On Mothers’ Day, many like me find themselves reflecting on the lives of their own mother and the impact she had on our lives over and above giving us life.
My own mother, born Nelly Dean, was one of a kind who thought outside the box, was smart, vibrant, athletic, witty and capable of clear insight into people and situations. She passed on behavioural as well as biological genes.
It took discernment and effort before I could separate the accuracy of her perceptions from her volatility that left so many diminished and me embarrassed.
Over years I worked out how to express a different perspective with respect. My philosophy developed as a result, to ‘make enquiry before accusation’, invariably leads to a richer understanding of context, better information and often self-disclosure by the people in question. All parties are able to mature through the process.
Marriage and motherhood
My father, Allan Petersen and his brothers were swimming and lifesaving legends of Maroochydore Surf Lifesaving Club, the brothers often comprising the majority of members of their champion R&R team. My parents may have met at a State Surfing championship when Allan won the surf race and Nelly the beach sprint.
It was hardly a marriage made in heaven, when Allan took his city savvy bride to live on a farm in the bush. In a short space of time this athletic couple produced one son and eight daughters, as people did in those days. Black humour prevailed: we joke we were all the result of arguments, of which there were plenty, born of mum’s frustration. My mother was no farmer’s wife to be limited by petty, small town politics. Her entrepreneurial spirit tried starting a shop, marketing baby clothes and applying her sports administration expertise to involvement in the local school.
Producing children so often distracted from raising them. We children lived a free-range life roaming local water holes to swim, picnicking in the bush, boiling the billy and helping ourselves to wild fruit – mangoes, guavas, raspberries and gooseberries – all while maintaining high academic achievement. In an era of short-back-and-sides authoritarianism post WWII, our mother was an outlier. Only when our parents parted and we returned to the city did Nelly become revitalized.
Learning and applying
While some family members defaulted to learned behaviours, I knew that if another generation of brains was not to be limited, things needed to change.
In addition to learning how to manage conflictual situations more graciously, if imperfectly, I learned that raising children free range certainly produced resilience and initiative in children, though not the discipline and direction necessary to capitalise on inherent talents to become their best selves.
Conversely, authoritarianism had value in maintaining discipline and conformity, though hampered creativity and initiative essential to becoming a whole productive, contributing person capable of being responsible for one’s own life direction.
Both realisations influenced my own parenting efforts, which focused on developing autonomy: sufficient discipline to maintain reasonable order, yet scope to gain competence in making decisions to equip them for life. Furthermore, providing experiences and support for academic achievement, culture and sport broadened their outlook and expanded networks that enabled them to be comfortable in the company of people at any strata of society. To their credit, each child has picked up and run with the opportunities provided.
Those who have read my book Becoming will recognise the philosophy encapsulated in Chapter 4 Making Straight the Way and in my Maturity Model for decision making.
The Next Generation
Nelly’s spirit shines through in my five children, each of whom is bold enough to step up and ‘have a crack’ at innovation and enterprise , taking it further to convert insight into action, to plan, strive and finish – all attractive attributes in business, work and society. Thank you, Mum. And thank you family.
On Mother’s Day I also claim some credit as a mother for having enabled my offspring to advance to a higher level of performance that had not been possible for me under the stress of poverty, ill-discipline and the need to get out to work early to earn money that coloured my own youth. In comparison they have been privileged. In many ways, on countless occasions, they have shown their gratitude – treasures remembered and savoured.
Extended education and social understandings improved through post-war stability tends to encourage criticism of those who came before. Today, rapid changes in communications technology and decades of uninterrupted economic advancement have altered our understanding and appreciation of elders and their values of respect and good manners. What we have gained in wealth and technology we seem to have lost in respect, resilience and good grace.
Chronological snobbery (condescension towards earlier generations) has emerged strongly in the era of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Communications are mostly horizontal – across a peer group, leading to pooled ignorance – rather than longitudinally, across generations to glean wisdom. Misunderstandings result. Elders’ relative ineptitude with technology can often see them dismissed as not very smart, though an older person’s life experience and wisdom could add value to many family situations – if welcomed and if precious off-screen time allowed.
Diminishing the value of elders should lead today’s busy mothers (and fathers) to consider how their children may ultimately treat them.
Ties that bind
To parents and grandparents, a new baby is a source of precious wonder, joy and delight. Merely by coming into being the new baby evokes love and hope for the life to be fulfilled that helps to overcome difficulties of adjustment that must be managed on the way to a new state of family.
For mothers, love continues throughout the child’s life. Regardless of the number of children, the ups and downs of family relationships and rivalries, mothers never cease loving and wondering about the wellbeing of their offspring wherever they are in the world, as they stand willing to assist where ever they can. Hurts can be mended, reparation made and peace restored.
Celebrating Mother’s Day with a phone call, a visit or a bunch of flowers in this COVID world marks a measure of respect and gratitude for the love, loyalty and leaven that a mother has invested in family.
That is true of my mother Nelly. It is true of me. And the same love and loyalty repeats in the next generation.
May all mothers be blessed with kindness this Mothers’ Day and beyond.