Nancy E. Anderson’s mother with her firstborn (Nancy’s older sister), in 1960. Credit: Family photo provided by Mary Anderson Kelly

In honor of Mother’s Day, I interviewed my mom. Since she’s 87 and, with my late father, raised four daughters, I figured she’d have a good perspective on motherhood and parenting.

I sat down with her a few weeks ago with a list of questions. Here are edited snippets from that conversation:

Some mothers expect gifts and a lot of hoopla on Mother’s Day. I know you don’t. Why?

It comes from the way I was raised. There wasn’t a big emphasis on gifts. My mother was always interested in something you could make or do for someone. She never thought you had to buy something.

I carried that same thinking over to my children. I’ve always appreciated kind words and gestures, but you don’t have to spend money or overdo it.

Let’s talk more about your mother, my grandmother.

She was different from other mothers of her era. She was not prim and proper. She stressed independence and giving us tools to navigate life. 

What tools did she give you?

She emphasized education, health and self-sufficiency. 

She never suggested to me, as a girl, that I should get married and have someone take care of me. Oh my gosh! That was never her message. There was no emphasis on traditionally female things like being cute and popular or attracting boys. And this was in the 1940s and ‘50s, when that thinking was prevalent.

I’m grateful to my mother because she made my life easier by teaching me to be independent and resourceful. I tried to do the same for all of you.

How were you different from your mother?

I was more demonstrative than she was. I don’t remember much hugging and kissing from her, but I never doubted her love.

Do you ever think of mistakes you made as a mother? I worry about all the things I did wrong.

I made so many mistakes I can’t keep track of all of them. 

Tell me about the things you did right.

I must’ve done some things right, because all four of you are successful and reasonably happy. Actually, “happy” is not the right word; I think you’re all satisfied and content with your lives. And you’re all good citizens. You contribute to your communities and your country. 

But I’m not sure how much I had to do with that. There’s a lot of luck involved.

None of your children is a CEO or curing diseases. When you say we’re successfulwhat do you mean?

My standards aren’t that high. You all contribute to society. You’re good parents. You’re self-sufficient and getting along in the world. That’s success.

What’s different about raising kids today as compared to the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, when you were in the thick of it?

Childrearing keeps changing as the culture changes. It used to be about getting kids to grow up fast. For example, cloth diapers were a pain and diaper rash was a real problem, so you wanted them toilet trained and out of diapers as soon as possible. With disposable diapers, that doesn’t seem as important.

Helicopter parenting is also different from what we did, so is keeping track of your kids with phones and trying to keep them entertained.

There have been a lot of shifts over the years. When I was a kid, you were supposed to make life easier for parents, like by being helpful. Now it seems parents want to make life easier for their kids.

Looking back, what was the hardest part of raising kids for you?

The emotional wear and tear and never knowing if you’re making the right decisions. There’s physical stuff when they’re little, but the emotional stuff is way worse, like the teenage years and worrying when they’re out at night.

Where did you turn for childrearing advice?

My mother. But since we didn’t live near each other, I asked her questions through letters. You didn’t use the phone just to talk back then so we wrote letters all the time.

Dr. Spock’s book was also good. Boy, did I use Dr. Spock! When I would get panicky, he was reassuring.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a mother today as compared to your era?

I don’t think being a mother is ever easy. It’s probably a wash between then and now. I guess the key back then and probably still today is having child care and family support. 

Is there one thing that’s most important in raising kids?

As I said, so much is luck. But I think it’s important that you don’t demean kids and you don’t make things personal. You don’t make it about you. You want your child to feel self-worth.

How do you make kids feel self-worth?

By letting them accomplish things on their own; not doing too much for them because their own achievements inspire confidence. You have to let them fail. I think parents today are reluctant to let kids fail. But you have to have failures and disappointments in order to grow.

Do you think parents have an effect on their kids’ values?

I’m not sure because there are so many influences, but maybe you do learn morals and values from your parents. Even if children defy it, it’s good for them to know their parents have a moral code and a standard of behavior.

What advice would you give to mothers of young children?

I would say, let the little things go. Don’t be too concerned about details. 

What advice do you have for raising teens?

It’s individual to the kid. You have to be a different parent for each kid. But overall, I would be honest and open with teenagers. I wouldn’t try to hide anything or sugarcoat anything. Respect them.

Do you have thoughts on dealing with adult children?

Don’t give them any advice. It doesn’t work. And don’t criticize.

I would also say, don’t be a burden to your adult children. Let them have their own lives.

Nancy E. Anderson is a writer, communications consultant and swim coach. She has lived in Evanston since 1992.

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  1. I loved Nancy’s mom’s thoughts. She stressed independence, resourcefulness and respect in raising kids and I think that is good advice for today! This was a great interview for Mother’s Day.