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What Constitutes a Good Mother?

By the time this column appears in most papers to which it is distributed, Mother’s Day 2017 will have come and gone. Nonetheless, I’m going to talk about mothers—one in particular.

To begin with, assuming one believes his or her mother is worthy of admiration, then said esteem ought to be expressed on a frequent basis and not reserved for the second Monday in May. Also, and with due respect to greeting card companies, said expressions of gratitude are best delivered intimately, as in phone calls, hand-written notes, or, best of all, in person.

With full awareness of the fact that the risk is immense, I’m going to risk attempting an answer to the question “What constitutes a good mother?” I feel I’m qualified to answer the question because I was blessed with a good mother. She was far from perfect, but then so are we all. She was at times irritating, infuriating, and even at times downright weird, but I’m sure I gave her more to complain about than she gave me. Nonetheless, she never complained. Not that she was an enabler, because she was far from that. My upbringing (Mom was single for most of the first seven years of my life) was very libertarian. She gave me lots of freedom while always insisting that I accept full personal responsibility for my actions. She gave me the greatest of freedoms, in fact—that being the freedom to fail. I took her up on that offer often enough in my younger years, by the way. In the process, I’m sure I caused her more than my rightful share of disappointment, but she loved me steadfastly through thick and thin.

Mom was fond of telling me that she was giving me a rope long enough to hang myself with, and hang myself I sometimes did, at which point she would tell me I was going to lie in the beds I’d made and stew in my own juices. She also told me I was going to pull my own wagon, a training that led, eventually, to charting my own course in a profession that frowns on members who won’t adhere to the party line (if interested, search John Rosemond Kentucky).

Mom was a feminist before feminism became popular. She chose single motherhood and fought tooth and nail for a doctorate in botany when women were far from welcome in the all-male life-sciences departments of most American universities. In the way she lived her life, she taught me that women are interesting people, or are fully capable of being—a capacity they will fall far short of if their children are the be-all, end-all of their existences, which I was not. Mom did not spare telling me that I was but one of her responsibilities. I was not the whole shebang. All children should be given that gift by their mothers.

She also taught me, by example, that authority resides legitimately in females. I was, I admit, afraid of her. Mind you, she never yelled or spanked. She just radiated a complete confidence in the authority she held over my life. She was the personification of Because I Said So. She was not highly involved with me. Rather, it was my job to keep her from getting involved.

I could go on and on about her affection, her marvelous sense of humor, her endless reservoir of knowledge, and the time and patience she gave to training my intellect (yet she rarely helped me with homework…back to that pulling my own wagon thing).

I’ll close by simply saying that my mother—Emily Webb of Charleston, SC—was a good mom; or, certainly good enough. Every kid deserves a mother that good. If your mom was good enough, make sure you tell her so more than one day a year.

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