Mothering 101: Image of mother and 3 children.

My Best Mothering Advice : Lessons I’ve Learned from Moms I’ve Known (including me)

A meandering stream-of-consciousness-and-crowdsourced-mothering-advice.

Childhood 101: Things every child should know

To kick off my massive list of mothering advice, here are nine things every child should know how/why to do.

  • Read (and hopefully love books)
  • Swim
  • Ride a bike
  • Drive a car
  • Shake hands firmly
  • Speak clearly while making eye contact
  • Do laundry
  • Put 10% of their income into savings
  • Wear Sunscreen

Heart-to-Heart Talks

My grad school friend and fellow memoirist Cinelle Barnes recommends you, “Talk openly about everything—mental health, sex, race, etc..”

I agree. From day one, talk about all subjects with your kids. This will teach them they can talk about all subjects with you.

Each day when I walked our son Tre home from the bus stop, I always asked the same three questions: “What did you learn? What was the best part of your day? What did you like the least?”

Daily check-ins with your kids are fantastic for figuring out what their normal is. Which makes it easier to recognize when something is abnormal with them.

Rescue—like a mother—when necessary.

Years ago, when my little guy was bullied on the bus by a fourth grader, I drove to the kid’s house and spoke directly with his mom. She said she’d take care of it, and thank God, she did.

One of my favorite bits of mothering advice ever: “Kids need people to love them that aren’t family.”

(who essentially, have to love them). I read this tidbit in Parents magazine back in the 90s and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s so true. Make sure your kids have someone who enjoys spending time with them. And also, strive to be that someone to a couple of kids in your sphere of influence.

Watch Your Mouth

Never give your child too much information regarding their other parent (ie. finances, intimate issues, character flaws, etc.). This often happens when parents are separating or divorcing. Information is used as a weapon. This is a horrible thing to do to the child and the other parent. Not to mention, it may well backfire.

Don’t let your child speak ill of siblings, their other parent, or themselves. It’s simply not acceptable. They can discuss their issues honestly and openly, but name-calling or put-downs should not be allowed.

In addition, at Chez Tarantini, we had a list of words that were NEVER to be spoken:

  • Fat
  • Stupid
  • Ugly
  • Idiot
  • Dumb
  • Diet

And another thing…Endeavor to raise children who are not prejudiced. I am so thankful my parents never spoke ill of people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Tony and I tried always to teach our kids all people are indeed created equal. And we believe, we’re all created in the image of God.

Crime and Punishment

When a child makes a  mistake, strive to make the punishment fit the crime. Do not ground a kid for a week because he didn’t eat/try his broccoli. No dessert after the meal would be more fitting.

Also, make sure you are prepared to follow through with the punishment you mete out. Chances are, consequences like, “I’m going to throw away every single one of your toys and you’re never getting another one!” or, “We’re never eating out again!” are not going to happen.

Do not over-discipline. Your child will despise (and/or fear) you.

Do not under-discipline. Your child will not respect you.

Honesty is the best policy.

Always be honest with your child. However, when topics are bigger, weightier, make sure your kids are mature enough to handle the topic.

Case in point:  I don’t remember anyone ever telling me my mother had emotional health issues. Whenever she went away for a week, her absence was always explained as a “medication reevaluation.” That’s all I ever knew. If as a teen, I’d known she struggled with (manic) depression, it would have explained so much. And maybe, I wouldn’t have been such a brat to her.

Family finances, or lack thereof, are another area where honesty is important. If your family is in a rough spot financially, it may help your kids to understand why you keep saying “no” to certain purchases.

I’m sorry. So sorry.

Two of my friends stressed the importance of apologizing to your kids, as needed. My friend Lauren said she’s glad she’s good at “Apologizing and asking forgiveness from my kids when I do something wrong. I want them to know how to make things right and accept responsibility for their actions, so I have to do it too!”

I am of the same mind. When I was at dinner with my daughters one night, they were older teenagers at the time, I felt led to apologize to them. I said I was sorry for the times when I’d been short with them, and hard on them, maybe even mean, because I was so overwhelmed in my own circumstances.

My friend Karen Haring, the founder and Executive Director of Libera, recommends parents own up to their mistakes, even if it’s late in the game.

Foster Initiative and Work Ethic

Confession: My kids were middle-schoolers before I learned that some kids start making their own lunches as early as kindergarten. Ditto with doing chores. Within hours, I initiated a chore system for our family. Actually, I borrowed a great system from a friend. If you want to know how it works, email me.

You’d think kids would despise chores, but our oldest daughter Josy actually included “chores and salary” on her list of things I did right as a mother. Yay me!

Teach your children to always ask people: “How can I help?” For kindness sake. Initiative will always serve your children well. With teachers, bosses, prospective in-laws, etc..

Do not allow your child to be lazy. And if they are, call them on it. Laziness may not be a huge problem in childhood, but once a child is grown and flown, it will have serious repercussions.

Eat up! 

When I asked our kids what I did right as a mother, all three of them brought up food. 

Our son Tre said I taught him to appreciate home-cooked food. Our daughter Cody said I taught her about healthy food. On a related topic, our daughter Josy said she appreciated that our family ate dinner together most nights.

Celebrate good times. Woo hoo!

I love that Cinelle’s good-mom advice includes making birthdays (And I would include “Gotcha Days” for adopted children) a big deal. 

At Chez Tarantini, birthdays are big-time causes for celebration. If your birthday’s coming up, tell me your favorite cake or dessert and I’ll make it. I’ll also prepare your seven favorite suppers so you get to eat all the meals you love for a whole week!

Cinelle also recommends making holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.—times to remember. These are not only beautiful occasions with great food and traditions, they’re also times to gather the whole family around the dining room table for a time of reconnection.

The Great Outdoors

Our daughter Josy said she is glad Tony and I taught her to appreciate nature. On that topic, I have another list. Make sure your child is adept at the following activities:

  • Climbing trees
  • Rolling down hills
  • Sleigh-riding
  • Building a snow man
  • Blowing a blade of grass so it squawks
  • Making a wish on a star or dandelion fluff
  • Finding animals in the clouds
  • Body surfing (optional)

Josy’s love-list also included going to movies, on bike rides, and vacations as a family.

A stitch in time

I wish I’d done a better job of teaching our children to sew. I think every person should know how to:

  • Sew on a button
  • Hem a pair of pants or a skirt
  • Sew using the running stitch

It’s all fun and games

My daughter Josy says one of the things she likes about my mothering is that I’m fun. Hooray!

Related to that, Cinelle recommends play-time with your child. This means daily activities like: hide-and-seek, tea parties, and enjoying (or not) a game of Candyland.

Confession: I remember sometimes balking at playing with my child because I had “so much to do.” I found an easy solution. Set a timer for 20 minutes and play with your child. Then set it for another 20 minutes and tell your child, “This is mommy time. You need to entertain yourself.” This process helps you get stuff done AND it teaches your child to entertain themselves.

“You taught us to entertain ourselves” was actually on our daughter Cody’s why-I-like-Mom list. Wow, do I think the kids of America need to learn this skill. Without devices.

On Josy’s list, her first what-Mom-did-right item was “Limiting TV and computer (time) and no video games.” For more on how Tony and I did this, read this post. 

These days you can’t walk into a restaurant, a doctor’s waiting room, or anywhere really, and not see kids (and adults) on their phones or other devices. What happened to talking to one another, reading a book, or playing “20 Questions” or “I Spy?” That’s what our family used to do when there was waiting to be done.

Head of the House

Don’t let your child rule your household. I’ve seen children become so “powerful,” their parents are afraid of them. I’m not talking physically afraid. I mean when a kid can throw such an outrageous tantrum the parents don’t want to deal with it. So they cave in to the kids’ wishes. Every single time. Think Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter series.

If a child holds all the power in a house, things will only get worse when he/she grows up and the issues become more serious and the price tags more expensive.

Money Matters

In my opinion, every child needs to know:

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees (or Mom and Dad).
  • If you do not work, you do not eat.
  • The power of compounding interest.

 This I Believe.

My friend Dana gave me two really great pieces of mothering advice. She said, “I told my children every day, ‘No matter what you say, no matter what you do, I will always love you.’”

That is unconditional love and as mothers, that is our job. To love our kids no matter what. 

Dana also believes the most important thing she got right as a mother was to “…let my kids be who they were. I did not try to conform them to my way of thinking or my belief system.” 

I absolutely agree with Dana on this point. In my experience, and by looking around at other families, I see how important it is to not force your religion (or lack of) down your kid’s throat. Or your politics. Or your special way of eating. Because in the end… keep reading.

On the topic of letting your child be who they are, not who you want them to be, Karen Haring suggests parents “…encourage each child in their unique strengths, personality, and giftedness.”

I have a story on this subject. Our daughters both played softball and were quite good. At one point though, Josy came to us and said, “Softball’s really not my thing. I love music way more. Is it okay if I stop playing softball?” I love that she felt she could tell us this. As a result, she is a fantastic musician today. 

Josy also said she appreciated that though Tony and I had “high expectations (of our kids), we didn’t pressure them.”  

Faith of Our Fathers

This section is for you believers out there.

If you and your spouse profess faith in Jesus, by all means, take your children to church. Send them to youth group and church camp. But know that in the long run:

  • Your children must each take hold of faith for themselves.
  • They are allowed to have doubts and questions.
  • Your kids may have a season of unbelief.
  • Their season of unbelief may last a long time, maybe forever.
  • Your job is to love them unconditionally, not to beat them over the head with the B-I-B-L-E.
  • Your job is also to present a beautiful Christ to your children, to everyone. If you get ugly, judgmental, and/or up in anyone’s face about the faith they do or don’t have, why would they want what you have?
  • On the flip-side, if you show your children a life of unconditional love, humility, compassion, generosity, casting your cares on Christ, etc., they’re far more likely to seek what you have found.

Independence Day

Always remember, you are raising your child to be INDEPENDENT. If you are a “helicopter parent,” your child will either fail as an adult or run fast and far from you at the first opportunity.

Allow your (older) kids to learn important lessons. Don’t rescue them every time they make a less than ideal choice. 

Don’t gallop into the future mentally with every date-mate of your child’s. Chances are, this one is not THE one.

Don’t gallop into the future mentally with every life plan/college major of your child’s. Chances are, the vision (and major) will change at least once.

I remember one time calling my friend Barbie—a few years ahead of me in the mothering world— because one of our kids did something that freaked me out. Barbie said, “You know, Diane, a wise mother once told me, ‘Our kids have to walk their own path. We can’t walk it for them.’” I’ve never forgotten the counsel.

A Few Final Pointers for Your Kids

There are so many things to teach our children. The Bible says parents should teach their children while sitting at home, walking along the road, when lying down, and getting up. In other words, whenever you are with your child. 

Looking over this post, I see a few non-negotiables I forgot to give you to pass on to your kids, namely, tell them:

  • To take care of their skin. You only get one face.
  • To take care of their teeth. You only get one set.
  • Cigarettes are bad.
  • It’s okay to say no.

A Few Final Bits of Mothering Advice for You 

Don’t give your (older) kids advice unless they ask for it. My mother often did this. Ditto with my mother-in-law. Their counsel usually hurt my feelings or pissed me off. Even so, may they both rest in peace. I know they had my best interests in mind. 

Read the book, Boundaries.* It will serve you well in many areas of your life. Want an overview? Click here.

My sister-in-law Maria once told me, “Loving your child well and  doing everything right parenting-wise does not guarantee that your child will turn out perfect. All you can do is your best.”

And finally, when you get to the end of your time on this planet, know that one of your finest accomplishments (if not the best one of all) will have been raising a quality human or three.


Now it’s your turn. I know you have great mothering advice you can share: your mother’s, your own, your best friend’s. Please share your tips in the comments below.

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