There was a time when “Greek mothers” had a bit of a reputation.
They were the ones who chased you round the park feeding you rizogalo (rice pudding) by the spoonful. They would make you wear a jacket, would lecture you about the dangers of the world and had your entire future mapped out for you – from what college you would attend, what job you’d have, where you would live and who you would marry.
These days, gone are these stereotypes.
After all, Greek mothers have evolved and keep evolving – something which makes perfect sense when considering that society has changed and so too must they. It’s a truth as old as time that each generation of mums will have their own unique struggles, and things get even more complex when you’re a mother in the Antipodes – juggling between two cultures in a world that is interconnected with virtual platforms mediating our day-to-day interactions and assisting us when making parenting decisions.
Speaking to Greek Australian mothers, we find that being a Greek mother these days means different things to what it used to but deep down lie the lessons of the past all the way back to antiquity. Let’s not forget Spartan women, who would tell their sons “Come back with your shield, or on it” (‘Η ταν ή επί τας).
So where do mothers stand today? We thought we’d find out by asking them: “What advice would you give your children that your mother would not have given you?”
Have we, as mothers evolved from the previous generation? Sometimes I wonder, when I hear myself say to my children the same things my mother told me a million times growing up! Especially when warning them of all the things that can go wrong when they do something dangerous, as my youngest Ari has just pointed out. I can’t help it.
Perhaps what I try to do a little bit differently is to encourage my two young boys to question things, to avoid making judgements and to always consider the many sides of a story.
Growing up I was quite subdued and reluctant to ‘rock the boat’ or make an effort to change a situation I was not happy with. Perhaps because of that, I am always quick to encourage my children to chase what they want, and try different ways to get it, when faced with a negative situation, hoping that this will make them understand that the power to change things lies in their hands.
I think the hardest but also most innovative piece of advice I have given my daughter – by the standards of my own mother – is to do with their lives whatever makes them happy and not to think of what others might say. Having grown up with the catchcry “What will people say?” – and with my parents’ dream of my academic achievements – I never wanted my daughters to feel this pressure. I never gave them directions as to what career to choose or way of life to follow. With every opportunity, I remind them that life has no dress rehearsal, and for this reason, they have a duty to live in the best way they know how, and to create conditions which they choose rather than be chosen by. My mother purports to agree with me, but when I’m not looking, tries in every way, in vain, to put them “on the right path”. This does not anger me, but I hope she doesn’t read this…
My advice to Gia has been this:
“You are irreplaceable, there is only one of you and those that love you, know that.
“Those that make you feel like you don’t matter are not your people, don’t waste your time with them
“Also, I will always be here, I will always love you, so go and be whatever makes you happy and you will always have my support, if it makes you smile.”
To raise daughters means that your life has a lot of tenderness, a fair amount of competition, a myriad tears, and a lifetime pass to hugs, microscopic skirts and cute accessories as well as many concerns. Will she be strong while also keeping her sensitivity? Will she be independent but also sweet? Will she learn how to park decently but also shoot a goal? Will she be a polite and generous person who shares and accepts love? There are many concerns which mothers have in common, and it goes without saying, also have, as in my case ‘girl mums’.
Two pieces of advice which I give to my daughters, on almost a daily basis are:
Your body is your own, and nobody apart from you has power over it! Never allow and never justify violence from anyone, no matter how much you may love them.
If you want something, ask for it. If you need something, say it. If you’re angry, show it. If you have a complaint, share it. Nobody can guess your thoughts. And even if they can, they don’t have any reason to want to.
This is what I tell my children:
Wake up every day feeling grateful for all that you have and all that you have become. Go out into the world and be excellent. Random wandering won’t move you forward. Pursue what’s meaningful. Aim at what you want and work hard to achieve it.
Help those who want your help, pray for those who don’t.
Remember who you are. Set clear boundaries. Follow your instinct. Trust yourselves and honor your commitments. Speak the truth and do the right thing so that you are awarded with peace and clarity. Try to always look on the bright side. Have a giggle and don’t always take yourselves too seriously. If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. Know that you will make many mistakes. Learn from them. Try hard not to repeat them.
Be kind always, and offer your forgiveness to those who deserve it. Walk away from those who use it as permission to hurt you again.
Do everything with a smile on your face and love in your heart.
My mother was spot on when it came to many things, and had I actually listened to her advice a little bit more than I had – I definitely would have been wealthier, and quite possibly happier too.
Though I realise that her actions were guided by love, her advice was mainly about how to change myself to be a more worthy and, in her opinion, successful person – though our definitions of what success is were never quite aligned.
The need for her acceptance was so great that I tried very hard to make her proud and be the person she wanted me to be, though sometimes the person I wanted to be was significantly different.
Of course, this struggle made me stronger, but I want my daughters to know that they don’t need to be insanely smart, strong and supportive of my political or theological beliefs to have my acceptance – my unconditional acceptance is a given.
The best advice I can give them is to not listen to my advice. I highly recommend that they dye their hair blue if they feel like it (one did and I hated it), and occasionally fail if that is an impetus for them to grow as people.
So no advice, go out and make mistakes – their own mistakes, which are bound to be different to mine. All I can do is to act rather than advise, to live the best I can and learn from them, as the next generation, just as I have learnt from the generation before.