9 Lessons on Motherhood from My 99 Year Old Grandmother

My grandmother, me, and my son {1 yo}.

This month, my grandmother turns 99 years old. What a gift! I feel so lucky to still have her in my life. Her life has been long and filled with love. She taught my mother to be a mother, and she is continuing to mentor me in how to be a mother to my children. In honor of her 99th birthday, I want to share nine lessons I’ve learned about motherhood from her wisdom and example. 

Faith is an essential part of life.

Every aspect of my grandmother’s life has been infused with her devout Catholic faith. From her deep devotion to prayer, to attending weekly {and often daily} Mass, to sacrificing to send her children to Catholic school, to serving the poor in her community, she has shown me through her example the importance of placing my own faith in God at the very center of my life. A deeply rooted faith and spiritual practice has helped her to navigate the highs and lows of motherhood throughout her life. Without her example, in both herself and that which she passed to my own mother, I could not be the mother I am to my two children.

Family first.

After her faith, my grandma prioritized family above all else. She worked hard everyday to love them, teach them, and serve them. My mom and her siblings range from 70 to 50, and all of them are still incredibly close. And they have, similarly, created cultures of love and service within their own family units. Whenever my mom describes her childhood, she tells me that there were always people around. Everyone was family in the their house, so everyone wanted to be a part of that family. I hope for that in my family culture as well. 

Ask for, and accept, help.

When my grandmother was growing up and when she was raising her own family, it was more common for families to live in close proximity to their family of origin. Grandparents assisted with childcare or cooking. Families went to church or attended community picnics together. In addition, they lived in a small town, where everyone knew everyone, and it was a given that your neighbors would keep an eye on your children. It was truly a village atmosphere. Support in raising children was just there.

I’ve often felt that motherhood, especially now, is extremely isolating. Our society puts so much pressure on moms. Whereas my grandmother had that built in support, moms now are expected to be everything for their kids at all times. And we’re ridiculed when we throw up our hands and cry out for help. Through my grandmother’s example, I’ve learned that I must ask for, and accept, help anyway. If my village can’t just be there, I have to seek out my own village:: a group of like minded mamas who are also tired of being expected to do it all. When I’m at my wits end with my children, I know that I can count on my village for a glass of wine, an hour of watching my kids, or a good old fashioned vent session. And it has made all the difference. 

Children are not a burden.

Our society often sees children as hinderance to a full and exciting life. It’s often presented as this dichotomy: have children or have adventures/a fulfilling career/time to pursue every interest. But you can’t do both, and that’s a bad thing. My grandmother had ten children. Truly, when I think about what it must have been like to be pregnant ten times and raise ten children, it gives me some serious anxiety. I’m sure my grandmother experienced her fair share of anxiety, too. However, I’m positive she never viewed her children as holding her back from a great life. Raising her children was her great life. It took sacrifice, and sure, she didn’t live this adventurous life by today’s standards. Through her example though, she has shown me that ordinary life can be exciting and fulfilling. On the days when I’m frustrated with wiping butts and perpetually fetching snacks, and I’m ready to fill out a job application for anywhere other then here, I remember that raising children, though not my only purpose, is a great privilege and truly my greatest adventure. 

My grandmother, me, my son {4}, and daughter {1}.

Homemade bread is healing.

When my uncle was a young boy, he developed a sensitivity to certain foods. My grandmother, though she already made most food from scratch, started to make her own homemade bread as well. My uncle was able to eat it, and she has been making it ever since. She makes the same bread recipe into loaves, rolls, cinnamon buns, hamburger buns. And every time I pop a bite into my mouth, I remember hundred of meals at my grandma’s house. I do not make bread with the same discipline that she did {multiple loaves every morning!}, but I do bake it on a semi-regular basis now, especially after the bread craze of 2020. Each time that I bake, I feel a sense of peace in my soul as I perform the task of mixing and kneading, shaping and baking, each loaf into something my family will love and enjoy.

It’s okay to ask your kids to contribute to the family.

I don’t know why, but sometimes I feel guilty asking my kids to do chores. I don’t want to “overburden” them; after all, they have most of their lives to be adults with all the responsibility that comes with that. I should let them enjoy their childhood now. However, when my mom talks about growing up, she says that by the time she was five, she could change diapers and feed her baby siblings their bottles. She and her siblings were expected to help my grandmother with the house and take care of the little ones. {She often told me these things when I was complaining about cleaning my room or loading the dishwasher}. My grandma’s example reminds me that it’s good for children to have these responsibilities. It doesn’t detract from a full and fun childhood; it provides a framework for work and play that will aid them into adulthood. 

Me and my grandmother at a family baby shower.

Hard work must be balanced with rest and leisure.

Motherhood is often, to use a Glennon Doyle word, “brutiful”: beautiful and brutal. We allow people the weekend and PTO to rest from their paid jobs, but there is no such expectation of time off for parents. There’s no doubt that my grandma has worked hard throughout her life. Raising ten kids on one salary forced her to be creative and efficient with her time and resources. However, my mom’s stories of her childhood are filled with fun times:: camping vacations, big dinners, riding bikes, swimming at the pool. My grandma worked hard to fulfill her responsibilities, but she also made time for fun and rest with her family. My mom’s stories remind me that as important as it is to devote my time and energy to my responsibilities, it is just as essential for my kids to see me enjoying life. 

Love doesn’t have to be extravagant.

Almost 10 years ago, I read an article in the New York Times that claimed raising a child cost over $2 million. I didn’t have kids then, but I remember being appalled that children cost so much. However, as I read more into the author’s math and reasoning behind her extravagant number, I realized that the money we spend on our children is all about our choices. I often feel compelled to provide my kids with “the best”: organic foods, quality clothing, sports lessons, fun {and often expensive} outings. I want my children to look back on their childhood with fondness. I mentioned above that my grandparents raised their large family on one salary. When my mom remembers her childhood, it’s not the money spent on things that she remembers most. It’s the sense of unconditional love she felt from her mom {and dad} that stands out. It reminds me to slow down and take stock of the memories I really want to make with my kids. Homemade meals and time at the table. Frequent hugs and kisses. Family movie nights and story times. Pool days and popsicles. However we choose to show love and affection to our children, or share quality time as a family, I try to remember that it’s not about big gestures. As St. Teresa of Calcutta says, I can do small things with great love. 

Lead by example.

I’ve written this whole post about things my grandmother has taught me about motherhood. However, she never once said any of these things to me. My grandfather was in the seminary for almost seven years before he met my grandmother. He had a pastor’s soul and gift for teaching with words. I recall many lessons and stories from him that were spoken and shared through conversation. My grandmother, like me, is a quiet woman. When she and I spend time together, we’re often cooking or praying or just enjoying a quiet moment. I’ve learned all of these motherhood pearls of wisdom through the witness of her life. Whenever I consider how I might best teach my children to trust in God; to cook a homemade meal; to save money; to work hard and fulfill obligations; to think of others before themselves, I look to my grandmother’s example. She taught her children, and me, the above lessons and so much more, just by living the life God called her to live. I pray for the wisdom to do the same. 

My grandma, me, and my son {6 weeks} at our annual Christmas party.

 

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Rebecca S. is a born and raised Houstonian; she grew up in Katy, graduated with a BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Houston {go Coogs!}, and made a home in West Houston with her native Houstonian husband. She quickly realized that the chaotic lifestyle of the hospitality industry was not for her and soon found her calling in education. She taught while earning her masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas. Currently, she is staying home with her son, Thomas {2016} and daughter Charlie {2020}. In her free time, she loves to read, write, run, and roam the world. While her roots are firmly planted in H-town, she takes every available opportunity to go on an adventure and explore historic cities, hike and run new trails, and, of course, try beers from every country.

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