There’ll come a point in your life when you’ll suddenly have a flashback to your childhood. And it will be your mother’s voice. And you will concede – graciously or otherwise – that all those irritating things she used to say to you when you were a kid were actually deep philosophical lessons you’ve only just understood. Here are some of the things she was right about:
1.‘Because I said so…’
Whether it was lights out, finish what’s on your plate, no you can’t, our lives were ruled by that subjective decree. There is however an upside to maternal megalomania. As adults, whenever we’ve been dealt a blow that’s left us unloved, rejected and lost, it’s worth remembering that once upon a time when we were nothing but a blob of gurgles, our mothers thought we were perfect. Even as we were sporting Pull-Ups and spewing half-digested food down our fronts, our mums loved us. Which means we’re lovable. For no reason, except because she said so.
2.Don’t talk back
She really didn’t want to know why we put the goldfish in the glass of coke or shaved the cat. Even though we may have had really good reasons. If caught out by someone in charge of our allowance, social arrangements and dinner, shutting up is the best strategy. Talking back is a privilege reserved for relationships of equality. And despite Children’s Charters of Rights and various UN declarations to the contrary, mothers were definitely the boss of us. Trying to talk our way out of a mistake or shirking the blame was a form of personal suicide. It never worked then.
So when a cop pulls us over for speeding, or we’re caught in a compromising situation with a person of authority standing over us, it’s time to remember our mother’s advice on this one.
3.No, you have to finish what’s on your plate first
Mums controlled the broccoli. It got put on our plates and there was no dessert until we finished it. Life was unfair when there was plate full of broccoli and a chocolate mousse in the fridge. Mums are big on delayed gratification so we could learn patience for the good things to come. Though McDonald tries to get us to believe otherwise, everything worth doing, takes time.
Nobody ever got a PHD with a 5 minute attention span.
Ask any pregnant woman – you can’t gestate between ad-breaks.
You can’t convert to a new religion by registering online.
You don’t learn how to be a doctor by watching ER.
We won’t always be able to bail out of situations as soon as we ‘don’t like it’ or ‘it’s too hard.’ Our mums were preparing us for this lesson: finish everything properly. Say goodbye. Make peace.
If we practiced on the broccoli, we’ll manage the really hard stuff later on.
4. Stop whining – you can’t always get what you want
Life gives us many chances to fail – either through divorce, retrenchment, depression or losing the contract. We won’t always win the prize, get the guy or make the team. And when we don’t there’s no point in whining.
Nothing gets better if you whinge about it.
Failure goes best with dignity and grace. Learning to roll with the punches makes us resilient, wise and leathery so others can lean on us.
Though whining won’t make our mothers stop loving us, people who have not breastfed us have no reason to carry on loving us when we do.
5. Pick up after yourself
Our mums probably meant our smelly socks. But her advice applies to garbage, emotional expectations, pollutants and promises we make. If we wait around for others to save us, clean up after us or make our lives better, we’ll end up with a lot of dirty laundry. Collectively, if we all picked up after ourselves, and took responsibility, we’d have a better chance at fixing the mess we’ve all made of the earth which has unfortunately suffered from too many of us not listening to our mums on this one.
6. If someone calls you stupid and ugly, it doesn’t make you either
Our mums knew ‘sticks and stones’ was a lie. Words can hurt.
But they also knew that being called something doesn’t make you that thing. Though her naming you Angus or Angie made you an Angus or an Angie, the same isn’t true for words that refer to you as invertebrates, bodily excretions, and various forms of sub-human life.
Look at the person who’s done the name-calling. Only sad and lonely people whose mothers didn’t love them need to insult others.
No-one ever became fat or ugly because they were called those names. But if those names really hurt, it could be we need to take a deeper look. Maybe we are overweight and could do with a make-over. In that case, we should stop whining and get a haircut or go to the gym.
The 7 Day Writing Challenge
WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit
7. Get over it
Mums brought this one out when we were in a funk and couldn’t see the point of carrying on. Mums tolerated sulking up to a point. But then they’d, ‘Enough! Pick yourself up and get over it.’
If we need drugs or alcohol to get through the day, if we stalk our ex, or blame others for how our lives suck, we are not over it.
If we need to talk to a professional, cry for forty days and forty nights, forgive, let go, make peace or join a group to get over it, then that’s what we’ve got to do. Do the mourning and grieving and be finished with it. Unless we’d prefer to get stuck in self-pity and thus become a loser. In that case, we won’t be able to refer to no 6 when someone calls us one.
8. What’s the magic word?
We all know Abracadabra doesn’t turn pumpkins into coaches. The real magic words aren’t nearly as difficult to spell. Whatever we ask for goes down so much better with a ‘please.’ And no matter what we’re given, even if we’ve paid for it, we can finish it off with, ‘thank you.’
Too many decent people do their jobs without ever being thanked – school teachers, bus drivers, bank tellers, garbage collectors, mothers…
One word of appreciation can change someone’s day. Small acts of decency are the low GI of human interaction. The effects are felt long after the act.
9. You probably don’t want them as your friends, anyway
Being unpopular is hell.
But our mums reminded us that people who didn’t ask us to their parties, didn’t return our calls, didn’t reach out to us when we were having a hard time, secretly enjoyed it when things went wrong for us, stole our boyfriends, talked behind our backs and needed to always be better than us, were not our friends.
Our mums told us that the boys that didn’t ask us out were not worthy of us and the girls who teased us would end up on The Biggest Loser. They knew popularity was no measure of worth. J K Rowling was turned down by nine publishers before London’s Bloomsbury agreed to publish her book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. What makes us unpopular may be what makes us famous and fabulous one day.
10. Tell the truth
There was never any point in trying to pull one over our mums.
Even though the truth probably got us into trouble, our mums taught us the hard way that not telling the truth was a stuff-up squared – once it was out, we’d be hammered not only for the original stuff-up but for lying about it in the first place.
She wanted us to make truth-telling a lifelong habit. So when someone asks ‘do you love me?’ or ‘what is that lipstick mark on your collar?’ we can come clean. Truth is the basis of integrity, trust and honesty. And all relationships worth keeping with people you probably do want as your friends, depend on them.
11. If your friends jumped off a cliff would you jump too?
In groups people do stupid things that can land them in bad habits, dangerous cars, and even jail. Our mums taught us that the road of popularity is paved with beer bottles, cigarette butts and syringes – hardly a decent return on an investment of hours of labour and years of anxiety and financial stress. Our mums reminded us were smart enough to make our own decisions and to think for ourselves. It’s those who choose the road less traveled (ie not the cliff-jump) who make an impact on the world.
12. Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about
Mums had ways of making molehills out of mountains. They’d done childbirth, you see. A pimple the day before the formal just wasn’t going to get their attention.
No matter the emergency or tragedy inducing panic and hyperventilation, your mum reminded you that if you didn’t get a grip, she could make things a lot worse for you. A pimple with a sore butt was always going to be worse than just a pimple. Mother’s logic.
Someday you too will find yourself repeating these same words to your own kids. Don’t be put off by the rolling eyes and the inevitable sighs. Knowing your mum was right only happens when experience catches up with memory.
Published in Prevention Magazine
Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?