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The Mom Gene; When to Shut it Down, Shut Up and Butt Out

Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash

I’ve been a mom for 33 years. I’ve raised four children; the three sons I gave birth to and the daughter I married into. We refer to her as my bonus daughter. These terrific humans range in age from 22–33. When they grow into adults and leave the nest, it’s time to cut the apron strings, but then there’s that “mom gene.” My kids have been pretty good at activating the “mom gene” over the past fifteen years or so. This is my story.

I wasn’t a perfect mom. Hell, I don’t think there is a perfect mom, unless we revisit those TV mothers from the sitcoms of the 60’s and 70’s. I did however, do whatever I had to do to take care of my kids, both as a single and a married mom. I made sure everyone was housed, fed and clothed. I was that mom at cheer practice, the one waiting in the pickup lines after day trips and the one that would work overtime so that the boys could go on their field trips. I tried to raise intelligent, independent, fundamentally good people.

Not to blow my own horn, but I think I did a pretty darn good job, especially with the help of my husband. I can tell you what 3/4 of them are doing right now, and honestly it’s pretty good. The rogue 1/4 has taken himself off of my radar.

He is the one I’ll address first. He was affected the most when his dad and I divorced. He was 8 when we separated. While initially he was okay with his step-dad, the older he got, the more mouthy and rebellious he became. We caught him sneaking out of his bedroom window at the age of fifteen to go see his girlfriend in the wee hours of the morning on school nights. His grades, somehow, were really good, and we still don’t quite get how he pulled that off based on the amount of sleep he wasn’t getting. He decided to move half way across the country before his junior year in high school to live with his dad. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t stop him. Eventually he moved back and proceeded to get himself some jail time, took a plea and is a felon. We tried to help him as much as we could, but he always did march to the tune of a different drummer. He lives out of state, now, and stopped contact with one of his brothers and my husband and me. The “mom gene” kicked into high gear, but it was time to shut it down and butt out. I left him a birthday message on his Facebook page a couple months back, but there was absolutely no acknowledgement. I’m just leaving it alone, periodically checking his Facebook for activity that proves he is alive.

Another of my sons was medically retired from the Air Force with a bi-polar/PTSD diagnosis after trying to hurt himself after a tour in the desert. We drove up to Washington DC to visit him at Walter Reid Army Medical Center as soon as we were given the okay to do so. We let him move back in with us as he was transitioning out of the Service, after which he took a really good job and was able to buy his own comfortable home. Out of the blue, one day, he came to me and said he was quitting his job and moving back across the country with his brother (my rogue child). We tried to convince him otherwise, but he wasn’t having it. Leaving a great job with no notice and a mortgage? Guess what the “mom gene” did? Yes, it came out of hibernation, so I shut it down and shut myself up. It was one of the most difficult times for me to do so, but I did it. He later became engaged to a woman I tried to like, but during our initial conversations, she was really abrasive and downright verbally abusive, especially after I told her we were not in a financial position to drop the amount of cash it was going to take to fly out for the wedding. Needless to say, I had my own “mom gene”-induced opionions about this whole thing, but, yes, I shut it down, shut up and left it alone. His wife and I are okay now, and have been known to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders during several major life events.

My daughter? Yeah, she’s made some missteps in life, and while I won’t go into them here, please know that I shut up and butted out. All that being said? She is the mom of our sweet, three-year-old grandson, works hard at her job and continues to improve her situation. We’re really proud of how far she’s come. Believe me when I tell you, though, that there were a whole lot of “mom gene” moments with that young lady.

Then there is the final son. He has a good job, transferred back to North Carolina from Washington with his wife early last spring. They stayed with us for several months before they finally found a place of their own. His wife has a hard time holding down a job, and had no way to help pay for the incredible amount of debt that they had gotten him into. Not a week goes by when he gets himself into some sort of situation and I’m getting an “S.O.S.” phone call or a text. Sometimes he shows that he has more book smarts than common sense, and the long-dormant “mom gene” has come out full swing over the past few months, most recently today. I am biting my tongue, sitting on my hands, trying like hell to shut it down, shut up and butt out right now. This time? In my humble opinion, he is about to make a financial mistake of epic proportions. Just because the missus has managed to keep a job for more than two weeks is not a reason to go out and put yourself in even more debt than you are already struggling with. Just sayin’…

While I may be able to keep the “mom gene” at bay right now, woe be unto him when the day comes that he asks me to borrow money. The “mom gene” will be the least of his worries!


Many of the mistakes/poor choices I’ve seen these “kids” make, I can say with much certainty that I’ve made them, too, 20 or more years ago. I’m pretty sure my mom had to shut down her own “mom gene” on several occasions when I was a young adult to let me learn my own lessons. I am trying very hard to be like my own mother.

I have no idea why, once they all turned 18 and left the nest, I still feel responsible for their bad decisions. I sure don’t take credit for their good ones. It’s not that I worry that their actions will be be a reflection on me, because I know they won’t (provided one of them doesn’t murder someone, because that’s when all the mom-judges come out). I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that I will become desensitized to the “mom gene,” as much as it’s been activated these past months. At least I hope so, because it’s like watching your kid run headlong toward a pit and you’ve lost your voice and can’t warn them.

I’m working really hard on this, though. I’ll get there. Just not today.

Julie Cusimano Wall is the author of Random Musings From a Type-A Workaholic, a contributor at “The Ascent,” Central Transport Supervisor at a local hospital, Neither Left- nor Right-Leaning, tender-hearted and an extremely outspoken advocate for people that don’t get to experience privilege.