we are crabby. It’s important for moms to know that their children and husbands are grateful!

That is one of the reasons I am so excited about this terrific Chicken Soup for the Soul book for moms of all ages. I’ve always loved the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and this book speaks to me in particular, as I am passionate about this subject—moms need to know they are appreciated, that they do make a difference, that their children really are listening and learning important life skills and attitudes from them. When you read these 101 stories, you will share in the personal stories from all types of children of all ages, expressing their love and admiration for their mothers. These children recognize how hard their mothers work and they value their mothers as role models, as leaders, and as the primary influences on their lives. And most importantly... these children, whether sixteen or sixty, love and respect their moms despite the fact that some of them can’t clean, some of them can’t cook, some of them weren’t always there... yes, these moms are not “perfect,” but they are perfect for their children!

It’s OK to not be everything and be everywhere; you don’t need to be “the perfect mom.” If you can’t be in the car pool line because you are at work, don’t worry. My daughters may not remember seeing me every day in the car pool line, but they do remember me at every horse show, every recital, every teacher conference, everything that was important. And if you’re the stay-at-home mom who rolls up her sleeves, while your daughter’s friend has that “cool” mom who does something, anything, that you don’t do, don’t worry about that either. Your daughter really prefers you.

I think we all question whether we are good moms. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or have a job outside the home, you always question if you’ve spent enough “quality time” with your children, read to them enough or taught them the right life lessons. No matter how organized you are, there are those days when you feel like you can’t possibly cook another dinner or wash enough clothes for everyone to have a matching outfit. Motherhood is hard. I know at my house, with two sets of twins, it is loud, messy, and crazy hectic. Kim and Jack are five, and Max and Kate are six. And I still spend a lot of time and mental energy on my three grown daughters, Jamie, Lindsay, and Sarah, who are all in their twenties. After all these years and seven kids, every day I wonder if I’m doing it right.

Just remember, despite all the juggling, the tricky balancing act, and the just plain hard work, I decided to have a second round of children. In looking for a new mate I made sure I found a man who loved children and wanted a family. My husband Jeff is ten years younger than me and we have our four young children, so I am back at school sitting at little tables making gingerbread houses, I am buying and sorting clothes every six months for growing bodies, I am wiping noses and tears, and I am reading silly stories. I love the sound of little feet running down the hall in the morning, coming in to snuggle with Mommy and Daddy. I can’t think of anything more fascinating than watching little children grow and learn and become people.

I’m often asked if it isn’t exhausting “at my age.” I remember having a party when the second set of twins was born. My type-A girlfriends, most of whom had high-powered jobs, walked in and said “Oh my gosh, I’m tired just looking at them all.” But the French caterers who had come in earlier looked at the same scene and said, “Oh my, you will never grow old.” Two sets of eyes looking at the same thing—the first set saw it as exhilarating, and the second set saw it as exhausting. My mom taught me to look at life with the first set of eyes, to choose to approach every situation with a smile and a positive attitude. She taught me to never set limits for myself and that nothing is impossible. I love every moment of my life as a mother of seven, a wife, a daughter, and a working woman, and I thank my mom every day for that positive attitude.

~Joan Lunden

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