lessons motherhood has taught me

motherless | Chef Gretchen Hanson

Lessons motherhood has taught me

Femme and Fortune posted this article this week. You can find it here. I thought I would post the original version with all the photos as well xogh



Lessons motherhood has taught me, by a single working mother

When I was a little girl I was raised by a single teenaged mom. My upbringing was a tragedy in every way you can imagine. I didn’t know much about parenting when I had my eldest daughter at twice her age, but I knew that I was going to have to do a better job unless I wanted to pay for twenty years of therapy. The list below is one I compiled from all the negatives in my own upbringing. I converted the lessons into growth experiences and have tried to stay true to their principles for the last seventeen years. I secretly believe that as mothers we are responsible for what happens in the world. The children we raise are the thought leaders of tomorrow. I raised my children while juggling a career and highly demanding business. I didn’t always do a great job, but I did learn from my mistakes and the mistakes made during my own childhood.

Keep your promises. If there is one thing I remember from my upbringing, it is that an adult’s word meant exactly nothing at all. I vowed at a very young age, that when I had children, I would not make promises I couldn’t keep. It means I am cagey about saying ‘yes’ to all the things children ask for (Disneyland, horses, camping) but on the upside, I rarely disappoint them too badly. Your kids should be able to trust that you are the one adult in their life that won’t let them down. If their other parent is a “Disneyland Dad” make sure that you demonstrate what day in and day out commitment looks like.

Say ‘yes’ whenever possible. They will ask if they can wash your car when it’s going to rain. They will ask to make chocolate cupcakes when it’s time for dinner. They will ask for you to teach them how to drink a honeysuckle blossom when you just settled down with a glass of wine and a good book. Those were just tonight’s ‘yes’s’. Your children are always on their own schedule and they don’t notice what you are in the middle of. Their boundless enthusiasms should be indulged whenever possible. Say an enthusiastic ‘YES’ and put down whatever you are doing if you can.

And the corollary: if you can’t say yes, then say maybe.  Today on our way home from school we read “17 great day trips in Delaware” the ones that I could afford to say ‘yes’ to I did, the ones I wanted to say ‘no’ to, I said ‘maybe.’ I’m not making a promise I’m going to break, but I didn’t say ‘no.’ Life is filled with infinite possibility, and your ‘no’ shuts that down and becomes all they hear in their head.  Your limitations are not theirs. If you teach them that magic may exist then they will build fairy houses and write letters to leprechauns. If you teach them that they may be president of the United States someday then they will work hard to make that a possibility. Literally anything is a ‘maybe’ in our house.

Apologize. Sometimes we mess up. Sometimes we shout. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we are just plain grumpy. If you forgot what you promised then admit you were wrong, and say you are sorry immediately. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame something/someone else. Own up, make a heartfelt apology, and do better next time. I have found the greatest bonding with my children has come from my vulnerability.

Be the bad guy. You cannot always be their best friend. It’s ok to set consequences to their behavior and actions. If taking away a cell phone or car keys do that, then, yes ma’am, set those limits. My eldest daughter used all my facial masks without permission and lost her car keys for three days. As I explained to her, it’s not about the money, it’s about respecting my boundaries. My youngest daughter consistently forgot to brush her teeth and was told after the hundredth time that if she forgot again I would take her cell phone on the offending day from here on out. I didn’t shout, I didn’t yell, I was just very clear about consequences and the behavior straightened itself out. Very quickly I may add.

Get along with their other parent. Married or not, one of the most important skills your children are going to learn from you is how to manage conflict. How you speak to their other parent in their presence, how you resolve disagreements, and the level of civility and respect that you use when addressing conflict are exactly what they will do as well. I have two children at home who both have different fathers. All of us celebrate birthday’s together, holidays together and milestones together. If we have a disagreement (admittedly, there are many) it is always out of the children’s hearing or framed as a discussion that can be tabled at any point tempers begin to flare. Any highly emotional topics are never brought up in front of the children, until we have worked our way to a mutually acceptable solution either through joint therapy, mediation or conversation. One father did not honor this commitment to civility last year and afterwards sat down to apologize to all of our combined children for how he spoke to their mother. No, I didn’t make him. He realized that his/mine/our children were extremely upset about what he had said in anger. Raised voices happen, I have ex-husbands and I totally get it, just not in front of the kids.

Time is about quality not quantity. You may only have twenty minutes at the end of the night, but be present for that entire twenty minutes. Ask them what the best moment of their day was and really listen to the answer. Your twenty minutes of undivided attention is the most important gift you can give each and every day.

Teach value oriented lessons. My daughter wrote an essay in junior high about how I told her to always leave the world a better place than she found it. She casually noted that the place I taught her to do this was a public restroom. Where ever you are, that is where your classroom is. If you are a single mom like me, you probably have taken your kid to work with you on more than one occasion. Teach them what it means to be a working mother. If money is short, teach them to budget and prioritize. If you see someone getting bullied or an injustice, teach them how to stand up and do the right thing. If there is something they want, teach them to work for it, rather than just giving it to them. Every single day is filled with opportunities to create conversations about living a life with value.

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Spills, table manners, messy rooms, a trashed house, smelly dogs, and chores undone…and those are just from today. The bottom line is if no one is dead, then it probably can be fixed.

Never say anything that can’t be unsaid: We all have those tapes playing in our head from childhood of statements made to us, which we remember in lurid detail. Mine was my mother telling me I embarrassed her.  To go put clothes on instead of my bathing suit. She couldn’t ‘relate’ to me being fat. Ouch. I spent the next two decades battling body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. My 11 year is old is now admittedly more than slightly chubby and when I tell her how beautiful she is, she replies “I KNOW mommy.” As if too much repetition of her fabulousness is tedious. Make a list of the things you will NEVER say to your kids. Memorize it. You will save a fortune in therapy later. You’re welcome.

Eat dinner with them every night you can. Lose the phone, stop typing, tapping, scrolling, swiping right or downloading. Make them food they like, and never make mealtimes a battle ground. If there is one thing I have learned as a chef, it is that so many our memories from childhood come from food and being fed lovingly. If your kids don’t like vegetables refer to my blog for “food games we play.” If they are picky, make sure the food they like as healthy as possible, but never battle at the dinner table. Another dinner without a full serving of vegetables will not be the end of the universe as you know it. When they are starving, they will eat. Relax, make as many dinners from scratch as you can, pour yourself a glass of wine and unplug. Ask about their day. Laugh. Tell jokes. Share stories. That is what they will remember.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  You will. Just wake up each morning with the desire to do your best and to be newly amazed at the wondrous little miracle that belongs to you. Hug them tight before they leave the house. and believe they will return to you as whole and complete as when they walked out the door. Forgive yourself completely for the mistakes you make and just try and do your best each and every day. If you have struggled financially like I have, you will know that sometimes you have to choose a roof over their head and food on their plate over everything else. Your uninterrupted and focused attention will make up for every vacation you aren’t able to take, or material possession you don’t have. Your priorities will form the substance of their character. My eldest daughter was just awarded the number two attorney in the nation by the High School National Mock Trial Competition. She practiced her closing arguments for four to six hours a day for weeks on end. She is the very embodiment of drive, pure grit and determination. I know she learned that from me because she told me so. Proudest moment of my life.

They are enough. The mean voice inside my head told me throughout my teens and twenties that I was not enough just by myself and that I needed someone else to complete me. Instill the confidence that allows them to walk proud and strong without the need to be defined by another person.


End every day with a hug or snuggle, and by saying, “I love you completely, totally, and unconditionally. You are perfect exactly the way you are. Being your mom is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Feed them Mom food (foods they like, just a little healthier than normal)


2 cans (15 oz) fire roasted tomatoes

2 cups tomato juice

3 cups vegetable stock

one head of garlic cloves smashed (more if desired)

one sweet yellow onion diced (more if desired)

¼ cup olive oil

1 TB basil puree or ¼ cup basil leaves cut in a chiffonade

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp herbal sea salt flakes or Herbamare*  (+ or -)

½ tsp White pepper(+ or -)


In saute pan heat olive oil to medium heat and put in diced sweet onion. Cook slowly until browning and showing color. Add smashed garlic cloves and cook slowly till everything is the color of a caramel. Put all ingredients in soup pot and bring to a boil. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer till it is the thickness desired.



1 lb Orchiette Pasta

1-2 cups shredded Daiya Cheddar

1 cup Just Mayo

2 cups Vegetable Stock

2 large carrots or 3 medium

1 Yukon Gold Potato peeled and diced

1 tsp Herbamare

1/4 tsp White Pepper

Vegan margarine or olive oil


Peel carrot and potato and chop into one inch chunks. Put in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cook till tender. Bring separate large pot of water to a boil. Drop pasta and stir frequently to prevent sticking. When al dente (10 minutes) drain and toss with 1 TB smart balance or EVOO to prevent sticking. Drain carrots and potato and puree in a food processor.

Put Just mayo, Daiya and vegetable stock in a saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in carrot mixture and stir frequently till  daiya is melted and ingredients are smooth. Pour over pasta mixing thoroughly. Serve immediately or bake in a casserole dish in a 325 oven for 15 minutes.

Optional add ins:

½ tsp Oregano – add with seasonings

Peas – add to pasta during last minute of boiling

Grilled Tomatoes – put completed mac in a casserole and top with grilled tomatoes or onions. Bake till bubbly

Bread Crumbs – use food processor to shred 2-3 pieces of bread and mix with 1 TB melted vegan margarine or olive oil. Put on top of mac and cheese in casserole dish. Bake till browning, about 20 minutes.





¼ cup organic evaporated cane juice or sugar
¼ cup Smart Balance or Earth Balance

¼ cup coconut oil

½  cup  Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix

½  cup Almond Flour
1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
¼ cup raw almonds finely chopped (use a food processor)

¼ cup melted dark organic chocolate

4 TB chopped dark Fair Trade chocolate


Beat the sugar, coconut oil, vegan butter, salt and extracts together until fluffy.   Add melted chocolate. Gradually fold in the GF flour and almond flour and mix to combine.

Roll the dough into a cylindrical shape about two inches in diameter and wrap in wax paper or parchment and freeze till completely chilled but not frozen. Should have the density of a pie crust.

Mix blanched almonds with grated chocolate

Slice chilled dough into ¾ inch thicknesses and place on a parchment lined baking pan. bake in a 350 degree oven about 15 minutes.  Roll edges in almond/chocolate mixture. Or sprinkle on top and press in gently. Allow to cool. Store in airtight container.





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