What it Means to Be a Good Mother – A Memoir to Mine

I’m sure most moms have thought about what it really means to be a good mother and I doubt if many of us have figured it out. Well, I lost my mother just a few weeks ago, and with Mother’s Day and her funeral fast approaching, I’ve given it a LOT of thought over the past few weeks.

For me as a parent, I have NO idea yet what it means to be a good mother.  My children are just 2 ½ and 13 months old, so most of my challenging days are certainly ahead of me. Right now, it’s all hugs and snuggles, and for the foreseeable future, they will remain fairly sheltered with the only major influences being people I’ve hand-selected to play a role in their lives. I know that will all change over the years and they will encounter people I don’t understand, approve of, or plain old just don’t care for.  And their opinions and philosophies may ultimately overrule mine.  Even the thought of that terrifies me, so I decided to take a look back and reflect on how my mother raised me and what lessons I can take from her parenting as I prepare for the challenging parenting days I know I have ahead of me.

hanson family

Be selfish. Yep, you read that right.  My mom admitted she was selfish – she never really wanted to have kids. She was an artist who wanted to travel the world and didn’t want to have to answer to anyone.  Well, she also said “Bloom where you are planted,” and being Catholic and married in the 1950s, she got planted at home with 7 kids, and she sure made the most of it – and was an AMAZING mom. But she also never gave up herself.  She had “me time” and pursued her own interests – she read zillions of books, traveled, painted, learned graphic design, went back to school, spent time with friends, got a job she was passionate about, played hours upon hours of silly computer games and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every weekend, she set out to do what she wanted or needed to do and while I would tag along, it wasn’t about ME. If I enjoyed myself (which I did, mostly), that was just icing on the cake.  But, she certainly didn’t build her days around making sure I was happy every moment of the day. And yet, miraculously, I was (and still am) a relentlessly happy, well-adjusted human.

Trust your children, but steer them when they get off track. I feel like my mom ALWAYS trusted me, even when I may not have deserved it. At several points in late elementary and early middle school, I befriended various kids she didn’t care for. Some of them she hadn’t even met – she could just tell they were bad news by the way I spoke of them or how I acted after spending time with them.  (How she could do that without ever meeting them, I have no idea, but she could. I hope I get that parenting superpower.) She made it clear how she felt about these “friends” and reluctantly still gave me the freedom to see them until I broke her rules (which I inevitably would, because they were bad news), and then it was all over and I wasn’t allowed to hang with them anymore.  She kept me on track.  She also gave me the time I needed to find myself.

Be logical and let them argue. While mom occasionally threw out the “because I SAID so…” she typically explained her rationale for decisions she made in a way I could understand them. I didn’t always like them, but we could at least have a real discussion about it.  Similarly, mom was a devout Catholic. She created an environment where I could question that faith, ask questions, even argue. She allowed that, which I respect so very much. Our discussions weren’t heated, they were just two people, coming from different perspectives.  This has sure helped me in my adult life.

Experience life with them. Mom had so much fun sharing her passions with all of us. She loved art, music, theater, shopping, entertaining, cooking and travel. She exposed me to so many amazing things that have made my life so rich. I will never forget the first musical she ever took me to at age 6, and I think I’ve seen at least 30 with her over my lifetime. We shopped together nearly every week. I helped her prepare for art shows – wrapping prints or cutting business cards, whatever I could do to help – I couldn’t get enough.  I remember sitting for hours, watching mom paint or do graphic design.  On Saturdays, she would often take me out and about with her sketch pads and we’d just plop down on a blanket downtown and I’d watch her draw.  I helped her cook dinner, make apple pies, prep the house for parties, whatever I could do to be with her and share just a bit of her contagious, passionate energy.

Encourage independence. I used to whine to my mom that I was bored as a kid – I always wanted her to play with me.  While she spent plenty of time with me, she also taught me from a young age that I had to learn how to entertain myself and to be happy on my own.  She was always reminding me of what her mother taught her: “Mary, remember that YOU are the only person who can make YOU happy.”

Demonstrate learning and personal growth.  My mother NEVER stopped learning.  She was always pursuing knowledge – she read constantly – she was always reading at least 2-3 books at a time – some fiction, but many about diverse cultures, religions, spirituality, foreign countries, etc. She went to community college to learn computer programming (SO bizarre for an artist!) when I was young, taught herself graphic design, and the list goes on.  Because of her, I LOVE learning new skills, crafts, and could imagine at LEAST a dozen jobs I’d LOVE to learn to do.  I have never been unhappy in my work because I know if I am, I can always find something else to learn or do.

Teach fiscal responsibility. Mom was as penny-pinching as they come.  To this day, I have no idea how she raised 7 kids on my dad’s (modest) salary, while we always had everything we needed – new clothes every school year, family vacations, great birthdays and Christmases, dinners out, etc.  I will never forget when I was 10 years old, she found out I borrowed $10 from a friend and she nearly flew off the handle.  I had my own bank account from my first babysitting job and she made me pay for my own name-brand clothes, outings with friends, school and church trips, etc. I paid for my own college (parents paid the first year) and in doing so, I learned the value of money. Those lessons will forever impact my life and the life of my family in a very positive way.

Love unconditionally. Most of all, my mom taught all of us unconditional love.  No matter what mistakes any of her children made (we made plenty as a group!), she always loved us dearly.  Through marriage, divorce, birth, death and disease – you name it and we Hansons have seen it – she let us all know how special we were to her. She developed unique bonds and individual relationships with each of her seven children and most of her grandchildren – some of whom are sadly too young now to ever know the full magnitude of the amazing woman she was.  I will make it my goal to be sure my kids know as much as they can about her so she can continue to be a role model from beyond.  I hope that one day, my children will feel as passionate about me as I do my mother…that would be the perfect tribute to my mom.

Coleen and Mary Ann

This Mother’s Day, while my heart is heavy, I know that I am blessed beyond belief. My mother not only gave me the greatest life while she was here, she has gifted me with an amazing, remarkable network of family that I can’t imagine a day of my life without.

Tell me what’s on your list of “good mother” traits – I’d love to hear yours!  To read mom’s obituary, click here.


what it means to be a mom

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  1. says

    What a beautiful tribute! She sounds like an amazing mom and an amazing woman. I’m so sorry for your loss, but what a great legacy she’s left behind.

  2. says

    Some beautiful pictures – family is so important. I love those tips!! Wish I could have read that before becoming a Mom!! :)

    • Coleen says

      Family is SO important and that’s what all of this is making me remember. A job, a career, it’s all temporary, but family is FOREVER as it should be. Good luck to you!

  3. lisa b says

    Sorry for your loss…That is a great tribute to your mother with wise words. Made me think about how I am parenting my own children.

    • Coleen says

      Lisa – So glad to hear that! I’m certainly not saying I have followed these tips thus far, but I sure am working on it! :)

    • Coleen says

      thank you, Melissa! If you figure out how to follow all these tips, please let me know :) I am certainly still working on it…

  4. Heidi Bee says

    Beautiful post and terrific tips! For a Mother of young children you already seem to have a level head about being a Mom!

    • Coleen says

      Heidi- What a compliment, thank you and I’m glad you liked it! I honestly wasn’t sure how this post would be received – and maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “selfish” since I don’t believe my mother really was, but I guess what I really meant is that, as mothers, we all need to focus on ourselves while ALSO focusing on our kids. As a working mom, it’s hard to do all of these things, but I’m working on it…. good luck to you!!

  5. says

    Sorry for your loss Erin. I love your tribute memoir to your Mom. She lives on in you so your babies will know her. The one thing I think I do well with my girls, now 16 and 12 is laugh and act silly with them. We improv alot in our home!


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