Recently, Procter & Gamble approached me with a proposal to help promote their Thank You Mom Contest, a campaign which is refreshingly designed to celebrate motherhood. When they invited me to work with them, they granted me tons of creative freedom. For this reason, I was thrilled to accept, since I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch an idea I'd been toying with for some time: The Motherhood Project, featuring written and photographic portraits of women who have adult children, and who have both experienced being a mother and had themselves been well-mothered. I came up with 9 questions about mothering and motherhood, and occasionally over the next few weeks I'll be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you enjoy them.
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I met Kelly several years ago at a blogging conference -- she marched right up and introduced herself, brashly, confidently, with the larger-than-life, welcoming smile that you see above -- a smile that, incidentally, rarely fades. In fact, everything about Kelly is larger-than-life: she has an uproarious laugh, wears her beautiful big heart right on her sleeve, and loves completely and totally. I liked her immediately.
Over time, I learned that Kelly had quite an interesting story -- she was a teenage mother with all the challenges young motherhood brings, yet this made her even more driven: she completed her college education, and is now an assistant principal at a junior high school outside of Chicago, with a true passion for her work. And through it all, she's remained very close to both her mom and her kids.
She was, therefore, one of the first people I thought of when I began this project. I was thrilled when she immediately agreed, and below, she shares some of her wisdom on motherhood with all of us.
How old are your adult kids? Mallory is 24 and Maddie is 23. My son, Mason, is 18.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words? Passionate, determined, careful.
What makes you different? The thing that seems to set me apart from other parents is that while I've been doing this for a long time, I approach each child individually and try to see their creativity through a lens that must constantly change. My parenting style is very much a reflective style. When I counsel one of them, I always ask them to reflect with me on how my advice will help them, and if I should respond with something else if it wasn't helpful. But I am so very fun as a mom. Laughter is a requirement and making my children smile is a goal -- not because I spoil them, but because there are joyful smiles to be shared.
I always have strong memories associated with scent. What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom? I do, too! I love good-smelling stuff, and my olfactory systems are intense! When I smell Jergens lotion or Rice Krispie treats or Jean Naté cologne I can be transported right back to being a 5-year-old with my mother.
What makes your mother beautiful? Her vulnerability makes her beautiful. She doesn't always want to see that in herself, but it's what makes her cautious and careful about how she treats people in this life.
Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close. When I left my husband, my mother had spent the previous year living with us and witnessing how sad I'd become throughout the demise of my marriage. I moved into an apartment where I had nothing, and the first day she came over, I was in tears and was sweating from trying to clean it and find a place for my clothes (which were all I took). She brought me dinner, a coveted bowl that she had during my childhood (for decoration) and hugged me tightly. She said, "It's going to be okay. You just don't know what 'okay' looks like right now." And then she left.
Those words will forever be with me, because she was right. It is okay! Today's "okay" looks different from yesterday's "okay," and I'm a happier woman now, and it's all okay.
What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children? Humility. She taught me that there will be times when we do parenting wrong and our kids are hurt because of our choices and decisions when raising them, but that we're allowed to go back and make amends with our children. We can say, "I did that wrong. I should've done this." And we can ask forgiveness and move along. So long as it's done with love, my kids will know I have their best interest at heart, and that I will fiercely love them. My grown-up kids have no doubt about my mistakes, nor do they question my love for them.
Your kids are adults now -- and while you, of course, still love and support your kids, your job raising them is complete. What issues do you see brand new parents facing that you never had to face when you were raising your own? There's just so much stuff that comes at them and their inundated with books and advice and competition. Throw that stuff out! Use your common sense. Brand new parents act like everything is a contest and if they make one small error in childrearing, then they're out of the game. Our world has erroneously shown them that they have to make their children grow up fast. Raise innocent children, please. Teach them caustion for the world around them while at the same time being guileless for a while, too.
What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing? I tell new parents the same thing: to smell their babies and kiss them. Their heads and their toes. Take naps while the baby sleeps or you'll never get rest. Do what feels right and what you know to be the best for them to grow up productive citizens and caring human beings. Always always always be their advocate, but be mindful that they need to be taught how to be their own advocate someday.
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Thanks so much to Kelly for sharing her thoughts on motherhood. You can read more about Kelly at her blog, Mocha Momma. Also, special thanks to Procter & Gamble for their generous sponsorship of The Motherhood Project: to read more stories about motherhood and to share your own, click here for more details on the Thank You Mom campaign, now through the end of November.
And on that note, have a great weekend everyone. Don't forget to call your mom.
Image: Kelly, photographed August 8, 2010 in New York City. Nikon D300 with 50mm lens.