Recently, I’ve had many conversations with loved ones about all the messages and practices, both inspiring and upsetting, that we have inherited from our mothers about what it means to be a human in the world.
It’s a fascinating and deep topic, so naturally I took to the World Wide Web and asked around to see what our mothers (broadly defined) have passed down to us.
What is something you learned from your mother that you carry with you in the world?
Putting Yourself First Is Not Selfish
“My mom has taught me so many things—some of which I’m still realizing come from her. Perhaps most pertinent in my life right now: I learned from my mom that you need to do the best you can by yourself before you can do the best you can by others. She reminds me of this when I’m feeling down and trying to address the needs of those around me before picking myself back up. She knows when to advise and when to just listen, and when she doesn’t know, she asks. When all else fails, she sings verses of “I Am Woman” to me over the phone.”
“How to accept and love myself for exactly who I am, how not to be judgmental of others and always see the good in people. [She taught me] how to do things truly out of kindness; how to do laundry, apartment shop and how to do everything money-related.[She taught me] how to be Jewish in whatever way that made sense to me, how to replace g-d with “light” and love the messages of the religion.”
“That it is okay NOT to give up your career for a man—and that it is okay TO give up your career for someone you love. That it is okay to NOT want to have kids—and that it is okay TO want to have kids. And that you can change what you want to be when you are 50. And be as beautiful at 60 as at 16. I carry it proudly, but it also took me years to be okay with having different life goals (i.e., less traditionally professional or “successful”). And that came from my own growth, not just my momma. What it means to me now: if I want to move to Finland to live with my boyfriend and put my career on hold and my life on hold, that is okay if it makes me happy.”
Body Image Issues
“I’ll start by saying that I both love and like my mama with so much of my heart. She passed onto me the art of self-criticism and my twisted relationship with food and my body. Fighting to accept myself has made me more aware of the problematic practices that she still engages in. It’s hard to hold her love, hold myself, and see that happening at the same time.”
“To phrase it as shortly as I can: body image issues. But, her constant reminders to eat healthy and exercise with the end goal of being skinny, and her judgment of me not valuing that in the same way that she does, gave me my thick skin. I learned early on how to let things roll off my back because I had to push back against her fucked up ideals about beauty (NOT health) from a really young age. And: watching her realize she wasn’t happy in her career and make a new one for herself taught me (in a very privileged way) that if I’m not happy with something, I have the power, ability, and independence to set my own path and do what I want.”
How To Love
“My mother taught me that working hard and being independent are not mutually exclusive from being in a loving partnership. Growing up, I feel like TV either showed the hard working single mom, or mother in a loveless marriage, or the happy stay-at-home housewife. My mom killed it every day at her job, and then came home and snuggled with my dad. It was also never about which parent worked harder or earned more. They both did, which taught me that hard work was personally satisfying rather than a competitive sport.”
“To the mother who walked out on me, thank you for the grit. Thank you for the lesson in learning to figure out how to be my own person, and my own woman. More importantly though, thank you to the someone else’s mom who picks me up when I fall on my face trying. From both, I ultimately carry that when I am a mom, it will be my job to make sure my children know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are LOVED.”
How To Be Honest, With Yourself and Others
“Saying ‘sorry’ all the time. Worrying constantly what others think of me. And the lesson: “Smile because nobody wants to be friends with a depressive.” The first two are hard negatives, but the third has actually served me well (in my experience that speaks more to human instinct than gender oppression). It was a lesson served to me in the context of being constantly sad in middle school because I had lost my friends. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn to apply judiciously. If my mother had her way, we’d all be medicated and smiling constantly. But she led by example, if not verbally, in teaching me to also be empowered in your sadness. Because despite all her talk and offerings of Xanax, when she was having a bad day, she let everyone know it.”
“How important it is to be kind—both to yourself and to others. And how to strike a balance between them.”
How To Embrace Empowerment
“I learned to be kind to all little critters, and most importantly not to be afraid of the little critters that typically scare folks. Whenever I was afraid of a spider or a centipede in my room when I was younger, my mom would always catch it and let it outside. She was very opposed to killing any bugs no matter how scary or insignificant-seeming. She not only taught me not to be afraid of bugs, but to appreciate them for the things that they are useful for. She was also just a fearless badass and would catch the critters with her bare hands… she’s impressive. Anywho, while the patriarchy was trying to instill in me that I am a little girl and therefore should be afraid or grossed out by things like bugs, my mother was being a badass and teaching me otherwise.”
What did you get from your mama? Tell us in the comments!