I'm working with Procter & Gamble 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 -- so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch 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 every other Friday through November I'll be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you enjoy them.
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In looking for candidates to feature here on The Motherhood Project, I put a call out on Twitter, asking for volunteers. A day or so later, my friend Erin responded, asking if she could nominate her mom. Knowing how kind and generous Erin is (she's the one who granted me all kinds of access to the corpse flower when it was blooming at the Houston Museum of Natural Science), I suspected that her mom would be equally as gracious, so I eagerly said yes, and asked her to introduce me to her mom.
When I finally met Cyndi a week later, I knew I was right. She approached me with the warmest smile, as if we were old friends. Cyndi brought Erin and her other daughter Kate with her, and every time she glanced at them, she beamed with pride. As I photographed her, I kept thinking to myself, "Goodness, I hope I have this kind of relationship with Alex when she's an adult." I asked her how long she was married, and she answered, "Thirty-one years," and when I asked her how they met, Cyndi's girls confirmed that she'd asked their dad out for their first date! Cyndi is my kind of woman.
And the following is what she had to say about motherhood.
How old are your adult kids? Erin is 28 and Katie just turned 21.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words? Outgoing, loyal, nurturing.
What makes you different? Knowing when to be a parent and knowing when to be a friend to my girls. They tell me that their dad and I did a good job of balancing those relationships with them. We preferred the friend role because that was the easiest on all of us. The parenting role wasn't as easy, but it was the most important as they were growing up. Now, we trust that what they learned from us, as parents, will carry them through adulthood. We maintain a great relationship now and enjoy spending time together on a regular basis. The friendship I have with my daughters is my greatest joy!
I always have strong memories associated with scent. What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom? My mom was an excellent cook and I looked forward to almost everything she put on the table (except the pig's feet. Those -- not so much).
Of course, I could tell what was for dinner by the scent that hit me when I walked in the door. My family always ate meals together at the table and I continued to do so with my husband and daughters. I love it when my kids come for dinner and comment on how good the house smells. Some of my best memories as a daughter and a mom were made in a delicious-smelling kitchen!
I cannot see a gladiola today without thinking of my mother. My parents were excellent gardeners and it's the one thing I can remember that they did together. Our backyard was a source of pride for them and it was beautiful! My brother, sister and I all love the sight and smell of flowers and have flowers in and around our homes.
What makes your mother beautiful? My mom helped a lot of people. It wasn't uncommon to have a friend or relative stay with us as I was growing up. I didn't know the reason for the visits, but I saw how she made everyone feel welcome in our home. I learned when she passed away how many friends appreciated her generosity when they shared stories of how she helped with food, clothes, blankets, etc. when they needed most. It surprised me a bit that she did so much for so many and I didn't know. She was a good friend -- a characteristic that is both rare and beautiful.
Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close. My mom taught me the ultimate life lesson -- how to be independent.
She was a woman of few words -- instead she led by setting an incredible example of hard work and determination to make our lives better. She worked outside the home and as a result I had more responsibility than most of my friends. I was resentful as a child, but realized early as an adult how well-prepared I was to face the world. I had an idea of what being a working wife and mother would be and the transition to marriage, motherhood and my career as a teacher was an easy one to make. I've always given my mom credit for that!
What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children? Success is in the details.
My mom hated to hear "that's good enough." She taught me that giving your best effot and paying attention to the details makes the difference and sets a person apart.
As a mom to Erin and Katie, I paid a lot of attention to the details, which were different for each of them. Fairness wasn't giving the same things; it was giving each girl what she needed. This was harder than it sounds and required a lot of explanation, as my kids didn't see it that way. It was a challenge but it worked out. I have two incredible daughters! They are strong, focused and have been successful at just about everything that has mattered to them. Most importantly, I see them as individuals -- beautiful people inside and out. I hit the jackpot. Twice!
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? Managing the ever-changing use of computer technology and the seemingly impossible task of keeping a step ahead of the kids -- for their safety, as well as their social development. My grandchildren will face issues growing up that we haven't even thought of yet!
What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing? The relationship you develop with your children begins on the day they are born.
Pay attention. Be proactive. Think ahead.
Develop open lines of communication early on. Don't overreact when you hear things that alarm you! That will guarantee that the discussion is o-ver.
Learn to discuss and question in your conversations. You'll get and give needed information in a non-threatening way. Nobody likes to be lectured and it helps kids figure things out "on their own." (This is most definitely easier said than done!)
Kids need more of your attention and involvement as they get older -- not less!
Trust, but verify.
Stand back, but be available. Independence is a gradual release.
And finally, don't criticize the actions and behavior of other kids. It will save you the embarrassment when your kids do the same thing (or worse)!
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Thanks so much to Cyndi for sharing her thoughts on motherhood! 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.
Images: Cyndi, photographed September 12, 2010 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land, Texas. Nikon D300 with 50mm lens.