Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

The Most Important Lessons I Learned From My Son

Two years ago tomorrow I published my most popular blog post to date. I wrote it to honor the occasion of my son’s 21st birthday, a time for both reflection and celebration for my husband and me. Since his birthday falls on the same day as another New Jersey native occupying my heart, one who would have turned 100 tomorrow, I thought I’d re-publish it a day early. 

son teaching inspiration

Life Lessons on the Occasion of my Son’s 21st Birthday: Our Journeys Are Unique to Each of Us

Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to grow up and have a family of her own. She dreamed of meeting a knight in shining armor that would sweep her off her feet and take her away to live happily ever after.


Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved to read. She loved reading about strong-minded, resolute women making headlines, like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug. She thought it’d be cool to someday burn her training bra. But she was too young and naïve at the time, so she continued to dream about her knight in shining armor and having a family. Would the knight be willing to do housework?


Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to live a long and happy life. She dreamed of someday marrying her Prince Charming and, together, they’d have a happy and healthy child. She loved to write, and always enjoyed helping others in need. She knew she wanted to find a perfect balance between her family life and a life filled with passion.


But, alas, not all little girls’ dreams come true. Life simply doesn’t work that way. As John Lennon famously wrote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

These were my life lessons:

  • Barbie taught me what a perfect body looked like, didn’t she?
  • Peter Pan taught me that dreams do come true, didn’t he?
  • James Taylor taught me I’ve got a friend. Would that always be true?
  • Marlo Thomas taught me “That Girl” was the personification of what every young woman could have when working in The Big City, right?

But life has a mind of its own, and sometimes we learn harsh yet valuable lessons. John Lennon was right. What we envision for ourselves and what life hands us are two different things.

  • I was diagnosed with MS at age 28.  I was totally unprepared for that sudden bend in the road.
  • I had two miscarriages, and believed I’d have to prepare for a life without children.

When I finally became blissfully pregnant for a third time, it was the charm. Two weeks shy of nine months, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy little boy.

son teaching inspiration

My son has been a blessing to me every day of his life.

The life I envisioned so long ago was finally unfolding.

Today is my son’s 21st birthday and he is the reason I’m writing this post. I want him to understand that no matter what I learned in my childhood – the joys, frustrations, loves and heartaches – mine is a different road than the one he is traveling.

He has his own journey.

I want him to know he has taught me more than anyone or anything ever will.

He’s taught me, through his genteel manner and a heart filled with compassion, about patience, understanding and inner strength.

And he’s given me more unconditional love than I ever imagined.

son teaching inspiration

Twenty-one years ago my father’s gift to my son was a case of fine port with instructions for the first bottle to be opened on his 21st birthday. In the next week I look forward to being with my parents to open the first beautiful bottle together and toast to my son’s happiness on his big day.

May he always be surrounded with unconditional love. May he find his own brand of happiness, with a life filled with purpose and compassion, according to his own desires and principles, and on his own terms.

As my beloved Uncle Henry always said to me, “I hug you with my words.”

Happy 21st birthday, my dear, sweet son. I love you forever.

son teaching inspiration

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38 thoughts on “The Most Important Lessons I Learned From My Son

  1. Helene Cohen Bludman

    What a sweet and touching tribute to a wonderful son. Love this, Cathy. Our children are our greatest blessings.

    1. Post author

      Thanks, Helene. When I went back to decide if I should repost this I was struck by your comment in particular. It touched my heart so (and still does) that it gave me my answer. Thanks for that, Helene. And yes, our children are truly our greatest blessings. xoxo

  2. Emily

    Cathy, this was so beautiful! “He has his own journey.” Those are such important words and are something I need to remind myself of daily with my three sons. I think parents can get so caught up in what they think their kids SHOULD be doing, instead of letting them figure it out on their own…I also love your Uncle Henry’s saying.:)
    Emily recently posted…Self-Balancing Scooters: Good, Bad, or In-Between?My Profile

  3. Denise Gabbard

    Beautiful, Cathy! My youngest is now thirty, and I admit that I always (maybe even just a little still) had a hard time not thrusting them down the paths I believed they should be on. Looking back, I can see that they were strong enough to resist and find “their” way…and I am proud of each. Your son sounds wonderful.
    Denise Gabbard recently posted…Branding Your Business: Why and How to Get Started!My Profile

    1. Post author

      Thank you, Miriam, and for all the love and support you always show me. Even though we live so far away from one another your kind and gentle words are always a source of joy for me. Best to you always, my friend.

  4. Jamie

    I loved the way you started — how life never matches what we dreamed as a child. Or even as an adult. Happiness is found in loving and being loved. Mother and son is one of the most unique and powerful bonds on earth. So thankful that you and I have that.

  5. Terri

    As everyone has already, said, beautiful and heartfelt post and tribute to your son and all sons. I have two daughters, no sons, as I am aware that the relationship between mother and son is different than with mothers and daughters. A beautiful read, Cathy and so perfect for the holidays!
    Terri recently posted…Oops, What IS That?My Profile

  6. Kathleen

    Thanks for sharing this lovely story. That baby photo is so gorgeous. I can see that he warms your heart. May his life journey be blessed with strength of character that you would have taught him.
    I have stumbled this.

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