Every parent has a motto—a phrase that helps them get through those difficult moments of parenting. Six moms share the inspiring moments that led them to find a motto of their own.

By Editors of Parents
November 08, 2019
parenting mottos as bumper stickers on SUV
Credit: Illustration by Emma Darvick

“Don’t Give Up”

“Don't give up!” My mom didn’t say this to me as much as she shouted it. She made me promise. On her head was a chic scarf, and her eyebrows were neatly crafted back into existence thanks to her trusty Maybelline. Cancer had taken so much, but not her ferocity to protect her children in a life that would soon be without her. Little did I know she was bestowing on me the words I would need to survive the most difficult time of my life. I expected my mother to die. Her cancer was rare and untreatable, so it was logical that her body would lose its hard fight to a rogue cell. What I did not expect was my son’s epilepsy.

Months after I buried my mother, I was in an ambulance racing to the nearest E.R. with my 2-year-old son. He’d had a seizure. The first of many. I ran down the hall and promised my unconscious toddler I would not give up. In the year since his diagnosis, I’ve said these simple and perhaps cliché words to myself everywhere: in the hospital where we spent our days, in pharmacies fighting for his medication, during school meetings where I lobbied for the care he deserves. I heard my mom’s words in my ears as I crossed the finish line of my first 10K. On days when I felt like quitting, these words—“Don’t give up”—resuscitated my will. After all, a promise is a promise.

Joy Mermelstein headshot
Credit: Courtesy of Joy Mermelstein

—Joy Mermelstein, Trumbull, CT

“Let’s Waste Time”

As a chronic overcommitter with a severe case of productivity-itis, I’ve found that it’s a challenge to prioritize moments of downtime for my 5-year-old son, Henry, and my 3-year-old daughter, Ella. My husband and I both work full-time during the week, and our weekends are captured by day trips, dance classes, soccer practices, and birthday parties. Time has become a treasured commodity.

Recently, Henry, Ella, and I had a rare free afternoon. As we strolled to a local playground—and I mentally made a list of ways we could fill our time afterward—Henry piped up with an idea of his own. “Let’s waste time today,” he said, big brown eyes shining with mischievous excitement. “Let’s go to the park and stay for as long as we want to, even though we have other things to do!”

Taken aback that he’d already gleaned the simple enjoyment of unscheduled time, I laughed and told him I loved that idea. Now I try to give the “Let’s waste time” philosophy its due in parenting. We still have active weekends, but we also have precious pockets of time in which the kids drive the agenda. Burying toes in the sandbox, sniffing garden herbs, and morphing into tickle monsters are often our top priorities.

It turns out “wasted” time is actually time well spent.

Molly Lopez headshot
Credit: Courtesy of Molly Lopez

—Molly Lopez, Hudson Valley, NY

“Real Talk”

I have two young sons and I talk to them all the time—to the point that my 10-year-old says, “I already know what you are going to say.” We live in a time where we are bombarded with so much information, and I feel as if I need to have certain conversations with my sons earlier than I would like to because, let’s face it, I would rather this come from me than someone else. I don’t sugarcoat much because they need to know the truth as they become teenagers and young men.

The motto “Real talk” signifies our unwavering dedication to take time every day to have meaningful conversations about life, about the things that happen around us and within the community, as well as our hopes and dreams. I also encourage them to ask questions and to voice their concerns.

I realize the importance of these discussions around the dinner table, during afternoon walks, or while driving, when I think about how much technology has taken over our minds and the minds of our children. Some people can’t function without it, and to some extent it destroys the family structure. I want my boys to know that I care about their ideas and what they have to say. It’s the reason why we have two ears and only one mouth.

Marquita Hammock family photo
Credit: Courtesy of Marquita Hammock

—Marquita Hammock, Philadelphia, PA

“Dirt Don’t Hurt”

With three active, outdoorsy boys, I have learned to go with the flow! We usually spend the day trying to stay busy and burn that boy energy in the great outdoors—hiking, fishing, backpacking, canoeing, and camping. At home we love to be outside gardening, sandbox playing, and critter finding. On every adventure there is plenty of dirt-digging, rock-turning, and bug-inspecting fun. And if we can throw in creek water or mud, all the better! After learning to appreciate all my kids’ interests and curiosities, I have learned to say “Dirt don’t hurt”... and a good bath doesn’t either!

Jamie Noble headshot
Credit: Courtesy of Jamie Noble

—Jamie Noble, Jamestown, OH

“Not the Best, But Certainly Not the Worst”

Some days (more like moments), I feel like Mom of the Year. But much more often, I find myself counting the minutes until bedtime and praying that I haven’t caused any long-term psychological damage to my kids with one of my crazy mom rants. Parenthood is a marathon full of both magical, heart-warming highs and guilty, tear-filled lows. The mantra that often helps me temper the roller coaster of emotion that we’re all riding is “Not the best, but certainly not the worst.”

It’s a practical reminder for me that parenting spans a vast continuum and that I’m momming somewhere solidly in the middle regardless of how fabulous or screwy that particular moment is going. It’s a good ego check on my best days and an inspirational pep talk on my worst.

I’ll never be the supermom who sews amazing Halloween costumes by hand, has a spotless (or even clean) house, or takes her Elf on the Shelf on 101 adventures during Advent. That’s just not me! I do, however, always change my son’s diapers before the blue line turns completely back to white, read bedtime stories like a pro, and take all the big things like car-seat safety very seriously.

I’m the only mom my kids will ever have, so I also try to be kind to myself and remind my mom friends to do the same. “Not the best, but certainly not the worst” may not sound like the most ambitious motto, but then again, I’m not trying to be the most ambitious. I’m just trying to be myself, survive another day, and raise two kids who will be comfortable being themselves too.

Jessica Hazzard headshot
Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Hazzard

—Jessica Hazzard, Winter Park, FL

“Embrace the Chaos”

As a woman with Asperger’s, I very carefully avoided situations that I couldn’t control in my life pre-motherhood. Even though I wasn’t diagnosed until after age 30, I had long known that unplanned events or deviations from my routine were enough to cause a “record skip” in my brain—if not a dreaded Aspie meltdown.

Then my son was born. While I was pregnant, I had no idea how my brain was going to react to the intrusion of a little human into my life. I don’t know if it was the hormones or the overwhelming love or simply the responsibility that comes with keeping another person alive, but everything changed in the moment of his birth. Chaos didn’t overwhelm me anymore. If anything, it motivated me.

If there was one thing that I soon could predict with certainty in my life with a child, it was that life was now unpredictable. Whenever I fought against that chaos, I recognized the first signs of a meltdown tingling in my brain. But what we resist persists. When I remind myself to “embrace the chaos,” my panic passes.

I’m not the first to preach such a philosophy, but I am happy to shout it from the rooftops. When we surrender to what we can’t control, we find the beauty and the joy in even the hardest moments. I carried this philosophy forward as my son aged from baby to toddler and from toddler to preschooler, and then carried it forward again as my mother load increased from one human being to two.

Is every day with my two children chaotic and crazy and full of curveballs and surprises and things I can’t control? Of course. But is every day filled with more joy and beauty than I would have ever imagined possible? Absolutely.

Rebecca Lemaitre and child photo
Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Lemaitre

—Rebecca Lemaitre, Concord, MA

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's December 2019 issue as "My Parenting Motto Is..."

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