We shouldn't need a holiday in May to appreciate how much mothers matter.
On Mother's Day, it may seem cliché to say how grateful we are to our own moms. But as we watch our daughter-in-law tenderly and skillfully care for our new grandson, my wife and I have been reminded all over again of the impact that a mother's love has on her children, and of our own moms' devotion to us. They are both in their late eighties now and frail; it's hard to believe they are the same women as the ones who were holding us as infants in our family photos.
They certainly wrestled with the same questions that you're asking as parents today. What's the "right way" to raise kind, strong, moral kids? How can you protect without overprotecting? Where's the proper balance between "spoon-feeding" and self-reliance? How do you help kids appreciate what they have when other kids seem to have more? How can you lovingly set boundaries, while loving without bounds?
Our moms figured it all out by trial and error, split-second decisions, advice from their own mothers, and maternal instinct. We are the legacy of our moms' wisdom, commitment, and love. We did our best to pass that legacy to our own kids, and now they, we pray, will do the same with theirs. Our moms' good care of us has had multigenerational magnitude.
So now, my wife and I have come full circle. To our own dear moms, we say this on Mother's Day: It's our turn to take care of you. Please let us. It's our turn to help feed, dress, and groom you; shop for you; drive you to your activities, "playdates," and doctor appointments; get your immunizations and give your medicines; "child-proof" your homes to protect you from harm; and provide you with the equipment you need for mobility and comfort. Just like you did for us.
It's our turn to repay just a few of the infinite gifts you gave us. Gifts of your time, energy, resources, and love. Gifts you are still giving us, every day, to the best of your abilities.
Please forgive us if we seem impatient with you at times. Of course we understand you'd much rather be able to do things for yourselves the way you used to not so very long ago. "I can do it myself" is not just a toddler mantra, it returns full force in the elderly who cling to waning remnants of independence, not wanting to impose on their kids, forgetting how we imposed on them throughout their younger lives.
Parents can face health challenges long before they're in their eighties. For those of you who are blessed to have moms (and dads) who are in good health and self-sufficient, carpe diem! Try to enjoy every minute with them. Appreciate when they are able to drive to your house and drive away again. Notice how proudly they carry themselves and carry their grandkids. These are golden years in the life of a young family, sandwich years when both ends of the spectrum can be at their best. But these years don't last forever. When your moms reach the ages of ours, it will be your turn to repay some of the favors. Caring for your parents someday will be difficult emotionally and physically at times—just like it is with your children today—but it will be worth it.
To our moms, to your moms, and to you, Happy Mother's Day!
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Twitter.