Finding A Mother Role Model In An Unlikely Place

This fictional character I admire so much had a bad day as a mom, too. And like me, she owned it. She admitted fault. And she apologized to her daughters for her behavior.  

“Stop yelling at me,” I shouted. “I won’t be yelled at!”

My 10-year-old daughter made a sound between a growl and a grunt. But she stopped yelling and, for a moment, I felt a sense of satisfaction.

It was only later that I began to question the logic of teaching my daughter to stop yelling at me by yelling at her. It was a thought that came unbidden, but once it arrived, I couldn’t shake it. 

I wanted to excuse my bad behavior with hers. But deep down, I know better than that. I expect her to be responsible for her choices, even when she’s frustrated. And that means I have to be responsible for mine, too.

I apologized to my daughter for yelling. “It’s alright,” she told me. “No, it’s not. It’s not OK to yell, even when we’re frustrated,” I replied. “But even grownups yell sometimes. All we can do is apologize and keep trying. I love you, and I shouldn’t have yelled at you.” 

But even as I hugged her, a part of me didn’t want to admit I was wrong.  

My evolution as a mother hasn’t been easy. I came from the school of “Mom is always right,” and on some level I expected to parent that way too. It didn’t occur to me to question my own mother until I was in my 30s, and finally able to examine my childhood from a different, healthier perspective.

Where my mother demands blind obedience and loyalty, I encourage independence and empathy. But it isn’t easy mothering without a role model, and all too often I’ve found myself searching for mothers I can learn from.  

It’s not as simple as it sounds. I had my first child when I was 19 years old, so most of my peers have children far younger than mine. I reach new stages with my kids year before they do, so they simply can’t offer insight or advice.

For years, I turned to parenting boards for inspiration, but eventually I realized all of us were too busy trying to reassure ourselves that our way was the right way to truly support each other. I’m not out to prove my mothering is the One True Way; I’m just looking for someone to be an example of the type of mother I want to be.

I finally found that inspiration in an unlikely source: the TV show “This Is Us.” Rebecca gets a lot wrong, but she reminds me that children rarely appreciate our sometimes heroic efforts as mothers (and that’s OK). And Beth is the perfect, ideal TV mother — she is strong, nurturing, empathetic, and tough as hell. She is everything I want to be, and more.

After the kids were in bed that night, I sat down on the couch to watch the latest episode of “This Is Us.” In that episode, Beth was frustrated about losing her job and her daughter’s entitled behavior. She snapped and yelled at her daughters in front of a grocery store — and then she sat down with them later and apologized with the grace and humor only a TV character could possibly muster.

It was impossible to avoid the comparison. This fictional character I admire so much had a bad day as a mom, too. And like me, she owned it. She admitted fault. And she apologized to her daughters for her behavior.  

My own mother has never done that for me, and she never will. But in that moment, I knew that I’d done the right thing. I wasn’t being wishy-washy or letting my daughter run the show.

If Beth did it, it reassured me that it was the right thing to do. I realized I wasn’t backing down or being weak. I was being strong enough to own my mistakes, and I was giving my daughter a model for the type of person she may one day want to be.

Maybe even a model for the type of mother she may want to be. Someday.

Jody Allard is a former techie-turned-freelance-writer living in Seattle. She can be reached through her website, on Twitter or via her Facebook page.

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