I originally wrote this post as a surprise for my mom on Mother's Day (since her love language is words of affirmation.) Originally posted on Thrive Global.
Some moms are sugar and spice and everything nice. Mine is not one to mince words.
When you think of traditional mom wisdom, you might think of soft-spoken platitudes stitched on a needlework pillow. Maybe some moms make their kids feel better by stroking their hair and murmuring soothing sounds in their ear.
Not my mom. She graduated from the school of get up, dust it off, and keep going. And when she doles out wisdom, she keeps it real.
As a refuge from Cuba who overcame adversity and rose to the top of her field, my mom has never had any time for self-pity or bullshit. And I love that about her. And despite being laid off after 20 years of service to her company, she has chosen to get up, dust it off, and keep going. She now shares her resiliency and grit through Life on Life, her own life coaching company.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share a few of the non-traditional mom-isms my mother has shared with me. They are quippy and pack a little zing, but have had broad life applications.
On self-worth: “Nobody cares about you that much.”
In high school, I couldn’t fathom wearing the same pair of jeans TWICE in the SAME WEEK. Obviously, this would be a travesty because everyone would know and judge me accordingly. But my mom would succinctly point out that most people have more important things to worry about than my denim.
While this primarily served to temper my inflated teenage self-importance, it also freed me from worrying that everything mattered so much. And it helped me place less value on others’ opinions. If someone wants to judge me for something superficial, maybe that’s more a reflection of them. (Of course, separating my self-worth from the appraisal of others is an on-going effort, as I’m sure it is for many people.)
Today, I only own two pairs of jeans. If you were wondering.
On resiliency: “Feelings aren’t real.”
Let me be clear, my mom always validated my feelings, but she also offered perspective.
When someone provided a cruel assessment of my character, I called my mom (in tears) to ask if it was true. Instead of directly answering, she asked me to consider the character of my closest friends and husband. (They are some of the most incredible people I know.)
“And those people whose character you admire, do they have to love you, or do they chooseto?”
Tough words can be constructive, or they can be hurtful. Before taking critiques to heart, my mom taught me to always consider the source.
On realistic expectations: “It’s close enough for government work.”
Though I grew up performing, I am grateful my mom never took on the role of overzealous stage mom.
She was supportive, but never demanded perfection, which I feel helped me avoid the “Type-A-ism” that plagues a lot of my generation.
Trying to achieve perfection (or even something close to it) is exhausting and futile. Nothing in life is perfect, and neither am I. And my mom still loves me anyway.
On relationships: “Don’t bother us unless there is blood, fire, or broken bones.”
Even with six kids, my parents made each other a top priority. Whether it was sitting on the porch with a glass of wine or watching a movie, they would sometimes instruct us to leave them alone.
After all their kids have gone, their relationship hasn’t faded, because they made it the center of their marriage. All six of us benefited from their example of a commitment to each other, which I like to think I have mirrored in my own marriage.
While we don’t have kids of our own yet, when/if we do, my husband and I agree we will make every effort to do the same.
On courage: “You have to have three bites before you can decide you don’t like it.”
This used to be my mom’s mantra when she wanted me to eat new foods. But it has also given me the ability to take risks in life.
When I first sang the national anthem for a high school basketball game, I was so nervous, my voice shook the whole time. You’d have to be crazy to willingly put yourself through that again.
But I did it two more times, controlling my nerves a little bit more with each terrifying performance.
One of my proudest moments was when my mom flew to UNC (go Heels!) just to watch me sing the national anthem before a Blake Sheldon concert. She gave me the courage to persist through the fear and arrive at that moment. Taking a risk emboldens us to take the next, and eventually the fear dissipates.
Since then, to my mom’s chagrin, I love trying new things—I’ve moved to China, taken risky jobs, and jumped out of planes. And it has taken years, but I finally like vegetables.
On perspective: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
In the same way my mom never extolled perfection, she also didn’t dwell on disappointment. The more expectations we place on others, the more we’ll be disappointed. And most people have a slew of silly expectations to fret over.
Today, I feel pleasantly unburdened by “should,” “shouldn’ts,” guilt, and obligations (for the most part). And in turn, I don’t place my self-curated expectations on others. Mom taught me to forgive, don’t hold grudges, apologize genuinely, move on, assume good people have good intentions, and don’t be afraid to cut ties with toxic relationships. Essentially, life’s too short to engage in stupid $**t.
And that might bother some people. But not the people who matter. So, I don’t sweat it.
On preparedness: “Always bring a jacket.”
Probably my mom’s most practical advice. I think of this fondly when I travel the world and my suitcase contains a ton of stuff I don’t need, but never a proper jacket. Which means I have purchased emergency jackets all over the world.
My mom isn’t immune to catchy platitudes, or “mom-isms.” She just has her own brand. And it’s been kicking my butt since I was a kid.
For Mom, Mother’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday.” We never usually joined the throngs of brunchers or showered her with gifts. But for this Mother’s Day, I hope this article is a testament to how much I appreciate her.
Mom, thanks for molding me into the woman I am today. Tonight, I’ll have a drink in your honor. But first, let me go grab a jacket.