Moms matter: The influence of mothers on their adult children

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Shannon Roberts of Salt Lake City has passed on the legacy of a "snuggly" mom because hers was "super loving and lovable to her children." When she woke Shannon up as a child, Andrea Pascoe would rub her back and stroke her head, not stand in the doorway and yell, "Get up." Near holidays, the Pascoe children would rehearse so they could sing to a widower living nearby who loved children and never had any. Their mom would bake a pie and wait in the car so the children were the givers. Because her mom lives in Marsing, Idaho, they don't see each other as often as Shannon would like. But they sometimes vacation together, like the time they took a celebratory trip to Mexico when her mom retired. "She likes to travel and doesn't get to go unless I take her," said Shannon. "I like to spoil her."

Differences are OK

Moms serve different roles to their adult children. Marie Hunt laughs at the suggestion that she'd ask her mom, Evelynne Baker, for advice. The 78-year-old, she said, "is much too conservative for me. And I'm too liberal for her." Nonetheless, it was her mom who taught her kindness and patience. "I adore her," Marie said flatly. Evelynne taught her to cook, and Marie now works for a school lunch program. Her mom also taught her to water ski and to bend when being inflexible would not do. They are in some ways more different than alike, said the daughter, who is 60. Evelynne Baker is very religious; Marie Hunt isn't. They don't agree on politics or even on what's funny. As a young child, Marie would sit on Evelynne's lap and listen to fairly tales. "She'd find them funny. She'd laugh and I would think she was weird. I was serious about them. 'Let's not laugh,'" the daughter remembered fondly. The trait she didn't get from her mom, and wishes she had, is patience. Her sister has a mental disability and her mom has never been impatient or frustrated with her, Marie said.

Gary Zane's mom, Martha Zane, wasn't really big on dispensing advice when he was young. She is masterful, though, at helping her son, now 55, find his way through whatever dilemma plagues him. "Though I was not around her all the time, I still knew I could call her and ask for help. She would not tell me what to do, but she'd say, 'Think about this. Here could be pros and cons. She always believed that I would make the right decision. And she told me to have fun in life, that life's too short," he said.

Recently, Gary moved his mom to Utah from Arizona, where his folks had retired with two other couples. She has been ill, troubled by a malady the doctors have had trouble identifying. It has taken her from an active woman of 77 who could walk five miles a day to someone who can't lift her arm over her head. When she suffered a bad fall, Gary talked her into moving closer. He is an only child.

Rebekah Nicodemus, 30, lives in Los Angeles. Her mom, Laura Stewart, is in Tacoma, Wash. "I think she's one of my best friends, and part of the reason is she's a constant in my life," said Rebekah. "I moved around, drifted, left friends behind. She's always been there for me. I don't usually call and say, 'I'm having a problem, what do I do?' But we talk once or twice a week and when we do, I tell her what's going on. Sometimes she offers advice or feedback, always gently. She was never the kind of mom that spent a lot of time telling me what to do."

With the exception of a couple of rocky years during middle school, the mother and daughter have always gotten along. When Rebekah graduated from high school, she went to college nearby, staying close "geographically and emotionally." When she married, the couple moved to Georgia for a few years and through frequent calls between mother and daughter, the relationship became more adult.

Her mom wanted Rebekah to be creative, a desire she has lived up to through her writing. Nevertheless, she laughs at this memory: At age 4 or 5, she loved color-by-number pages, happily laying down blue marks perfectly within the boundaries that were designated for blue. "Mom wasn't a fan: She thought it stifled creativity. She would rather I took blank paper and drew. That was one way we were different. She said, 'You don't have to follow the instructions, you can color what you want.' I thought, 'Why would I do that? That would be wrong.'"

Still, the mother who encouraged creativity got a creative daughter.

Forging a family

Carla Mains was 3 months old when Esther Howard and her husband adopted her, along with her twin sister Charla Fitzwater. Now Carla and her mom live a few hours apart in Oklahoma, relying on frequent and chatty phone conversations to bridge the distance. They're part of a loud and boisterous family. Get-togethers are a chance to "laugh and hoot and holler and have such a good time," said Carla, 55.

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