Lessons in Love From Mom and Dad

Some successful people reflect on what they most appreciate learning from their parents: Being open-hearted, present and responsible.

Comments: 76

  1. An article like this is why I suscribe to your newspaper. We live by the example of ouŕ parents. These are the things that matter most in life. Politics may be exasperating at the moment in a lot of places but as long as we can read articles like this and do not forget not to become robots but remember the essence of being human beings I think we will be okay.

  2. @Nel I just want to say that though clearly our parents have a major influence, it is what we do with that influence that matters. In examining my parents' choices - verbal and emotional abuse, patriarchal structures ("why would you, a girl, need to go to college when you're just going to get married and have babies anyway?"), and a command to obey their whims and wishes regardless of my own opinions, experiences, or feelings - I have made the decision to give my daughter what I wish they'd given me, not what they gave me. My father commanded my respect, often in an angry, shouting voice, and while I may have told him what he wanted to hear for my own protection and safety, I did not mean the words. I do not require respect from my daughter (I ask for honesty, integrity, etc. but I allow her autonomy over her feelings) and the "strange" result is that she hugs me and tells me that she admires me and - oh grateful day - once wrote me a letter telling me that when she grows up she hopes she's like me, and how grateful she is for the way I parent her. We are influenced by our families, it is true. But they do not set our fates. I choose something different.

  3. @Nel Some of us live in spite of the example of our parents, but I understand your sentiment.

  4. Thank you for this article. It’s always wonderful to be reminded of my parents. I feel for those who aren’t so lucky.

  5. I love these stories. It also would have been very nice to read one from a person of color. I hope they are represented in your 100 people.

  6. What a treasure these stories are! Reading about these people somehow makes me want to be a better person, starting today.

  7. What a beautiful article, a learning tree for all of us. Thank you...

  8. There is no question about it. We learn so much from the people who raise us. Some good stuff and some of it is painful. We become grown ups when we accept who they were and find a way to choose the positive parts of them to become.

  9. This kind of human, and humane, storytelling is so desperately needed right now. The older I get, the more I can see the good things my parents taught me.

  10. These are all lovely pieces. I was particularly gladdened to read the interview with Reeve Lindbergh. She is an author I have loved ever since I discovered her 20 years ago. She is a person I think I would really like if our paths ever crossed. Her powers of self reflection and empathy are exceptional.

  11. For me, love is all about deeds, not words. Gratitude not entitlement. I try to demonstrate my love for my children every day. I am far from perfect, and I seethe when I see my spouse disengage and prioritize his own needs over theirs. (Yeah, I clearly need to work on having an open heart). It has been a fulfilling morning practice for me to wonder how I can make someone's life better or brighter. I recommend it.

  12. Thank you for sharing your stories. It’s rare to hear the good stuff that we got from our parents, even if it was not all good stuff. Courage, resilience, forgiveness, and the choice to move forward because of or in spite off our relationships with our parents make for inspiration.

  13. Excellent story. Thank you NYT for printing these life stories that we all can appreciate and enjoy. I too was blessed with wonderful parents and I do miss them. Now that my children are married and/or in their careers, I hope they have fond memories of their childhood. Again thanks.

  14. Inspiring stories of love and responsibility (eventually, in the examples here). But it should have been more expansive. These attributes are also much of the moral fabric that is woven into good parenthood and personage. My folks were from modest means. They were in deeply in love and eloped at the start of WWII. Ten years in, they had 5 children. He was a union man, sweating by day (and frequent nights) in dirty, noisy bowels of NYC newspaper buildings as a pressman. She was a homemaker, tending to our daily physical and emotional needs: " rise and shine"; "here's your lunch", "where's your homework", "hurry or you'll miss the bus" . She prepared us every day. He brought home the slalry that paid for food, clothes, doctors, dentists and the proverbial house over our head. There were several rough patches throughout their more than 50 years of marriage. They loved each other very much . They loved the five of us, although saying those words out loud is something I don't recall them doing. But the things they did for us - every day and in every way- spoke volumes. They never quit on us. They never walked away. They were always there. I recall what they would say as a way explain the importance of this to us: If you don't have your family, you really don't have very much at all. Its notable that the five of us have each been married for many decades and have been blessed to have brought fundamentally good people into a world desperately in need of such.

  15. @Kevin My family of origin are Trump supporters who, shortly after the 2016 election, disowned me with the words "I am ashamed to be your father. I am ashamed you are my daughter." But I refuse to believe that I don't have anything. I'm thrilled for your good fortune - I genuinely am. I'm trying to give my daughter good fortune because of the way I parent her. But please do not dismiss those of us who have less than you by saying that I "don't have very much at all". I have character. I have integrity. And fortunately, I also have a "chosen family" of friends, and they are good, kind, and loving people who hold me up when I'm down, who cheer my victories, and who love me despite my failures. (I, of course, do the same for them. There are many of us in the world who, for one reason or another, don't have our families of origin. We envy you. But please don't dismiss us. We're strong, resilient, and we still lead lives of meaning and purpose, and that really is a very big deal.

  16. "Some successful people reflect on what they most appreciate learning from their parents: Being open-hearted, present and responsible." Open-hearted, present, and responsible. What far too many parents are not. Perhaps that accounts for the sorry state of our country, whether we're talking about MAGA hats laughing along with a fat man mocking a cripple and teaching their kids that compassionate inner cores are foolish, or some inner-city types ducking responsibility for their offspring altogether.

  17. @B: i get what you’re saying except for your last phrase about “inner city types” having offspring they can’t or won’t care for. I think that bad parenting goes across all socioeconomic groups and demographics. Inner city types who didn’t plan well are not the only bad parents around. Have you seen videos on the news of “rural-type” parents OD’d on opioids with their child/children strapped up in car seats in the back as the parents have fallen over unconscious? What about wealthy professional parents who travel constantly..unable to attend their child’s graduation or play...not as a one time miss but they miss those events all the time. They are not “inner city types.” I hope we can get to the point where we can objectively look are the challenges and needs for good parenting without making it seem like one demographic in our society are bad parents.

  18. Didn't I say that? I make no distinction between irresponsible white parents and irresponsible black parents or, for that matter, among social classes, all of which contain good and bad players. Yes, I used the phrase "inner-city" types and meant it -- but I do not lump all poor urban people into that category. After all, I also used the phrase "MAGA hats." I include in that description not just heartland whites, the usual stereotype, but too many of our Long Island brethren, for example. Lots of responsible poor parents in our cities -- my dirt-poor grandparents, a hundred years ago, among them, who reared good kids who adored them.

  19. What a beautiful piece of writing!

  20. Alternative title: “Gleaning the bright side from neglectful, overindulgent, or abusive parents.” I feel sorry for what these people went through, and view them as triumphant at least partly in spite of their childhoods. Is that the message of this article; success needs the stimulus of flawed parenting?

  21. @Brian Is any parenting not flawed?

  22. @Brian Brilliance and personality disorder are highly correlated. But correlation is not causation. Some brilliant people are, for lack of a better term, Salt of the Earth. It is what it is. For example: Question: Is someone in the 99th percentile of intelligence narcissistic if they think they are smarter than everyone? They ARE measurably smarter than *pretty much everyone.* Answer: Only if they are a self-entitled jerk about it. Everyone is good at some things and not so good at others. So while you might be super-smart at academics, you might not be a great artist or a talented mechanic. A narcissist will respond in a narcissistic manner, "Oh, I could do that if I wanted. It's not that hard/important/ valuable/as good as what I can do." A narcissist does not value what others can do compared to what s/he can do. Others strengths *don't exist* except as tools for which the narc can use them. Other people are not people. Only the narc is a person. Other people are pawns. Being highly talented, intelligent, and accomplished doesn't make you disordered. It DOES make it statistically likely that you have come from a family where you may have experienced neglect or abuse. Lots of disordered people among high achievers. We are not a mentally healthy lot.

  23. @Brian If that were true, I would be Jeff Bezos.

  24. Fabulous. The power and courage of forgiveness is profound.

  25. Nothing like learning from others experience, even though painful at the moment, later on you see how one changes for the better, for me key take away are: instead of all the negative things, open hearted, compassionate, unconditional acceptance and forgiveness good qualities

  26. I grew up with artistic parents and a brother then a violinist, My dad from the old country hit his kids at times violently when he saw his own faults in them. My mom was the complete opposite and often apologized for him by giving us sweets and toy choices at Woolworth's. We kids felt like being the clapper in a bell.

  27. These stories all share a common thread of adversity. I often tell my children that the challenge of their childhood - divorce and their father's subsequent emotional & physical abandonment of them - can define either their success or their failure. And that the choice is ultimately theirs. After much therapy & struggle, they will both graduate from high school in May & have already been accepted to a good university. It took many years for me to accept that I am more than my own abusive childhood, & wanting a better outcome for my children was a critical part of that acceptance. When mom guilt flares up about being a single parent, my comforting inner-mantra is 'I'm the parent who's still here. I'm the parent who was & will always be here.' I hope that's enough, as they move into adulthood & gain an understanding of how very messy life can get, despite the best-laid plans of youth. It's not adversity that defines us; it's our reaction to it that does. Thank you for providing these insights into our shared experiences & humanity, in a world that seems to evermore attempt to divide us from each other.

  28. I know that the most important lesson I learned from my parents was unconditional love. They were caught up in war, they lost family members and left to start a new life in Canada in mid-life. They were not what I would categorize as physically demonstrative people, but they were always supportive of me and continued to love me even when I did things they disagreed with. They were always there for me, they had my back. This has stood me in good stead over the years through a life that has been challenging at times but has allowed me to extend the same support to my nearest and dearest. The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I was to have had the parents I did.

  29. I appreciate the nuance of the essays. With Reeve Lindbergh her mom had a huge influence. The rich, famous and notable don't have emotional advantages. Attitude is everything and that was the lesson from these parent mentors.

  30. After my dad died, I felt like I’d gone through the looking glass. From how I thought things were before, to how I discovered they were from a new perspective with additional information. I heard many stories about him that no one would have told me before he died. His high school reunion was scheduled the same month he died, and he had kept putting off the RSVP while he was ill. After he passed, I received the phone calls from committee members to confirm his attendance, I had to tell them he had been sick and was gone. It was during that time that one of those people confided in me that my dad and he had been bullied and teased in school. I never knew. One of his neighbors at our funeral told me how my dad had fixed his fence. This man had very little money and certainly couldn’t afford to hire someone or do it himself. My dad bought all the materials and didn’t ask for repayment. His neighbor let me know how grateful he was, especially because my dad taught his son how to mend it for future repairs at the same time. Humans are not perfect. They are fallible. That includes our parents. My dad did and said some hurtful things to me in my life. So did my mom. But they did their best, at the same time they were struggling through their own life experiences and stresses of raising kids, dealing with marriage and work and trying to maintain a financial foothold in tough circumstances.

  31. Beautiful stories; Brought tears to my eyes. Family is so important. Forgiveness is too.

  32. Dear NYT. Just like many readers here, I loved those stories, which make my subscription to the NYT so valuable. I would so much like you to come up with more of those stories, just like Modern Love" has been doing for many years. Thank you. Please write some more!!

  33. @Xavier and Dear NY Times - indeed - these stories for all the human frailties of the parents … were wonderful to read - to share some measure of our human situation. I was sad to come to the end after only three.

  34. I'm reading this is in my Constitutional Law Rights class, and the last story got me. That was absolutely beautiful.

  35. Turn off the phone and listen in class. You are privileged to be a student. Take full advantage and respect your teacher

  36. I am sorry for the tragedies Ms. Lindbergh experienced in her personal life. However, it is stunning to me that she can still write about her father, and the the Times will print it without comment, without mentioning that he was a Nazi sympathizer. She refers to the pain of learning about relationships he had with women in Germany "following the War." Before the War, he was repeatedly telling Americans that Jews were responsible for dragging our country into the fight against Hitler. He accepted a medal from the Nazi regime and later refused to return it . He was a terrible antisemite and racist. This nostalgic piece erases that reality. People are entitled to hold beliefs about their parents which may not be wholly accurate, but when those personal beliefs collide with history, they are different.

  37. @Emily I do thoroughly understand the cognitive incongruence that invades our brains when we encounter the massively complicated true stories of humans and the lives they choose to lead and the opinions, beliefs they develop and hold on to. It does stretch our belief in how this perpetual imbalance of justice and fairness can exist so blatantly in people and in the world. None of us are directly responsible for our parents beliefs even though they have a hand in ours. People really can compartmentalize very well and so his love for his children was held, I’m sure in a completely separate part of his heart/brain. And we as children also do the same. He wasn’t that man you describe with his children. He could have been somebody totally different. That is who she knew and loved. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. We can all make wrong conclusions that we forge ahead and build convictions on, the challenge is to always be open to the possibility that we could be wrong. And that is often very hard to do. But the commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies. Also very hard to do.

  38. @Emily As I was reading this piece, I immediately thought "uh-oh, it's only a matter of time before someone brings up the fact that Lindbergh was an anti-semite." Thanks for fulfilling that prophesy. It seems, however, that you have missed the mark. This piece is so obviously about Reeve's mother, and her relationship with her daughter; your claim that "this nostalgic piece erases that reality" suggests that you've missed the entire point of all of these vignettes. Read them again, be born again, and move on.

  39. It's stunning that you find this stunning.

  40. Kidnappings, especially of young children, have a long half-life in the annals of crime. Elizabeth Smart; the Lindbergh baby; Edgardo Mortara (6 year old Jewish boy kidnapped by a Pope in 1858); and John Paul Getty III, grandson of the oil tycoon, to name just a few. There’s been a recent movie about the Getty kidnapping, Steven Spielberg is reportedly planning a movie about Mortara and the Lindbergh case continues to be under active discussion by connoisseurs of crime. Thanks to the children now residing in our border detention camps, the name of Donald John Trump now takes its place in history alongside Pope Pius IX and Bruno Richard Hauptmann, kidnapper of the Lindbergh child. Who says President Trump hasn’t accomplished anything of significance? https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/04/edgardo-mortara-doctored-memoir/554948/

  41. I find it interesting that Reeve Lindbergh overlooks her father’s antisemitism. I would find that far harder to accept than his illegitimate children—and I would wonder why my mother accepted that aspect of his character.

  42. Wow! What lovely stories and wonderfully told - such a nice respite from all the sad and ugly news!!

  43. Wow. Keep this going.

  44. Sweet essays, thank you. As my wife always wisely notes, love is a verb.

  45. How about we hear from some folks who weren’t born into wealth and privilege, but achieved greatness from scratch ?

  46. “I am equal to my life.” Thank you for sharing that.

  47. I wept at the Lindbergh story. I grew up not 10 miles from the house where the Anne Morrow lost her baby. The trial took place in our small town courthouse. The only thing, other than an outlet mall, for which our small town was ever known. Its lore was part of my growing up. In my adulthood, the ex Alienated our children, and kidnapped their minds. After decades of abusing both me and them, he turned them against me. Like Anne, I too, was blamed for their disappearance, accused of being a bad mother. I have "screamed and yelled" and "whatever you do." I have grieved their death (thought they are not dead). I have been seeking what to do after that. I have died myself. I am seeking that rebirth somehow Anne Morrow was able to bring to terms in her own life. Having always been an open hearted person, abuse brings both an insanity of its own and a temptation to close your heart--out of sheer self-protection. You can't bear the pain anymore. It never ends. The abuser doesn't stop. He never leaves you alone. He uses your children against you... forever. I will carry Anne Morrow's wisdom with me. I am equal to my life;

  48. Such great stories of love and belonging

  49. Thank you all for sharing these stories. You can't know how important they are for people to read. It's so easy for all of us to get caught up in our own lives and struggles and feel we're alone when we go through something traumatic. Knowing there are others who've been there and done that, helps to put things in perspective. I judge myself by the lessons my parents taught me and by their ethics. Even today, when civility is dying and caring for our aging parents and friends is a difficult and sometimes overwhelming part of life, I think about what they would say and do and then, I have an answer to almost any life situation or problem. To my parents, who enlisted in the military service during WWII and fought to maintain the proper balance in the world. To my parents, who taught me to never give up and to show compassion to all people, no matter how indifferent, or encumbered by hate they may be. To my parents, an enduring love.

  50. These are such lovely stories. Thank you.

  51. Blessed are those who can look back and take something positive from even the hardest situations. It strikes me that forgiveness is woven throughout these stories, though I don't believe the word actually appears.

  52. Thanks to these people for sharing their life experience with honesty. Parents are hard to wrap your mind around, much less explain and even siblings have such different views, but they are for sure formative. I hope Lessons in Love from Mom and Dad will be an ongoing thing. It may seem like a minor topic compared to the big news of the day, but it makes you think.

  53. It's worth remembering those acts of sacrifice. They enshrine that one driving force that we all seek to achieve, and or honor in one form or another. Thanks for sharing them here.

  54. I especially appreciated the poignant photos that accompanied these honest and moving reflections. Great piece!

  55. Wow, these stories are so real. I read and enjoyed A Gift From The Sea several years ago. I had no idea of Anna Lindbergh’s “story” at the time; which in turn prompted her book. It just goes to show that we never know exactly where inspiration really comes from ..... Thank you NYT for this inspiring piece.

  56. You offer examples of what I call #ourtopstory, and I wish you success with your project. I also wish The New York Times would commit to reporting the story of achievement in exquisite detail. I maintain (in a work of philosophy) that excellent coverage of excellence yields ideas, insights and perspectives of enduring value. It will lead eventually to digital libraries we access simply by facing the screen and asking questions of people who represent the best in us. If we are to survive, I think it will require us to build an inspiration system on the inspiring truth of achievement. In “a story about how we use our heads and why we are all rich and favored in the future,” The New York Times plays a prominent part as a proxy for excellence. Your piece is but of taste of what is possible. Thank you Debra Weiner.

  57. Beautiful reflections of how even the most difficult parents, or ones that we are shocked by, can still leave us with gifts. Thank you!

  58. I was moved by the transparency. love, and acceptance of human frailty in all three stories. As a fan of "Gifts From the Sea," I was troubled by the affairs that drove Anne to solitude and writing. How strange--these three women, sisters and a friend cavorting with Charles: . But then it hit me...where were all the German men after WWII? Gone. Scarce. Of course the women never married. I don't condone Lindbergh's infidelities and the pain and questioning they brought his family, but on the other side of the coin are three women, whom it seems, desperately wanted families. From here, my imagination runs wild with explanations and possibilities, but sometimes the unexplainable is best left at just that.

  59. More of these, please!

  60. Shedding tears. The good kind. The kind that waters our roots of humanity.

  61. @jbartelloni "Interesting" is a polite way of saying what these men really were.

  62. Reading these stories and the comments just confirms what I’ve always observed: no matter how questionable the man, as long as he doesn’t beat and destroy his children, they will see him as something far superior than objective reality calls for. Sorry. Your dad had 3 other secret families (and was a raging antisemite)? Your dad had your mom deemed incompetent after marrying her at over 60 when she was 30? Your dad drank and raged constantly? I never knew my father. He died before I was born. These stories make me feel lucky.

  63. @BBB Exactly what I thought as I read all these stories.

  64. I enjoyed them all, thank you.

  65. As a parent of two young small children, it is both wonderful and terrifying to read the impact I have on these kids. What resonates mostly today (on Valentine’s Day) is that what is as important as how I treat them, is how well I treat their mother.

  66. At Chris in Manhattan, your comments are dead on. They made me recall a quote from Dr. Theodore Hesberg, Jesuit priest and head of Notre Dame for many years. He said “the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother” . You’re in good company sir.

  67. @Chris I’m glad for both you and your children that you understand that. I realized at a very young age that above all, my parents respected one another. I also saw how they treated other people and taught us to respect and be compassionate for others through simple kind acts. This is how you will reach your children to be empathetic human beings. When my father died when I was 19, I once said to myself, why did this happen to me?” I then answered myself: why NOT you. I had learned that important lesson that there are no guarantees in life.

  68. My grandfather, Grant Keehn, was quite a guy. He felt his kids could be and do anything they wanted. No real stereotypes, restrictions. Thanks Dorka for your good, open words.

  69. I've always thought Anne Morrow Lindbergh was extraordinary, and the mini portrait here illuminated why. Any one of the things this woman suffered, especially the kidnapping and murder of her baby and the public spectacle that followed, would have sunk most of us, but she kept rising. I had no idea that Charles-- already profoundly flawed because of his infatuation with Hitler and Hitler's ideology--was a serial bigamist. It just shows that once a moral barometer goes askew, it breaks down on all fronts. My sense of her relationship with him is that his politics literally did not figure in their marriage. Just as he hid not one but three families from her, I think he also kept silent about his diabolical leanings. It's taken decades for them to come into focus to outsiders and historians. The axioms shared here might risk sounding sentimental, but it is so clear that they're forged of steel tempered in extraordinary fires. I cannot think of a simultaneously more simple or profound koan than hers. “I am equal to my life.”

  70. well said.

  71. Thank you Anne Reeve for sharing these personal moments; for this beautiful piece. It really resonates with me. I have shared it with others. It is the truly helpful sentiment when facing loss... "I am equal to my life."

  72. @marjorie Me too!

  73. All stories made me cry. Made me think of my parents again and thinking how blessed I am. Wow! Passed them on to my daughter newlyweds with 2 year old. My mom used to say all the time: “ Who says you supposed to be happy?” Thank you so so much. I read them two times and passed them on to my Galentines.

  74. To paraphrase someone from a very different context: "Is it wrong that I'm crying?"

  75. I am a psychoanalyst and I am used to collaboratively exploring with my patients the ways in which impairments in their sense of worth or in their values may reflect the destructive aspects of the influence of primary caregivers, especially in early childhood. The damage can be very hard to overcome because what we all took in when we were babies and young children we absorbed uncritically as if it were from the gods. We took it in via the injuries we suffered as well as the identifications we formed. These stories are so moving (thank you Debra Weiner) because they highlight how much many also absorb that is good and inspiring of growth as well as the extent to which human courage and creative will, supported by others and sometimes even by the best that otherwise hurtful caregivers have offered, can triumph in how we ourselves shape our choices, our being. So much to think about here regarding the tension between overwhelming damaging influence and the emergence of transformative moral commitment and action at individual and communal levels. We are keenly aware these days of how much hangs in the balance as to which will prevail.