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Lean In (A Letter to My Mama)

My Mom and Me, around 1989.Hey Mama,

Do you remember when we were in a parking lot at some national park and I asked you which child you loved more? You said you didn’t have a favorite but I made you promise me I was your favorite and we swore to never tell my sister the truth.

That silly little promise I forced you to make when I was maybe seven or eight has stuck with me ever since. Even when we fought daily, you grounded me weekly, and I moved out at 17, I kept thinking back to that promise. “There’s no way she truly hates me, she promised me I was her favorite.” Now that I have two kids of my own I realize it’s impossible to have a true favorite, but thanks for humoring me all those years ago.

There have been times I have wanted to hang you up by your toenails and dunk you face first into hot tar; I’m sure the feeling has been mutual at times during our 31 years together. I spent so much time being angry with you for so many different things — blaming you was easier than changing my own behavior. Now that I’m a mom, I realize how blessed I am that you let me live to age 17 after what I put you through. There are still things I wish I could change, but there’s no sense in dwelling on the past.

My mom and me.

I wouldn’t say either of us are particularly maternal people — we love fiercely and we fight hard, but neither of us are particularly snuggly creatures. In my mind you had always been this untouchable force, impervious to the words and actions of others. It wasn’t until three years ago when I saw you truly hurting for the first time in my life. I don’t care how much we have disagreed in the past, no one messes with my mama and if they do they’re going to have to deal with me and my big girl words.

“Thank you for teaching me by example and through tough love, even when I hated you for it.”

I’m realizing more and more that the things I disliked about you so much in the past are what made me the strong, successful, and independent woman I am today. I used to be jealous of the kids who got rides to and from school everyday. I hated the kids who could call their mom from school to bring them a forgotten lunch or missed homework. I knew if I ever called you with such requests I would get a “Tough luck, kid.” It taught me to be responsible, and in rare cases, a really creative liar. You taught me to rely on myself, and even more importantly you trusted me to take care of myself. I screwed up a few times, learned my lesson and took my punishment, but in the end I learned from my mistakes and grew confident in the knowledge that the only person I could really count on was myself. You gave me a really solid belief in myself and my capabilities. I’m not sure if that was your goal or if it’s just a happy accident, but it has served me well in all that I do.

You did a good job, I hope you know that. I am proud have you as my mom. You are wildly talented, hard working and easily one of the toughest women I know. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for teaching me by example and through tough love, even when I hated you for it. Now that I’m a fairly adjusted adult, I look forward to living our lives together as buddies, best friends, and your eternal favorite.

Love,
Your Honey

*****************

Read more about why I love my mama here.

We’re celebrating Mother’s Day by celebrating leaning in to motherhood, and by recognizing the extraordinary women that are our own mothers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own mother, or the mother who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning in to motherhood here. (Sheryl Sandberg’s letter is here.) And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.

 

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