“Mother, can you hear me?”

“Mother, may I have a fried PB&J?”

A few weeks ago, I heard these words coming from our youngest.

My immediate response was almost visceral, annoyed. “Emmy, don’t you ‘Mother’ me!” 

Mommy, mama, even mom is acceptable, but don’t call me “Mother.” 

“And, sure you can, but why are you asking me permission?”

Joking aside, I made her the sandwich. But I was also taken back to the single most stressed point my own mom taught me growing up… and it’s surprising to most.

She told me constantly, even from a young age, “Do NOT ask for permission. Just do it.” Furthermore, “If you are always asking for permission, you give someone else the opportunity to tell you no.”

This advice caused me to develop a fierce level of independence and often learn life lessons the hard way, resulting from failure or others’ disapproval and sometimes shock at my actions.

In preschool, I was named the “Corner Queen” for wanting to paint, cut, and, heaven forbid, use the potty independently in the adults-only restroom with the door locked. 

I still think tiny, tot-sized toilets are ridiculous. 

When I was five, I was convinced I could swim with floaties on my ankles… my poor grandfather had to jump in and save me. 

In elementary school, I stayed dirty with tangled hair and skinned knees. My sitter once tried to teach me a lesson by pouring straight rubbing alcohol on my fresh wounds from running — again — up the driveway and falling.

I couldn’t resist using the off-limits parallel bars in gym class. They were always there, unused, and were the perfect opportunity for me to refine my moves outside of gymnastics lessons. More reps meant I could advance to the next class level, after all. As a result, I had my share of encounters with “Black Bart” — my gym teacher’s paddle.

Middle school days were rough. I was a terrible, and I mean terrible, student. The sit-and-listen approach was not my jam. The result: bad grades, and a reputation of not being very smart. 

The liberating word

Finally, as a high school freshman I was blessed with a writing teacher who allowed us the best word in the English language: freedom. 

Freedom to be creative. Freedom to move about the classroom. Freedom to write our ideas and thoughts. After, that is, we mastered the five-paragraph essay.

As an adult, the sense of autonomy I learned from being OK with failures has encouraged me to raise my hand and attempt tasks I wasn’t immediately qualified for, but willing to try. 

As we all look toward the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend, I want you to consider, as therapists, as nurses, and as facility administrators, what do your residents have to ask permission to do? Is there a way to ease those rules safely to allow greater levels of choice and independence to truly honor the highest level of practical well-being?

Those we serve daily are adults — they have lived meaningful lives. We should continue to honor their ability to not ask approval even once they enter the post-acute care spectrum.

Let us love them and care for them, but not “mother” them. 

Allow them to fail, to learn, and to try again.

When care teams are assisting with bathing, dressing, toileting and other essential activities of daily living, please have an understanding of how these were completed in their prior home natural environment. 

Provide freedom of movement and support ambulation abilities for as long as possible. Remember, gait is tied to procedural memory and often stays intact when we don’t limit opportunities. 

Support choice in diet, nutrition and whole foods over supplements. 

Small changes can yield profound impacts, instilling a sense of pride in one’s abilities. So, this Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate not just mothers, but the spirit of independence in all those we care for.

Renee Kinder, MS, CCC-SLP, RAC-CT, serves as the Executive Vice President of Clinical Services for Broad River Rehab. Additionally, she contributes her expertise as a member of the American Speech Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Healthcare and Economics Committee, the University of Kentucky College of Medicine community faculty, and an advisor to the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Current Procedural Terminology CPT® Editorial Panel, and a member of the AMA Digital Medicine Payment Advisory Group. She can be contacted here.

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