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A Mother's Love Inspires Words Of Guidance



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A Mother’s Love Inspires Words Of Guidance

By Larissa Lytwyn

When self-described social justice advocate Diane Monti-Catania of Bridgewater began working with battered women in the early 1980s, she remembered wondering, “Who [are] these men and what kind of families did they grow up in that they didn’t learn love from their mothers?”

As she began raising her now 12- and 14-year-old sons, she suddenly recognized “the challenge” of rearing young boys in a society twisted in “mixed messages about power and control for males.”

Two summers ago, she poured her thoughts into a letter reflecting on social values from love and faith to humor, patience, and optimism aimed at guiding her boys to a healthy adulthood.

The final product, For You, My Sons, also includes letters from 20 colleagues and friends Ms Monti-Catania describes as “all good mothers” to their sons.

Included were Newtown residents Cheryl Clark Meisel and Elaine Abrams.

“There are many challenges facing boys today,” said Ms Clark, “from peer pressure to pressure to succeed in school and in the world, to uncertainty about the state of the world.”

Ms Clark is the mother of three children ages 19, 16, and 13.

“The main theme of my letter was trust,” she said.

Her letter reflects on the difficulty of parents letting go of their children as they get older, particularly when they leave home for the first time, whether it is their first day of kindergarten or their first day living outside their parents’ house — often, for good.

In her letter, Ms Clark writes, “We try to give the boys the skills and confidence to let go, and we have to trust them until they come back again, and they have to trust us to be there.”

Ms Abrams agreed that there were many “mixed messages” in society that propagate deeply contrasted values to the importance of hard work, honesty, and respect she sought to imbue in her son, Matthew, now 18.

“I wanted my letter to emphasize that money is not the end all,” she said. “Hard work does pay off, not only in a paycheck.”

Happiness, she added, was not contingent on material acquisition.

While she first focused on making her young son “happy,” she said she has since realized that it is not her responsibility nor purpose as a parent to do so.

 “It’s important to set limits,” Ms Monti-Catania added. “For example, my sons would love to go to the movies every day of their summer vacation. But I know that’s not necessarily positive for their development.”

The book’s primary theme, Ms Monti-Catania continued, a sentiment she believed was echoed in each letter, was the message of being true to yourself.

“I also wanted to emphasize that we are all able to make our own choices, that we can choose how we want to handle any situation,” she said.

Included in her letter is a “Choices Checklist.” Ms Monti-Catania encourages young readers to consider several possibilities before making a decision, including whether anyone, including themselves, would be hurt by the decision, whether they would still make it if their parents were present, the decision’s potential best and worst outcomes, and whether they should discuss the choice first with anyone before making it.

The subtitle to For You, My Sons is A Dialogue Between Mothers and Sons.

“I struggled with the [subtitle] piece for a while,” Ms Monti-Catania admitted. “I kept putting it in and taking it out.”

Ultimately, she said, while she knew the book itself was not written in dialogue form, she hoped the book would inspire dialogue between mothers and sons.

“So, I finally decided to leave it in,” she said.

The formats of the letters, she said, varied.

“There were letters written to sons as young as 6 months and as old as 55,” she said. “There was no set length. Some letters were long; others were a paragraph. The focus was simply getting the thought across.”

Ms Abrams and Ms Monti-Catania agreed that “open communication” was essential to raising children.

“I’ve had the privilege of having a flexible work schedule,” Ms Abrams, recounting her experience working at Yale University in New Haven while Matthew was a student at Newtown Middle School.

“The middle school years are a difficult time,” she remembers. “I wanted to make sure that I was back by 2:30 or 3 pm.”

She was quick to note, however, her good fortune in her ability to maintain such a schedule.

“It’s important to spend time with your children, to be there, as much as you can,” she said. “I understood the privilege of what I was able to do.”

She said she also made sure that Matthew understood how fortunate he was to be born into a position of privilege.

For the second consecutive summer, Matthew is working as a youth counselor with children of varied ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds at the Lakewood YMCA day camp in Trumbull.

“The other day he told me that he saw how his position at the camp was more than a job,” Ms Abrams said. “He said it was about giving back [to the community].”

Ms Monti-Catania shared a story about her 14-year-old son’s essay reading at his recent graduation ceremony from Shepaug Valley Middle School in Washington.

“The essay was called ‘Wherever You Go, Go With All Your Heart,’ and it was rewarding to see how it reflected the values my husband and I tried to instill in him,” Ms Monti-Catania said. “It was very moving.”

The women said that their sons were very supportive of the book and enjoyed reading their letters.

In a world of email and telephones, Ms Monti-Catania noted, there was something timeless and precious about letter writing.

“It’s really a record of something,” she said. “Something to keep and hold onto.”

Ms Monti-Catania is presently working on a similar-themed book for girls.

“Obviously, I don’t have any daughters,” she said, “but I was motivated to write this partly from my work with battered women.”

For You, My Sons is available at wholesale booksellers, Borders, and online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. The book may also be obtained directly from the publisher, Publish America, at publishamerica.com.

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