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Matthew McConaughey's mom shares the mantra that guided her parenting

Kay McConaughey talked with TODAY's Sheinelle Jones about raising three boys — including an Oscar winner.
Kay McConnaughey
/ Source: TODAY

When Matthew McConaughey was growing up, his mom's No. 1 parenting policy was positive thinking.

"I have always been a positive thinker," Kay McConaughey told TODAY's Sheinelle Jones in her "Through Mom's Eyes" series. "And that's what I would say, the power of positive thinking. Use it, be it, do it, OK? When you start thinking negative, you know, it pulls you down, just like being around negative people."

Her son is a household name so thinking positive is easy these days. But when she was first trying to have children, there were difficulties. Her first son, Michael, was born in 1954, but attempts at a second child were made more complicated when she and her husband (who she divorced twice, but re-married each time!) found out that he had a low sperm count. However, her firstborn was asking for a little brother, so 10 years later they adopted a second son, named Patrick.

And then a curveball came seven years later — she was pregnant again, something she called "a miracle."

"I mean, what a blessing he is," McConaughey said. "This child is a gift from God, and that's what the word 'Matthew' means, 'gift of God.'"

With three boys, McConaughey said that she had to find a balance when it came to raising her sons.

"When I said something, I expected [them] to do it," she said. "I'm your parent, I'm your mother. And you have respect for me, and you do what I tell you to do. And I used to tell them, 'You know, when you get 18, go out in the world. But until you're 18, you are mine.'"

Another house rule was limited TV time. Kay remembers letting the boys watch only an hour of television before dinner and encouraging them to play outside instead.

"Nobody even thought about [acting] in our family," she said. "We were all jocks. [Matthew] wanted to be a lawyer, until [casting director] Don Phillips saw him in a bar. He said, 'I need someone to play Wooderson in this movie, "Dazed and Confused.'" And Matthew said, 'Sure, I'll do it."'

That was the movie that kick-started his interest in acting. From there, he went on to star in "A Time to Kill"; his mom's personal favorite movie, "The Lincoln Lawyer"; and HBO's "True Detective," before going on to win an Oscar for his performance in "Dallas Buyer's Club" in 2013.

McConaughey has tracked her son's career in what she calls her "memory room," which holds memorabilia from all the projects he's been in, photos of the two of them together, photos of him and other celebrities, and other major accouterments of fame.

"I look at these pictures and I go, 'Boy, what a life you've had, Matthew,'" she said. "I mean, just look at all the movies he's been in and all the people he's met, you know?"

Now that all three of her sons have found success in their lives and respective careers, McConaughey says that it feels like "a win."

"I've never had any problems with them. They're not perfect, and I'm sure that they did stuff that I didn't know, and I'm glad I don't know it. But they are well-behaved and pleasant to be around. They have all turned out really well," she said, laughing. "Heck, they're not in prison. They're not in jail, are they?"