Mom liked to encourage self-sufficiency in all living creatures. Mom also believed in letting nature take its course.

One of Rose Mary’s most crucial character traits is her belief that struggle breeds strength, and that resilience and independence are important things for children to learn. Part of her philosophy includes allowing children to experience the world without parental interference, and Jeannette and her siblings get into all sorts of sticky situations, both trivial and dangerous. Rose Mary rarely steps in, even when her children are physically injured. While Rose Mary’s hands-off approach does result in hardy kids, she often takes her philosophy to the extreme, showing a concerning lack of empathy for her children’s suffering.

Mom was all the time hugging her students and letting them know how wonderful and special she thought they were. She’d tell the Mexican kids never to let anyone say they weren’t as good as white kids. She’d tell the Navaho and Apache kids they should be proud of their noble Indian heritage.

Rose Mary proves herself to be a successful teacher, especially in the poverty-stricken towns her family frequents, due to her ability to make every student feel empowered. Despite her unorganized teaching methods, her students do better than ever in her class because she’s one of the few people in their lives who shows them kindness. While Rose Mary whines about how her mother forced her to get a teaching degree, it’s clear that she has a special ability, and if she hadn’t been so resistant to working, she could have made a life out of being an educator. While Rose Mary’s treatment of her students is admirable, there’s also something bittersweet about it, as she often can’t bring herself to treat her own children with the same compassion.

“Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy,” Mom told me. “You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more.”

Rose Mary makes it clear that she doesn’t care what other people think of her. This confidence allows her to see the humor in her and her family’s less dignified moments rather than being ashamed or embarrassed. While it wasn’t entirely appropriate for Rose Mary to admonish Jeannette for not being able to enjoy this particular comic episode – Jeannette was being laughed at by other children for being homeless – it’s clear from Jeannette’s narration in The Glass Castle that she has, at least in hindsight, taken her mother’s advice and found plenty of humor in the absurdities of her upbringing.