HOMETOWN Just outside of Chicago
ON THE WEB Mary O’Donohue.com
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two; my son is 15 and my daughter is 10
DAY JOB I work freelance in TV production and was an editing supervisor for Oprah for the last 8 years of the show. I’m also the author of an award winning parenting book, When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, based on a system I created to teach kids 12 values like gratitude, compassion, self-respect, and respect for others. I’m also a speaker, and I talk to groups about the power of everyday values from childhood onward.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Happily married
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK So hard to choose! We literally have hundreds of children’s books in our house. I am so grateful to talented people like Eric Carle, Mary Pope Osborne, Roald Dahl, Chris Von Allsburg, and Brian Selznick, whose work has been a wonderful part of my son and daughter’s childhoods. But if I had to pick a favorite it would be Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I loved it when I was very young and to be able to read it to my own two children brought the joy full circle. I have probably read it a hundred times! I love it because it’s so whimsical and yet has a gentle message, and it’s the perfect book to read aloud. My kids always looked forward to the line “Hey! I like green eggs and ham! I do. I like them Sam I Am!”
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
It changes. When I was working for the Oprah Show (often 6 days a week with long hours) and writing my book, my husband Jim took over just about everything at home, in spite of the fact that he owned his own business. I learned that it doesn’t always work to divide parenting and home responsibilities 50/50 – in real, everyday life, responsibilities shift back and forth all the time. What matters is commitment – if both parents have their priorities straight and are committed to each other and to their children – just about anything is possible. Not always easy, but possible!
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
When I became a mother, it felt like my own creativity was unleashed. Part of the experience of raising children is the realization that you as a parent help create their experience of the world. From the time when my children were very young, I’ve always wanted them to feel safe and loved, and to see the world as a wonderful place to explore, learn, and have fun. I invented songs and games for just about every activity when they were babies and toddlers. I think my children thought that these songs just existed in the world – they didn’t realize I was often making them up on the spot! Now as the mom of a ‘tween daughter and a teen son, I realize that this creativity is one of the many gifts my children have given me.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
Parenting can be hard on a relationship, but it can also strengthen it. My husband and I don’t always agree on how to handle every parenting situation, but that has provided us with an opportunity to grow as people and to see the other person’s point of view. It isn’t always easy but I’m so grateful to have a partner in parenting because it’s truly the most difficult and important thing either of us has ever done.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
When I was 11 years old, my grandmother died and then ten weeks later my dad passed away. The painful sense of loss I felt helped me realize what my priorities were in life, even at that young age. Since then, people and relationships have always been the most important part of my life. So I think having my priorities straight is my greatest strength as a mom.
Childhood is so fleeting and I really treasure my time with my children. I am often busy, sometimes writing on deadlines, and it’s hard to balance work demands with family life. I remember one day when I was writing my book at home and I heard a knock on my office door. It was my daughter who was 7 years old at the time. I was really making progress and I didn’t want to stop, so I called out “Is this an emergency?” My daughter quietly replied. “I just wanted a hug, mommy.” I just stopped right there. I remember saying, “Well come in, because that’s an emergency!” My daughter is 10 now but she will still come up to me, reach out and say, “Emergency, mom.” And I stop whatever I’m doing and give her a hug.
My greatest weakness is probably my directness. I am a very straightforward person and I’ve learned that even when I don’t mean to say something hurtful it can come across that way because I’m so direct. So I’ve really learned to try and take a moment and phrase what I want to say in a more thoughtful way.
WHAT ARE YOUR SPOUSE’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
My husband is very funny and silly. He loves to play games, ride bikes, and have fun with our children. He’s also a really insightful person, who sees things from a different perspective than mine, and I hate to admit this, but he’s often right! He’s also the type of person who would do anything for his family, and I really admire him. In terms of weaknesses, I think he’d like to be more patient as a parent.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
My kids often go to my mom’s house. We live really close by so it’s ideal and they really enjoy being there. I love that my daughter bakes with grandma and my son will make her a cup of tea. They’re really blessed to have amazing grandparents – they love spending time with my husband’s parents as well.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
Tough question! For some reason the one that comes to mind is when my son was about 4 years old and he was really misbehaving. He was being so difficult that I blurted out “If you don’t behave, you don’t get to go to preschool tomorrow!” He really loved preschool, so this was the ultimate punishment, and I didn’t really want to follow through. But my son continued to misbehave so I called the preschool and told the secretary that he wouldn’t be in the next day. She asked about the reason for the absence and I told her the truth. She did not approve of my disciplinary approach, and frankly neither did I. But I didn’t want my son to think I wouldn’t follow through on everything I said – whether it was about a reward or punishment, so I had to stick with it and keep him home from school.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
I’m grateful to say there have been many amazing moments and they just keep coming. When my kids were young, believe it or not, some of my best parenting moments came in the middle of the night, when they would wake up crying or scared. Just knowing I could comfort my children and make them smile has always meant the world to me. We would sit together on the rocking chair and I would tell them stories and sing to them as they fell back asleep. I would often sit up for quite a while, just holding my son or daughter and treasuring the moment.