Pertinacious: Why I’m Grateful My Mother Wasn’t My Friend

Like most toddlers, I had a talent for misbehaving. My artistic genius covered the walls of our house, as well as the inside of my father’s new car. Before the days when Santa sent elven spies to ensure good behavior, I cheerfully ripped the plates off my brother’s stegosaurus ornament and peeled the icing off the Christmas lights.

My mother was quick to reprimand me for my misconduct and quick to correct my misconceptions regarding who was in charge. After one such rebuke, so the legend goes, I waited until she turned her back and promptly returned to my campaign of destruction. When she disciplined me a second time, my eyes watered, my lower lip quivered, and I said, “You’re supposed to be my friend.”

I was quite the rapscallion as a child. Fortunately, my mother was pertinacious in her parenting.

Weird Word: Pertinacious

Pertinacious is an adjective meaning “holding tenaciously to a purpose; resolute.” [1] First recorded in its noun form, pertinacity, this cousin of tenacious arrived in English in the early 15th century from the Old and Middle French words for “obstinate” and “stubborn.” [2]

Why it Matters

As a child, much of what my mother did exasperated me. As an adult, those actions are what I’m most grateful for. Here are a few of countless examples:

My mother taught me how to clean the bathroom. If I didn’t clean it well enough, I cleaned it again. And again. And again—as many times as it took to pass her inspection. Because of this, I’m able to keep my own home clean enough to have civilized company.

My mother set clear expectations. She condensed them into four words: Act like a Christian. More than setting this expectation, my mother modeled good behavior. I learned to be forgiving, honest, and generous by watching how my mother lived.

My mother never used a screen to babysit me. Instead, she’d throw us hooligans in the backyard or basement and make us figure out how to entertain ourselves. I whined then, but now I credit those times of exile for teaching me creativity and problem-solving.

I never had to compete with a screen for my mother’s attention. If I was talking to her, she was looking at me. Observe a modern family for five minutes, and you’ll realize how special that is. My mother came to every band concert, volleyball game, and award ceremony, even when I begged her not to ruin my teenage social life.

If my mother was pertinacious in her discipline, she was even more so in her love. If she had been paid for every hour she spent cleaning up vomit, breaking up fights, and listening to me rage-cry about bad haircuts, she’d have more gold than Solomon’s temple. I know this because I’m twenty-eight years old, and I still call her when I need to cry. She answers. Every. Single. Time.

My mother is my hero, not in spite of her pertinacity, but because of it.

For the exhausted mothers out there thinking it would be easier to keep the kids happy, to be their friend, don’t give up. Don’t clean the bathroom yourself, even though it’s faster than getting your kids to do it. Don’t let YouTube babysit your kids, even though it’s the only thing that keeps them quiet. Don’t stop listening to your children’s explosive sobbing, even if it’s over something as stupid as a bad haircut.

Be pertinacious. Your kids will thank you for it. Eventually.


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[1] “Pertinacious | Definition of Pertinacious at Dictionary.Com.” Accessed May 11, 2019. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pertinacious.

[2] “Pertinacity | Origin and Meaning of Pertinacity by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Accessed May 11, 2019. https://www.etymonline.com/word/pertinacity.

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