75: Tough Love

75: Tough Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Tough Love

Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.

~Robert A. Heinlein

At some point during my adolescence, her name changed. “Momma” was much too babyish, so I decided to simply call her “Mom.” It made me feel more grown up.

I was the fourth daughter born to my parents. One would think Mom would have been used to teenage girls, but each one of us presented her with a different challenge. My three older sisters were eager to gain their independence and move away from home at age eighteen. I was the most scholarly and had ambitions to go to college. Unlike my mother and sisters, I wanted a career.

I considered myself lucky to be an ordinary girl growing up in a traditional family. My dad worked hard to provide for his family while Mom was ever-present in all things home. My relationship with my mother was as good as most teenage girls. She was lenient with me because I had never caused her any problems. She approved of most of my friends, but she didn’t quite understand the Mohawk haircut on one of the boys I brought home. “And I thought the Beatles haircuts with the bangs hanging in their faces were bad,” she exclaimed. I was surprised at her reaction. If she had given him a chance, she would have recognized his fondness and respect for me.

It was when I began dating one of the “Beatles haircut” boys that Mom started to worry. She commented, “You don’t seem to spend much time with your girlfriends anymore since you have this new boyfriend.” It was like she had a sixth sense because, of course, her concerns were valid. Halfway through my junior year in high school, I shocked my family when I revealed that I was probably pregnant. After an examination by an obstetrician confirmed my fears, Mom and I left his office and drove home in silence. My father awaited our return. Mom broke the news and Daddy’s eyes glistened with tears. I gloomily asked them, “What am I going to do?”

Daddy’s voice cracked when he spoke up, “Pam,” he said, “This is a very serious situation. I don’t think you understand what you have gotten yourself into. Having a baby is a lifetime commitment.”

Mom interrupted. “How do you plan to take care of a baby?”

“I don’t know,” I murmured.

“Well, you will have to take full responsibility for your own baby. I have already raised you four girls and I still have your brother to take care of.” She left the room before I could talk back.

Daddy’s head hung low when I looked up at him. He didn’t say anything more to me. Stunned by my mother’s desertion, I retreated to my bedroom. I needed my momma.

The day after my seventeenth birthday, I married my boyfriend. I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl six months later. It was love at first sight as she lay in my arms, occasionally looking into my eyes as if to ask, “How do you plan to take care of me?”

“I will do my best, baby girl,” I whispered to myself.

We brought our newborn baby home to my parents’ house because we didn’t have a home of our own. The plan was to live with my parents until my husband graduated from high school and found a job. Then we would start looking for our own place.

And true to her word, Mom was hands-off when it came to baby duties. She slept through the 2 a.m. feedings, was busy with other household chores during diaper changes, and was too tired in the evening when it was time to prepare the baby formula and bottles. She was a doting Grandma while I was Momma to my child.

After a few months, my husband and I found a small one-bedroom apartment for our young family. We furnished it with hand-me-down pieces and shared our bedroom with our infant child. My duties multiplied to include household chores. And I still didn’t know how to take care of my baby.

My sister gave me a book written by a man with a strange name. Dr. Spock seemed to know everything about caring for babies, so he and I became very good friends as I attempted to make sense of it all.

I survived. I took my dirty laundry, including pails of wet diapers, to Mom’s house because I didn’t have a washing machine in my apartment. Grandma played with her newest grandchild while I did the dirty work. I learned the hard way that a momma’s work was never done.

My second daughter was born nearly three years later. My momma duties doubled, but somehow it seemed easier. It was then that the light bulb went off.

Mom had given me a gift! Her tough love forced me to take charge of my own life and to be a responsible mother. She knew what she was doing all along.

And my little girls grew up to be teenagers, too. I embraced those years nervously. As typical girls do, they twirled before a mirror and asked me, “How do I look, Mom?”

I answered, “Honey, if you act as nice as you look, you will be fine.” The first time I heard those words leave my mouth, I couldn’t believe it. How many times did I get annoyed when Mom responded with silly statements like that instead of giving a straight answer? I think my daughters growled under their breath the same way I did so many years ago. And when had my name changed from Momma to Mom? Had I been too busy to notice?

Years passed and the time came to say a final goodbye to my mother. I crawled into bed beside her as she lay dying. We reminisced about our lives together. “I’m proud of you,” she said.

I was grateful for those last three days we had together. I finally had a chance to say, “Thank you, Mom, for allowing me to grow up. You knew exactly what you were doing.”

~Pam Carter

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