Being the Mama That You Really Are

uniquemama1It’s not hyperbole to admit that I am more comfortable giving a speech in front of hundreds of people, than I am putting my daughter’s hair in a bun for her annual dance recital. This year I was rescued by a smart mom armed with her super-weapons, a hairagami, a sense of humor, and just the right dose of sarcasm (For those that are uninitiated, hairagami is a brilliant invention and has saved countless hours of needless mother-daughter angst – look it up).

Maybe it’s because my daughter is now officially a teenager. Or that I still feel a little bad that she taught me how to make a French braid. Whatever the reason, I have become even more reflective, than my normally introspective self, about my experience of motherhood. So it is not that surprising I have been thinking a lot about my own mom’s mothering.

Domestic Diva

My mother never attempted the hair bun, but she did bake a near perfect tollhouse cookie. In the working class city neighborhood that I grew up in, that made her a domestic diva. It was pre-Martha Stewart, after all. As a young child, I adored this about my mother. Primarily because it gave me a ton of playmate power – a request for her to whip up a batch was enough to keep friends at my house as long as I wanted them there.

The cookies were great leverage, but like many adults turned parents, what I find amazing about my mom is the stuff I took for granted growing up.

The fact that at six years old, I was convinced that spinach and rice was the best meal ev-er, is no small feat.  And despite a general lack of supervision, the way of life back in the day, my mother still managed to have six kids pretty clean, always on time for school, and perfectly coiffed for Easter photos.

When I was in kindergarten, she spent hours clicking away at super-lightning speed on her  typewriter addressing envelopes. I missed her when she left by taxi or bus weekly lugging all those boxes of envelopes to make a little bit of money that she could call her own. The woman’s movement never hit our neighborhood, so in retrospect I see how gutsy and resourceful she was.

Today it takes my breath away that she was and remains such a loyal, non-judgmental friend, to those viewed outside the status quo.

Everyday acts of self-expression

Best of all, I am all out crazy in love with my mom’s everyday acts of self-expression that were simply mortifying as a kid,  bursting through her otherwise quiet, normal persona.  Today I find it sheer perfection that she had five different hair colors in the span of a few years (counting the wig); and that the only make up she wore was fire-engine red or fuchsia pink lipstick. When I was a teenager, we moved into an apartment with black and white striped wall paper.  As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough, she unabashedly purchased a retro sofa with mega blue and chartreuse flowers. Now, I revel in how despite a lack of options and painful circumstances, she still found ways to express her color to the world.


In contrast, I prided myself on my idiosyncratic avoidance of decoupage, fancy hairdo’s, and domesticity in general. I could bring home the bacon and was pretty good at cooking it up in a pan when I felt like it and as long as my husband cooked sometimes too. But optional domestic tasks were not my thing.

Once my daughter was born, in between general exhaustion and running a business, I jumped into craft-making wholeheartedly though. I did this despite everything I had ever espoused because somewhere lodged deep in my psyche, there was a formula to being an incredible mom. And that formula included craft making.  I have the painstaking alphabet sampler to prove it with hand-sewn items for each letter  – including may I say without sounding too boastful, a violin with strings and a bow.  Public praise and adoration replaced by uncontrollable laughter from the friends who have known me for years.

Embracing the Mama that You Are

Two kids and 13 years later, my sister or a friend helps us if a sewing task comes up. My own crafting just couldn’t be sustained. Most simply, because it wasn’t me.  Instead, I focus on embracing the mom that I really am. If you want to share your wildest dreams aloud to someone who won’t call you crazy, I’m in! Edit your paper. Make you a green smoothie. I’m the one for you.  Talk about what life is like for most women and girls in the world and what we can do about it. And spend hours looking at your photos, or buy you gold mining gear, and enjoy every minute. Admire every art project and math paper you ever did, yup (that’s what all those piles are in my office).

A part of me does secretly still wish that I was the go-to mom for the hair-do.  It’s not that I want to be the perfect mom; I don’t think any of us really want that deep down.

Most of the mothers I know just want their daughters and sons to know, that they are deeply, vulnerably forever and inexpressibly in love with them.  That we would do anything to protect them. Even when we sound annoyed.  That’s what the buns and alphabet samplers and tollhouse cookies and coaching and ambitions and even – yikes – the pressure is really all about.

Recently, I was at a wellness day with my daughter and her entire middle school.  At the end, they had former addicts share their experiences in the hope of deterring kids from heading down the wrong path. One young man’s story was particularly poignant and I was moved to tears (literally).  Geez, I wasn’t sobbing or anything, but one of my daughter’s friends noticed telling her, “your mom is crying.”  (Try saying that aloud with the tone of a 13 year old) You can imagine how well that went over.

I am hoping that one day she will embrace that story just like I embrace my mom’s colorful sofa.

Either way in the end, the most beautiful gift I can give my daughter and son is to embrace who they  really are as human beings and to teach them to let that shine unapologetically in the world.

I can tell my daughter to ignore what’s in the movies or what she hears on the street about what it means to be  a girl and a mama (if she so chooses). And ditto for my son – he doesn’t have to fit into the cookie-cutter prescriptions he sees for what manhood and dad-hood look like either. Their job is not to lean in or lean out… it’s simply to be their divinely-made selves, the one in seven billion that they are naturally.

I gave up regret several years ago, but if I could change one thing about my mothering, I wish I had started embracing that mama that I am naturally earlier for my children’s sake and my own.

So whatever you are doing this mother’s day, embrace the strange, flawed, unique mama that you really are.

Paula Grieco is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Coach. She is the author of Take 5 for Your Dreams and Reclaim Your Dreams: A Workbook for Busy Women.

Give yourself and your daughter the gift of dreaming big this Mother’s Day:


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