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updated: 4/17/2013 3:42 PM

Mom mentors: It pays to learn from moms of all ages

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By Becky Baudouin

Before I became a mother, I had all kinds of opinions and ideas as to how I would parent my own children someday, as well as the results I could expect.

For example, I knew I would never count to three to try to make my children obey: children should just obey the first time you tell them to do something.

And my children would be really good eaters; after all, if you feed them a variety of healthy, normal foods from the time they start eating, they will love to eat a variety of healthy, normal foods for the rest of their lives!

And, my children would always be respectful: if you model respectful behavior and teach them good manners, children should never engage in rude or disrespectful behavior.

Of course, parenthood has surprised me in many ways. One of my daughters is a very picky eater (or as she likes to say, has a refined palate). She can tell if, in a pinch, I purchase milk from somewhere other than our regular supplier, and her "variety" of healthy, normal foods is not all that varied. The counting practice I've most needed to implement is not on my children, but rather on myself: count to 10 when you get angry. Turns out that being a mom is not the tidy, predictable experience I thought it would be, and reading "What to Expect When You are Expecting" while I was pregnant did not equip me for even a fraction of the full parenting experience.

Good parenting is not a simple formula that yields a guaranteed outcome. It is a process of trials and errors, kind of like learning to cook. You figure out what kind of food you like and want to make, you watch other people do it or look for recipes that sound delicious, you do the prep work, and then at some point, even though you have no idea what you are doing, you have to start cooking. Sometimes everything comes together beautifully and you can't believe you actually made something that tastes so good; and other times it's a total disaster, like the time I used Cheetos as a breading for chicken. (The recipe called for cheese crackers, I didn't have any, so I improvised. Bad idea.) So you make adjustments, keep on learning and try it again.

These days I am learning from mothers of all ages, in every season of motherhood. When I see new moms caring for their babies, I remember how dependent my children were in the beginning, how for those first few years Bernie and I taught them everything.

Now they are moving at lightning speed towards independence and the challenge is to let go -- to believe that what we've taught them will stick.

To have confidence that even though they will make some poor choices, they will make a lot of good ones too. And I am reminded to soak it all in; because it wasn't that long ago I was changing diapers and tying shoes.

Moms that are in the same stages of parenting as me let me know I'm not alone. My kids are going through things that other kids their age are going through, and many of these issues last only for a season.

One of my favorite quotes on friendship is from C.S. Lewis: "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one." I don't know how I'd make it without my friends that are walking alongside me on this parenting journey.

I am also learning from moms that are just a little further down the road than I am -- women like my coworker, Denise, who is a mom to four boys in their late teens and 20s. She tells me often to pick my battles. When I complained that my middle school daughter refused to wear her winter coat, opting instead to wear a hoodie sweatshirt, Denise told me to let it go. "Teenagers don't wear winter coats. Let her get cold. Pick a different battle."

I also get practical, every-day advice from other moms. My neighbor had a smart solution to my laundry gripe: "Don't spend your time turning dirty clothes right-side out before washing: wash and fold them the way they were given to you, and let your kids take the time to turn them the right way when they wear them." Brilliant. And of course, as soon as you feel confident that your child will not ruin their clothes or your machines, teach them how to do their own laundry.

And I continue to learn from my mom who still mothers me with wisdom and love. It wasn't easy for her to let go as I got older. My decisions led me far from home. When she came to Dallas, Texas, for my college graduation, she fully expected me to move back home. She was unprepared to learn that I had fallen for a guy from Mexico City and that I wanted to move there to study Spanish. I had no idea how hard that was for her, but she supported me. She met Bernie and welcomed him with open arms. She trusted me to make good choices and to live my life the way she'd taught me.

My mom is now battling cancer, and she is showing me how to navigate challenging circumstances with faith and determination. Her attitude is extraordinary, and though I am caring for her in some new ways, she continues to mother me: she's leading the way by her example, she's instructing me in how to live and love well, and I feel closer to her now than ever before.

Motherhood is not meant to be a solo sport. I am extremely grateful for the moms in my life who teach me, encourage me, and walk with me on this journey, because I know that I couldn't do it alone.

• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters.

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