Ruby PayneI always think of Mother’s Day in two ways: the role model that my mother gave to me about being a “mother,” and the ways I have been a mother to my own son.

For me, mothering has been one of my greatest joys and one of my greatest terrors. When I got pregnant, I said to my husband, “I am so afraid I will not do it (parenting) right.” He said to me, “Of course you won’t do it right all the time. That is not why you have children. You have children to love them.” So I read everything I could find. I read books on child development and parenting, and they all had different advice and information. So I was back to ground zero.

Any mother will tell you that a child is born with a personality. Researchers say it is about a 50/50 deal – half is environmental and half is genetics, and that the environment shapes the genetics. My son started talking when he was 5 months old – that’s not in the books. When he was 7 months old, I started praying everyday for the resources to be the best mother I could to him because I realized he had much more native intelligence than I did. It is truly humbling to discover that a 7-month old can outsmart you. He did not sleep much; I have never been so tired. He did not sleep through the night until he was 4 years old. He just didn’t need sleep. Neither did his Dad who only slept 4 hours a night.

So I took things I learned from my mother to help me. Among the things I learned from my mother were these:

– Diversion was a much better technique than punishment. My mother was never one to scold or punish very much. She diverted your activities into something much more productive.

– “Space” – i.e. giving room to move, think, learn without many directives is invaluable in the development of the child.

– Candor about money is a lifelong skill. I started giving my own child an allowance at 4 years old.

– Each child will be different with his/her own interests, abilities, and thinking.

But one of the things I had to learn on my own was that my “role” as a mother would shift over the years – first as a caretaker, then as a guide, then as a mentor, and then as an equal adult. I think for many mothers those shifts in role are so hard to make.

It is so tempting to always be the “caretaker” and that is absolutely not in the child’s best interest. One of the key purposes of parenting is to give the child “wings so they can fly on their own.” That requires that he/she learn how to take care of the self.

Gradual release, if you will, is a rocky path.

One of the things you have to do as a parent is to guide your child through loss, death, disappointment, defeat, and his/her own mistakes. He/she needs you the most at that time. It is nothing short of feeling your way through the dark. Very little light. Lots left unsaid. Often the only comfort is a hand to hold and the passing of time.

And then there is the laughter and the joy! The achievement, the moments of completion, the hurdles successfully jumped, the arrogance and exuberance of youth! I loved the mental challenges of conversation, the meeting of new young individuals, the “current fads,” the next “hero or shero,” and the constant activity.

My own mother is 90 now, and I have watched her negotiate the last decades of her life with dignity, grace and the loss of privacy and mobility. And that has been instructive for me as I contemplate the next part of my life as a mother and a woman.

I feel so lucky to be a mother and stepmother. It has truly been one of the greatest gifts of my life.