Mommy mentor: Why every mom needs one

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I opened Facebook, and there she was — my old friend Sheryl, my go-to girl for boyfriend advice back in grade 11. Now, two-and-a-half decades later, it’s no shocker that she’s still a great source of wisdom, but now it’s all about parenting.

Since she got the Mom title first, Sheryl has serious insight about what’s coming down the pike, and I’m always firing o?ff questions about everything from sibling rivalry to curfew. Luckily for me, Sheryl is a sharer, and I do my part, too, by paying it forward to friends with younger kids.

These days, thanks to unofficial mom mentors, motherhood is no longer a lonely place to be. We’re showing each other the ropes just about everywhere: online, at support groups, book clubs, fitness classes, family dinners — you name it, we’re there.

Whitney Moss, a mom of two from Berkeley, CA, and co-author of Stuff Every Mom Should Know and The Rookie Mom’s Handbook, realized back in 2005 that new moms need tips from their more seasoned peers. So, she started rookiemoms.com, a blog o?ffering been-there-done-that advice on getting back to life a?fter giving birth.

“Mom mentors go beyond the tricks of the trade your own mom passed on, which can be fuzzy or outdated,” Moss says. (Chances are, even the coolest grandma is no expert on how to attach a car seat to a stroller, or how to use the latest breast pumps.) Mentors may even give more spot-on advice than parenting books, which might not address the issues you’re facing.

The best mentor is someone whose parenting you admire, and who gives the straight goods. “Ideally, she’s just a step or two ahead in parenting, so her knowledge is fresh and relevant, and you can watch her in action,” Moss says.

That’s exactly what Marla Ceresne does. She was only 16 when, vacationing on a Florida beach, she met a girl who would one day become the mom she models herself a?fter.

“Susan had kids first, and when I was in labour, she was my lifeline,” says Ceresne, a travel agent in Toronto. She will never forget the three days of contraction hell she su?ffered before her son, Ethan, was born. “?The nurse was mean, the pain was killing me, and all I wanted was Susan by my side.”

While Ceresne screamed like a madwoman, Susan took everything in stride, getting her friend moved to a bigger room, running back and forth for ice chips, and keeping her finger on the pain-medication button. “She held my hand from 3 p.m. until the birth at 1 a.m. By then, I was so crazy I had even yelled at my husband to get lost. I only wanted Susan.”

And Susan continues to teach her how to be a better parent. Like when she watched Susan’s daughter throw a tantrum in a toy store over a denied doll. “I would have just bought the darn Barbie to keep the peace, but Susan kept her cool and just said no. Later, she told me her kids would only respect her if they realized she really meant serious business.”

Following her mentor’s lead is tough, though. Just last week, Ceresne told Ethan, now 10, that if he kept getting out of bed at night, there would be no basketball the next day. “He kept us up all night, then showed up in the morning in his jersey. He was standing there, smiling, and I was so tempted to just give in.” Sometimes Ceresne finds herself texting Susan for encouragement, but this time, she stayed firm, then picked up the phone. “I called to say, ‘You’d be so proud. I stuck to my guns!’”

Meryl Witkin, a Toronto mom to two girls, ages nine and seven, hears her mentor’s voice in her head all the time. She has never had a sister to shadow, but she’s got mad respect for her cousin, Sal, an “earth-mama ? type” who lives in British Columbia.

“Sal has a calm approach to parenting,” Witkin says. “Even when her kids were small, mealtimes were civilized, and I’d think, ‘When I’m a mom, that will be me.’”

“Best laid plans!” Witkin laughs now. “I gave birth and that mother-bear instinct kicked in. I was anything but calm.” Frazzled, she turned to Sal when her child was struggling with girl drama and homework stress in grade two. “Her sadness was breaking my heart,” Witkin recalls. “I was all set to jump in and fix it.”

Sal responded with the following words that changed the way Witkin parents her kids: “?The biggest mistake we parents make is to think it’s our job to solve our children’s problems and protect them from pain. They need to go through disappointment and stress. ? That’s how they learn and grow.”

“It was a revelation,” she says. “It’s never easy to watch your kids su?ffer. But reminding myself that going through adversity? is a healthy and necessary part of growing up makes me feel so much better.”

Still, while Witkin would love to be as Zen as her mentor, it’s never going to happen, she says. “I’m not a calm person. I’m more in-your-face and a worrier.”

Plus, she points out, the two women have faced some different parenting challenges. “I’m raising my kids in the age of social media. Sal didn’t have to deal with that when her kids were young. Whether it’s right or wrong, it makes me nervous to be too laid-back. I feel I need to be more on my girls to guide them through this crazy media-driven world they’re growing up in.”

Stephanie MacDonald, a lactation consultant and aboriginal midwife in Simcoe, Ont., didn’t take parenting in stride until she met her mom mentor, Darla, a mom of eight, at church. One lesson came on Halloween, when the two moms took their kids out trick-or-treating, and MacDonald’s two-year-old son, Braden, slipped and fell.

“I started freaking out. I was a young mom, and everything felt like a crisis. I had basically bumper padded my whole house so my kids would never get hurt, and when they did, I had no idea what to do!”

That’s when Darla insisted they head home, ice the wound, and let Braden eat candy until he felt sick. “?That night, she helped me see that not everything is a tragedy, and that I can take care of a lot more than I think.”

When Darla died suddenly from a blood infection more than a year ago, MacDonald lost not just her best friend, but also her greatest source of maternal wisdom. “She told me that if the kids throw flour on the floor, I should just grab the camera and take pictures. ‘Relax and enjoy being a mom,’ she always said. ‘Because life goes by so fast.’”

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