I wrote a beautiful essay about my relationship with my mother for a women’s autobiography class in college. Then I lost it before I could show it to my mom, who has never forgotten.
So here are some things I learned from her that have been helpful over the years. Because I was listening, even if it looked like I wasn’t.
- Marry someone who makes you laugh. Obviously there are other criteria, but that’s the only advice I really remember from her about how to choose a life partner, and it’s golden. She lives it every day – no one on Earth thinks my dad is funnier than she does. I imagine a hidden message in there too, about how sometimes life sucks and you laugh to keep from crying, and someone who will facilitate that is not only fun, but sometimes a lifeline.
2. You’ll be glad one day that you’re so…unique. That was the refrain of my middle school years, which I now call “the three years I was in a bad mood.” I feel pretty certain I yelled rude things at her back then when she said it, but the soothing drip of “it’s not only okay, it’s great to be different” eventually helped me accept my weird self. She might have regretted it later, the first time I dyed my hair blue, but she was a good sport about it.
3. Nobody gets to power without being morally compromised. Nobody. My mother is optimistic about many things, but people at large are not one of them. She’s a hard-boiled cynic about politicians, and she’s right. I don’t suppose this has been of material use since I don’t travel in powerful circles, but they’re still sage words.
4. You can’t take credit or blame for the behavior of a very young child. My mother tells it like this: I was a happy, easy baby. So when the nurse brought my red-faced, screaming newborn brother to her in the hospital and said, “Oh honey. You’re going to have your hands full with this one,” my mom figured the woman just didn’t know who she was talking to. She was a pro. The way I understand it, he cried for two straight years, and then developed a temper. He had sensory issues around food, threw raging tantrums in which he beat his head on the floor, and wanted to be held 24/7 otherwise. People would tell her what she was doing wrong: holding him too much, giving in too easily to his food demands. But she always would shake her head and think “but I’m not doing anything different than I did the first time.” These stories helped me a LOT with my difficult child when he came along, and keep me from taking credit with the easy one.
5. Love and accept your child for the person they are. You’ll all be happier that way, and trying to change them never works anyway.
6. Praying to change someone’s behavior doesn’t work. You can only change yourself. Mama learned this in a difficult situation like nothing I’ve ever had to face, but when she told me about it, I never forgot it. You’ll be hoping, or praying if that’s your thing, until the end of time that someone will change their spots. It’s only ever up to you to find the strength to either stand up for yourself or get out. (I should say that as a person of strong faith, her telling of this was all about prayer, and strength from God, but I think it’s good advice either way.)
7. You create the family you want to have. Sometimes we repeat unhealthy patterns that we learn as children. Some people never escape them. But what I learned from my mother, whose home life was…unsatisfying, is that you choose every day what your own family will look like. Your domestic life does not have to be bound by what you were handed. And if you act with intention, you can create the kind of family that you decide to. It won’t always be easy to slip those chains, but it’s possible if you pay attention.
8. All kids lie. They do it instinctively and without being taught. And you’re a fool if you think you’ll always know it when your kid lies to you.
9. You’ll mess up, but with enough love, your kids will probably forget most of it. My mother insists she isn’t perfect, but I don’t remember these alleged mess ups (except that time you forgot to pick me up for gymnastics in Kindergarten). I pretty uniformly remember the good things. She helps me forgive myself on a daily basis for my motherly transgressions.
10. Never put a tile floor in the kitchen. Everything breaks if you drop it. Seriously, they’re the worst.