Playing a mom on TV does not make you an expert on giving real-life advice to your daughter. And no matter who the parent is, kids often feel like they’re not being heard. It turns out that the key is for parents to just listen. Read more advice from moms to children in What I Told My Daughter: Lessons From Leaders on Raising the Next Generation of Empowered Women.
From Joanna Kerns, Actress-director:
I spent the last half of the 1980s and the early 1990s playing one of America’s favorite moms, giving advice and encouragement to my TV children and the millions of children who watched us, always with humor and just enough wisdom to make sense. But in my personal life things weren’t so perfect. I was a single mom, newly separated, and in the process of divorce. Ashley was seven and weathering first grade with a mom who was suddenly a famous mom. Kids in school, thinking she had it better than they did, could be mean. She suffered isolation because of the divorce. She not only lost the presence of her father from our household but in her mind she lost part of me as well.
Ashley’s way of handling all of these overwhelming emotions was to pretend she was a cat. Sometimes it was easier for her to hiss or purr at me. Sometimes words simply weren’t enough. I didn’t always know what Ashley was feeling but I certainly understood the cat. So did the girl who was bullying her at lunch one day and cut in front of Ashley in line for milk. Ashley hissed, the claws came out, and the next thing I knew my daughter and I were sitting in the principal’s office. She had been suspended.
On the way home in the car we had one of those rowboat conversations where you don’t look at each other. Tearfully, she told me how sad she was that her dad was gone, how lonely she felt knowing things were going to change, and how angry she was at me because I had a whole other family at work. Worse, all the kids at school thought I was super nice and funny all the time.
“And you are not funny!” Ashley defiantly declared.
I gave it a few beats and then asked quite seriously: “Never?”
We both started to laugh. Even at age seven, Ashley knew how to get to me.
In that moment, I was nothing like my TV character. I didn’t have any funny advice to dispense. But I learned from Ashley that sometimes the best advice is no advice. Sometimes it’s best to just be that other person in the rowboat, ready and willing to listen.
Sometimes, all that matters is being a source of silent strength for your children. Easier said than done. These former presidents, actresses, and writers share how they remember their moms.