“It’s OK for you to have things you don’t share with your mom, you know.”
I was 12 years old, and those words were spoken to me by none other than my own mother.
I don’t know anyone else with a mom like my mom, and I never have. When I was a kid, my mom was always climbing trees and catching frogs, unless she was baking cookies. She was in the Army when I was really small, but she quit to be a full-time parent to my sister and me. She was strict, but super engaged and fun, and she was also unlike any of my friends’ moms in one other huge way.
She never ever spied or eavesdropped on us.
Especially as I became a teenager, I realized that other kids often had to really sneak to have any sense of privacy. Friends hid their diaries in weird or unexpected places, or else didn’t keep a diary at all because it “just wasn’t safe.” Kids sneaked out of the house, had entire lives they kept secret from their parents and burned their notes to destroy the evidence.
In contrast, I kept my diary at my bedside, and when the combination lock broke I didn’t fret about it. I came home from school and told my mother about my day, including junior high gossip. My mom always made sure that I knew and understood that she fully respected my privacy as a person, and that made me feel free to share with her when I wanted to.
If my bedroom door was closed? She knocked before entering. If she could overhear me on the phone? She would let me know, in case I wanted to keep that call private. She trusted me to come to her with anything truly important, and so I felt safe coming to her when I needed to.
And here’s the thing: I’m fairly certain that level of mutual respect formed the basis for the relationship my mother and I have today.
Because, while I have not always shared everything about my life with my mom, and while we have had our rocky times for sure, I have never felt guarded around her. I always felt like I could be myself, and it has felt safe to share with her in large part because that sharing was never a requirement.
As I grew into adulthood, our relationship definitely had occasional growing pains, but those changes were not characterized by a massive break or rift as far as I can remember. The parts of my life I shared with her changed gradually over time (if I’ve only gone on two dates with someone, for example, I don’t always feel the need to fill my mom in about that), but since I had always understood that what I shared was up to me, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
And when I finally become a mom myself, last year, I knew she was someone I could relate to. I talked with her about my breastfeeding struggles and my postpartum depression. While it’s hard to talk as much as we used to now that I have an active baby, to this day, my mom is someone I can confide in. She’s one of my friends.
I don’t want to emulate everything about my own mother’s parenting. Just like pretty much everyone, there are parts of my own upbringing that I’d rather not repeat in the next generation. But, just like so many of us, I do find myself becoming my mother in certain ways. There is a face that I make, sometimes when I’m angry, and I can feel my face morphing into my mom’s face when it happens. And there is one part of my mom’s parenting that I truly look forward to emulating.
It’s giving my kid his space, his privacy and his freedom. My mother and I are living proof that trusting kids can really work, and like Mom always says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”