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Northland moms: Five women talk about parenting, Mothers Day

Katie Beeman Erickson helps daughter Adrienne with a word while the 6-year-old was reading to her and sister Sydney, 8. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Ingrid and Aaron Hornibrook holds their 5-month-old daughters Freyja and Adeline.2 / 3
LEFT: Jim and Deborah Petersen-Perlman are adjusting to life with an empty nest. This picture is from when all four of their children were at home. Jacob is in the front, at right. In back, left to right, are Leah, Samuel and Nina. RIGHT: Deborah Petersen-Perlman’s children today, Leah, Nina, Sam and Jacob.3 / 3

Mike Creger

Forum News Service

One just wants to hang out with other moms on Sunday and talk about anything but the kids. Another will still be juggling her 5-month-old twins. A new empty-nest grandmother will be thankful for a visit with two of her four children in the Twin Cities area. A mother of three will have mixed feelings on Mother's Day, about a loss from the past and the more recent loss of her mother. A fifth will try to bask in the spirit of the origins of Mother's Day, that of protest and women's rights.

Five women from Duluth recently offered thoughtful notions on what it's like to be a mother today and yesterday — and how a day set aside to honor them plays through their passions and philosophies.

One thing is clear from this small snapshot of Northland mothers whose ages range from 34 to 61. There's more going on than a serene smile at brunch. Their words show that underneath is a wealth of emotion and reflection.

The grounded mother

In an age of helicopter parenting, Katie Beeman Erickson remains firmly grounded in how she is raising her two girls, ages 8 and 6.

"I'm not extreme. My kids are raised as we were raised in the '80s — when Mom told us to play outside all day."

"Mothering is work," she said, and adding to that by trying to control every moment of a child's life seems like unneeded work. She said she often feels like an outcast because of her philosophy, but, so be it.

Sunday will be no different than the handful of Mother's Days in the past. Beeman Erickson will hang with a clutch of other moms on a hike, at lunch or at dinner. Children will not be the topic of conversation, she said.

"We don't talk about kids, even though they do exist," she said. She's struggled to find like-minded "rogue" parents, but they are out there, she said.

She met two of her current best friends in grade school. They grew up with similar parenting styles, she said, and that has carried over to how the three mothers parent today.

"We always had enough rope to hang ourselves," she said. "And if we did, we suffered the consequences."

Beeman Erickson runs the Duluth Counseling Center and is a psychotherapist. She said she has seen the extremes of "helicopter parenting" and it is "destroying children." When parents do everything for their kids, she said, they end up with limited coping skills.

She recalls with relish her days as a child in the mid-1980s. She would be gone all day long in the summers, she said, "and with no sunscreen. We swam without life jackets."

It's that low-key parenting she hopes can return with a simple look back. "I hope my generation can learn from the generation before them."

Double duty

Ingrid Hornibrook flippantly says that all she wants for Mother's Day is "to be alone. To do whatever I want, uninterrupted for hours on end."

Her voice reveals a woman who's been dealing "fast and furious" with twin baby girls the past five months.

Laughter, then reality sets in. "We're a pod," she said. Her family will do something together, most likely the annual St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour in Chisago County.

"I think I want to be alone," she said, emphasizing the word "think." "But I would miss my girls. I miss them during nap time."

Hornibrook said her first Mother's Day as a mother brings a new perspective on how she thinks of her own mother. "I never understood fully how (mothers) earn the day," she said.

Her mother has been up a few days each week to help with the twins. Grandmother jumped on the chance, she said. "She wants to get to know them as babies."

Hornibrook recalls making meals for her mother on her day in May, then "she did what she wanted to." It was a break because, by Monday, it was "game on" for the return to motherhood.

Hornibrook is a freelance writer and blogs occasionally on her new role as a mother. (

In February, she wrote about getting words of encouragement from people, saying things will get easier with time.

"You want to grab these people by the shoulders and search their eyes for the answer as to when it gets easier as you slump to the floor, plug your ears and rock back and forth to get a small break from the screaming baby in the other room," Hornibrook wrote. "You may even consider giving them your baby in exchange for eight hours of sleep. But you don't. You keep your composure, smile your weary new-parent smile and talk about how rewarding it is caring for your infant."

Empty nest

When Deborah Petersen-Perlman dropped her oldest child off at college in Iowa, she swears she and her husband Jim cried "from the dorm room to the Minnesota border." Successive instances of her three other children leaving home got easier each time, she said, sort of.

"I had friends who said they looked forward to having children out of the house," she said. "It broke my heart."

Today, her children are far-flung. Two live in the Twin Cities area, one on the West Coast and one in Europe. "I'm happy to get some time with them when I can," she said.

Her daughter Nina recently had a baby boy, making Petersen-Perlman a grandmother for the first time. She will visit with Arthur and her daughter as part of Mother's Day.

"She's valued me as a mother," Petersen-Perlman said of Nina. It didn't take her newly minted motherhood to realize it, she said. "She's desperately wanted to be a mother herself."

Father's Day might be the more celebrated Sunday in the family. Petersen-Perlman said it was Jim who did the day-to-day parenting as she worked. It's a collaboration that worked, she said, in "equipping our children to be capable adults."

Many Mother's Day weekends have been spent with Jim's side of the family, she said. He'll be out of town, so she'll change things up by seeing her daughter and son.

Petersen-Perlman laughs about a fantasy she has basked in from time to time. "They'd all come back, and we'd live in a family commune," she said.

It's a sign of what she's proud of as a mother today. "I love spending time with my kids. They are full-hearted, compassionate adults."

The mixed bag

"Mother's Day can be tricky," said Jane Rupel. "It's a complicated thing. I don't want this to be a sob story, but Mother's Day can be hard for someone who's lost a child."

In December 2001, her third child was stillborn at 9 months.

"The first Mother's Day (after that) was brutal," she said. "They've gotten better."

She said she recalls little about Mother's Day last year. It came shortly after her mother died.

Rupel said she mentions this so people might understand that everyone has different feelings about the day. Some struggle with parenting. Some children have conflicted feelings about their childhoods. Couples struggle with fertility.

It isn't always a Hallmark moment about "perfect moms" or treating mothers like "Queen for a day," she said.

Her own children feel the cultural pressure, she said. "I try to put the message out. I just want to have a nice day. I don't want the pressure."

That might mean a hike, picnic or brunch. Over the years, she's received a goodly amount of items made by her three children in day care and school. She has coffee mugs and "interesting ceramic creatures."

Her own mother was "complicated," she said, but she gets it today. Rupel was the youngest of eight children.

When someone asked her mother what she'd like for Mother's Day, she would respond with "a nap" or for the kids to "stop fighting."

If Rupel is sad on Sunday about her losses, she wants her family to knows that it can be OK, she said. It's not dysfunction, she said. We all have sadness and grief and should "make room for it, let it come and go."

Whatever feelings well up Sunday, she'll embrace the fact that she's tried her best to help her children "come into their own."

"This is what it's like to be human," she said. "You can't aspire to a media version (of Mother's Day). Embrace it all. Be glad for parts that don't hurt."

"I just try to be present."


Rebecca St. George hears it a lot. Her children are 12 and 14. People used to tell her to appreciate the baby years because as children cruise toward the teen years, it all changes.

"I'm finding it's not so terrible," she said. She recalled an article she read and related to. "When they are small, we are writing their story. Now they want to tell their own story."

She's likely going to spend some time telling her children about how Mother's Day isn't just "dinner and flowers," she said. "There's a bigger picture of how we treat our mothers."

She mentions the origins of Mother's Day as protest, as Julia Ward Howe proclaimed in 1870, 12 years after the first Mother's Day was established to fight infant mortality.

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience," Ward Howe wrote. "We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

"I love that," St. George said. "I'm intrigued by the history."

Today, of course, Mother's Day has all the commercial trappings of other holidays, she said. She likes to consider her time growing up in the 1970s and 1980s as the "pre-Hallmarking of holidays." She made gifts for her mother each year, she said. Her father presented the flowers and jewelry.

Her own motherhood brought its own realizations, she said. "It changes how you look at your mom."

As the youngest of six children, she saw for herself the "long goodbye" that parents go through as they leave home. She's not too worried, she said, because she's enjoying finding out just what her children can become.

"To me, it's a long hello," she said. "They're becoming a full person that I really like. They're not friends, exactly, they're just new people."

CLICK HERE: Mother's Day alternatives: Think outside the brunch