The summer after my sophomore year of college I worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. Somehow I got stuck with the three to four year old group, and I learned a few important things about myself: I disliked little kids. I was a lousy teacher. And I found lifeguarding boring.
I began to worry: How would I ever become a mother when I didn’t even like children? I had too little patience. I was impulsive. I was fiercely competitive. Not good traits for motherhood. (Not good traits for marriage either, but I figured my future husband would somehow tolerate me.)
Fast forward 15 years and five children later, I have realized that without motherhood, I would probably not have grown much beyond the limits of my twenty year old self. My children have taught me that I can be far more patient than I could ever have imagined. That I can give up the impulsive sky diving club and find a different way to fly. And that my fiercely competitive side could become one of my best strengths as a mother. But most of all, I have learned that it’s okay that I don’t have a ‘typical’ mothering personality. I still don’t really like little kids. I still get bored very easily after an hour of play dough and painting with my toddler. But that doesn’t diminish the love I have for my children or the strengths that I do bring to motherhood.
There is no ‘typical” mothering personality. We’re all as different as each of our children are. But most mothers do want to hear the following sentences from their children:
Thank you. For being my mother. For buying my favorite snack. For cutting the crust off of my grilled cheese sandwich. For helping me with my homework. For letting me make brownies in the kitchen right after it was cleaned. For driving me to ballet. For smiling when you’re tired. For reading to me. And singing to me. And praying for me. Sometimes mothers think that no one notices all of their efforts. A thank you for the little things is something they all love to hear.
I’m happy. I’m happy in school. I have great friends. I love our home. I have just what I need. My new job is working out. I like my life. I like myself. The well-known saying is true: Parents are only as happy as their least happy child. This doesn’t mean that mothers don’t want to hear their children’s complaints and troubles. But make sure to frequently share the good news too. When her child is happy, a mother’s heart soars.
I know you love me. Even when you don’t know how to say it. Even when you aren’t sure how to show it. Even when you are distracted. Or tired. Or busy. Or frustrated. I know you care. Even when you can’t give me exactly what I need, I know you want to. Mothers don’t always know how to tell their children what gifts they are in their lives, but they want to hear that their children know it anyway.
I need you. When I do something great, it’s your applause I want to hear. When I make a mistake, it’s your reassurance I search for. I need you to show me where I came from and to believe in where I am going. I need you to understand me when no one else can. To love me even when I’m not lovable. To give to me even when I cannot give back. To see me the way only a mother can. After spending years tending to children’s myriad needs, mothers want to hear that they still play a special, crucial role in their lives.
I admire you. I admire how you helped that woman on the street. How you set such a beautiful table. How you spoke at the conference. How you juggle all of your roles. I admire your strength. I admire your courage. I want to have your warmth. Your perseverance. Your grace. Most of us know that children crave their mothers’ approval, but few of us realize that mothers want their children’s admiration. They want to know that their children see their strengths and are proud of their accomplishments. There is nothing sweeter to a mother’s ear than: I want to be just like you.
As a mother, these are things I would love to hear. As a daughter, these are things I want to say. But Judaism tells us that our mothering goes even deeper than this. On Friday nights, I bless my children after I light the Shabbos candles. The blessing that I give to my daughters is: “May God bless you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. May He bless you and protect you. May He shine His light unto you and be gracious to you. May God reveal Himself to you and bring you peace.” May you be blessed with Sarah’s strength and patience. May you be given Rivka’s wisdom and persistence. May you be blessed with Rachel’s beauty and kindness. May you be blessed with Leah’s faith and love.
This is the Torah of our mothers. The blessings that have been given from mother to daughter throughout the generations. We are never starting from scratch as mothers. We are a link in a precious chain of blessings. We can transcend our own limits and even our own strengths. We have this gift. This gift of blessing our children. Bestowing upon them our light so that one day they can find their own light. This is what every mother longs to see. Children born to their children’s children. One light igniting another. Blessings echoing blessings. Perhaps, in the end, this is everything a mother wants to hear.