The Best Advice I Ever Got From My Mom
Mother’s Day is coming up and I want to share with you some favorite advice from my mom, Betsy.
Unsolicited advice is basically in the job description and my highly educated, type-A, effusive mom was not an exception to that rule. Once I became an adult, she tried hard with varying success to temper the deluge with disclaimers and reassurances and I always knew that she was offering her thoughts out of love and care. But it was hard for me to hear what she was really trying to say a lot of the time. I wanted her to trust me, I wanted her to believe that I could make good decisions on my own.
Now that’s gone (she died in 2019), and I’m a mother of two myself, I just want more advice. I want to ask her a million questions and then lie with my head in her lap and listen to her answer them. Fortunately she doled out a lifetime’s worth every time I went home to visit, so I have some nuggets to share with you today.
1. You can have it all but not all at once.
My mom built her career in the 70’s, and experienced a lot of conflict around what we now call “work-life balance.” I feel fortunate to have a freedom of choice in this realm that she only dreamed of (a freedom partly earned through the courage and sacrifices of women like her who helped change cultural expectations regarding gender and work). But it’s still hard to figure out how to balance needs with desires, time with my family and time at work, contentment and ambition. My mom taught me that there are seasons in life and that its ok to make different choices that serve the needs of each season as it comes and goes.
2. It's better to be together than to be right.
You never know what it’s like inside a marriage unless you’re in it (that was another thing she used to say), but I know that being married to someone as strong-willed as my mom (or someone else we know well) can’t be easy. This was her advice to me when I got married, and I know now that what she meant was that being committed to the marriage over time is more important than the details of any particular situation or argument. At the end of the day, you chose to be married, and in order to stay married, you have to keep choosing that even if you know for a fact that you DID bring the garbage can in from the curb last week.
3. Don't try to make a happy baby happier.
This is very simple but actually not intuitive! With little kids you get so immersed in the project of anticipating your kids’ needs that it becomes automatic to always be trying to keep everyone happy by taking action. But if a kid is sitting somewhere, happily playing with the garage door opener, you shouldn’t introduce a pacifier/snack/new toy just in case he might become disinterested in the garage door opener, because the new variable might actually result in the kid becoming LESS happy than he started out. Genuis!
4. It's ok to feel sad.
My mom struggled with depression all her life, and while I’m very grateful to have inherited less of that gene than I might have, I am grateful to her for showing me that feelings of sadness, despair, or even general ennui are not prohibitive for having a rich and meaningful and satisfying life. She worked hard, she played hard, and she crashed hard, but she felt everything and managed to process it all and keep moving forward, and I hope I can help my kids learn this vital life skill as well.
5. Physical exercise is the best medicine (actual medicine is also useful, until it isn’t).
Mom was never as happy as she was after she started training for triathlons (in her fifties!). But even when I was a child I remember her going out for runs and taking exercise classes. I’m grateful to her for being an example for me in this area, because regular exercise is a cornerstone of my plan for staying sane. I think she thought it might help make her invincible, which sadly didn’t turn out to be true. But even after her surgeries, she always made the effort to put on her non-slip socks and do her laps around the recovery ward, knowing it would boost her mood even if it wouldn’t completely cure what ailed her. She was a big believer in solutions of all kinds, but one of the things I will always respect her for the most was when she decided to stop accepting treatment and enter hospice. She died at peace, surrounded by people who loved her, not in a moment of striving or struggling. In a way it is a metaphor for the thing she worked hardest at in her life and I hope I can have the courage to try when trying is called for and cultivate peace, acceptance and contentment when the time for trying has passed.
6. It's ok to feel happy.
My mom worked hard, as I’ve mentioned above. But she also really knew how to party. She loved to drink, dance, travel, talk, laugh, cook, and gave the best hugs. If I teach my kids anything, I hope it will be how to enjoy life as much as my mom did.
7. Life is too short...
My mom didn’t get to do everything she wanted to do, and it taught me that none of us really do. Her illness changed the course of my life in many ways, but when she left, she left me with the valuable lesson that if there’s something you want to do or make, somewhere you want to go or someone you want to be with, the best time is NOW.
Happy Mother’s Day friends, thank you for reading. I’d love to hear what your moms taught you, and what advice you hope to impart to your kids.