I am one of those women fortunate enough to have a mother who is more of a goddess-and-best friend rather your stereotypical TV mom. She left my father when I was an infant and never looked back on the decision with regret. She bullied teachers into giving her learning disabled child special considerations that were unheard of in the 80s and 90s. She put my needs before her own, even when it didn’t seem like it at the time. She made an effort to be friends with my friends when I was a teen — not their “buddy” and a mother substitute, but a genuine friend who happened to be 30+ years their senior. She put up with an enormous amount of horseshit from me, even when it broke her heart.
So here’s 20 things my mom taught me. Mostly by example and just being the wonderful, amazing, strong woman who raised me.
- Never be ashamed that your brain wiring is wonky. She had as many learning disabilities and mood disorders as I have and she never, ever made me feel like I was born “wrong.” Plenty of other people did, but never Mom.
- You love who you love. Mom made it very clear that gender, gender expression, race, ethnicity, country of origin, socioeconomic status, tattooes, piercings, weight — whatever. If that person treated her kid right, and I treated them right, it was fine.
- It is just as important that your kid treat their partner well. Speak up if you see behavior you think is damaging to the relationship. Sometimes your kid can be jerk or abusive, too.
- There are many ways to be in a good romantic relationship. Don’t be their only role model for romantic love. Expose them to couples like godparents, grandparents, neighbors, who have different approaches to partnership. Mom was forever a single parent and rarely ever dated, but she exposed me to a lot of great life partnerships.
- Sometimes the only word that will express your frustration and anger is a curse word. They are not always appropriate, but sometimes necessary. When in doubt on the appropriateness, either substitute a word or hold it in until you can be alone (Mom used to let me curse if I locked myself in the bathroom, or if it was just the two of us in the car alone, from a young age.)
- Grandparents are your greatest gift. I could tell Mom really admired and respected both sets of grandparents, though I don’t remember any of my great-grandfolks. I know them through stories and their wisdom lives within her.
- Romantic relationships are great only when they work for both people. Don’t ever be afraid to leave if it’s not working for you, even if it breaks your heart to do it. She had two marriages that didn’t last long, but she never (in my memory) thought it made her bad, wrong, or that it was all her fault. Her marriages just weren’t the right marriages for her.
- New things don’t equal better things. Our home was lovingly furnished by very good thrift store and garage sale finds. We owed our souls to the used bookstores. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs and thrift store finds, often of higher quality than we could afford new and you’d never know they weren’t straight from a boutique. New things were treats or gifts, or the occasional splurge.
- Love animals. We always had pets, and always spoiled them rotten. Mom also fostered an appreciation for wildlife and wild animals from across the globe, even the “scary” ones like snakes, sharks and cephalopods (which now fascinated me.)
- Love others who love animals. All of Mom’s friends and favorite relatives had companion animals. It made you a better person to love an animal.
- Read for pleasure. My mom would be often found reading a book. A paperback in her purse was as necessary as tissues and lipstick. She read widely, but 90% of what she read for pleasure was fiction (mostly historical fiction or mysteries) and some narrative nonfiction. They books that satisfied the need to be told a story.
- You look more polished with makeup, but it doesn’t make you prettier. It took me a looooong time to get this one, but I realized that though Mom did her makeup well, it was a good hair/skin/teeth cleaning routine with decent products that made her truly attractive. She also carried herself with a lot of self-assurance, even if she was completely faking it.
- Learning = fun! My mother was a teacher, raised by a teacher. She knew how to foster curiosity and a lifetime love of learning. If I’m learning something, I am never bored. This doesn’t mean she ever claimed that a lot of fun things were educational, as the amount of trashy TV we watched is a testament.
- Physical touch makes connections. A handshake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek — I rarely saw Mom introduce herself or be around others without offering some kind of physical contact.
- Some people aren’t tactile connectors, and that’s okay. If they weren’t huggers or handshakers, she was never offended by it.
- Research is your friend! It wasn’t just learning for learning’s sake, which has it’s own merits, but learning something with a very specific focus and purpose. Mom researched all large purchases before making decisions. She researched things that interested her, like English history and Western geology/wildlife/naturalism. She researched things like easy crockpot recipes and how to raise a special ed kid. This was reading that was informational, rather than for pleasure, but it was still satisfying to her.
- Treat your kid like s/he is a thinking human. This doesn’t mean she treated me like an adult, but that she understood that I have a brain, that I hungered to use it, and that she could walk me through a process of making well-thought-out decisions. Moreover, she addressed my thought processes with respect, even if it made NO sense to her at the time. It lead to the idea that she was treating me fairly even when she was “being the parent” — and it fostered that as I got into my teens, she needed to “parent” less often than mothers of teenagers generally are required.
- Sex is complicated and confusing for everybody. Be open and non-judgemental when discussing it with your kid. Mom probably did one of the best jobs of teaching me about sex and sexuality. I was raised in a sex-positive household, she used a pro-active approach to sex education (don’t wait until they ask about it, if they’re asking, they’ve probably heard it on the streets first), gave real-world advice on birth control and STI prevention, and never ever ever judged me for asking questions. I still come to her for advice and opinions about my sexual health. I’ve never felt ashamed for having a sex drive, and I’ve made far fewer bad decisions than many of my peers.
- Know when someone is asking you to sympathize versus problem solve. Sometimes when people talk to you about their problems or feelings, they want someone to whom they can vent and will make sympathetic noises in their general direction. Sometimes people want you to advise them on their next course of action or help them analyze their feelings. These are two entirely different conversations and sometimes the other person doesn’t even know which role they need you to adopt. If in doubt, ask, but otherwise try to pick up on conversational clues. And never, ever say “Do you want my honest opinion?” Because if they want an opinion, they want an honest one, but it’s your job to pick up on how sugar-coated you deliver it.
- Just because I ask for your advice doesn’t mean I have to take it, and you should not get mad at me for deciding it’s not how I would proceed. People are very different from each other. Sometimes after due consideration, your advice isn’t how they wish to handle a certain situation, and you need to be entirely okay with this outcome. You aren’t in their heads and in their skin, even if you’ve been in that exact same situation — not all solutions fit everybody. And everyone occasionally gives bad advice, though you might think it’s great advice at the time!
Mom also taught me how to procrastinate, which is why neither one of us able to get birthday cards out in a timely manner and Christmas presents occasionally arrive around Valentine’s Day. It is also why this post is five days after Mother’s Day!