“I know, you’re not my friend, you’re my mum.”

I remember seeing a scene in a movie some time ago where one of the characters, a mother, said to a group of teenage girls as she was serving them mocktails, “I’m a cool mum.” She was telling them the drinks didn’t contain alcohol, but if they wanted to drink, she preferred they did it in the house.

Seriously? I wondered about the parents of this group of girls and what their views on this would be. What did this mother think a “cool mum” actually was?

It seemed to me this mother wanted to be friends with her daughter and with her daughter’s friends.

I have three daughters whose ages range from 15 to 24. I don’t need to be their friend – I’m their mother and that trumps being their friend.

I have been gifted the responsibility of nurturing, guiding, shaping and moulding their hearts and minds.

When we bring these children into the world, we all have an idea of the sort of people we hope they become. We want them to be caring, to be compassionate, sensitive to the needs of others, to be persistent, accept disappointment and to understand the value of hard work and the joy it can bring.

It goes without saying that as parents, we also feel a deep yearning to protect our children from some of the challenges life throws at them. We may feel a desire to step in when things are getting a little tough and smooth the path ahead for them.

I have been criticised in the past for being a little too tough and that is hard to hear. However, I have always tried to look beyond the immediate heightened emotional responses and look towards the value in the lessons to be learned. That is part of the challenge of the hardest job around. My children will often remind me, “I know, you’re not my friend, you’re my mum.”

I remember one time when one of my children, who was in a leadership role in her school, was called upon to address her peers and deliver some unpalatable news. She came home very upset at the reactions from her classmates. My immediate response was that I felt it was a little unfair she had been placed in this position; however, she wore the badge and with leadership comes responsibility – some of it challenging. I had two choices – join her in her anger at the position she had been placed in or remind her of the responsibility she had accepted and help her to lift herself up and get on with it.

I chose the latter.

Many years later, she will speak of this incident as one that provided her with the greatest learning experience when it comes to leadership. It wasn’t so bad, things settled and she understood the need to take a stand and actually lead.

Sometimes we have to allow our children to experience these challenging times, support them and allow them the chance to realise they can succeed and grow as a result. To have joined her in her self-pity would inadvertently have created in her the impression I didn’t have confidence in her ability to deal with this and somehow she needed to be “rescued”. She didn’t – and I needed her to know that.

Saying “no” or not telling children what they want to hear can be tough. Setting the ground rules and sticking to them, knowing it may bring them into conflict with friends or peers, is hard. I remember telling my children it was OK to tell your friends that you had a nasty mother who wouldn’t let you go to the MA15+ movies when you were 13 because “their rules are not our rules”.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard when you think it would be so easy to just step in and take control or to give in and let them do as they please, go where they choose ‒ but what opportunity have they missed? What learning experience have you taken away from them and what sense of achievement have they not experienced if you do?

I have had my share of cranky kids who think I was “so unfair” but standing firm on my position also taught them a few things. Mum was strong and unwavering. I am not their friend. I am their mother.

I look back now as two of my children have reached adulthood and are making decisions for themselves. I am proud of the young women they have become. I am also so very proud of our youngest daughter who is following in her sisters’ footsteps and growing into a fiercely determined, headstrong young woman with a great set of values and compassion for others. As I write this, Mother’s Day is approaching. My own mother is the strongest woman I know. She and my father raised four fabulous women – each with incredible determination and compassion.

To my Mum, thank you. You passed on to me the gift of mothering. Your grandchildren thank you for it.

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Cath Garrett-Jones Image
Cath Garrett-Jones

Cath is the Professional Officer (Parent Liaison & Resources) with the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese Schools Office.

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