Life has many teachers, but none so great as our mothers. For better or worse, a mother’s influence often echoes through her children’s lives long after they leave the nest. Recently, when grocery shopping with my husband, he inquired, “Why do you always buy that brand of laundry detergent, when there are other brands on sale?” Without missing a beat, I placed my standard purchase in the cart; “It’s what my mother always bought when I was growing up, she says it’s the best.” Thinking there would be no further need for discussion, I continued up the aisle, until my budget savvy hubbie began to plead his case to save a buck. Incredulous, I spun on my heel, and stared at him. I didn’t have to tell him to save his breath. He got the point. Some traditions you don’t mess with. Not when they come from mother.   

I have learned a lot from my mom. She taught me how to bake, how to find the best bargains at the back of the store, how to braid my hair, and how to soothe colic when my first son was born. My mom was the one who told me (and one of my friends) about the birds and bees, while eating butterscotch pudding. She told me she loved me every day while I was still living at home, and as often as she could after I moved out. She still calls me sometimes just to tell me that. When I was young and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, she told me she believed in me, and I could be anything I wanted to be. I believed her. I still do.  Words are powerful. So is silence. In the early, formidable years of a child’s life, worldviews and ways of doing things are often formed based on the words a mother speaks to her child. Some of my mom’s words from my childhood still echo in my head:  “Always say please and thank you. Brush your teeth. Eat your vegetables. Don’t fight with your brother. Wait your turn. Smile. Say your prayers. Always wear clean underwear; you never know when you might get in a car accident.”  Some mother-ism’s are unforgettable!  

Perhaps just as powerful as the spoken, is that which is communicated through the absence of words. In order to hear the unspoken, we have to open up our hearts.

Hope whispers, open up your heart.

When I think about all of the valuable life lessons I have learned from my mother, I realize the ideas that have really shaped my character, come from words that never left her lips.  

1)   My mother never told me to hold a grudge when someone hurts me. Relational pain is inevitable. As imperfect human beings, we all hurt each other, whether unintentional or plotted. I always witnessed my mom quickly forgive others when they hurt her. Holding a grudge has never been an option for me.

2)      My mother never told me that compassion makes people weak. At times, I get teased by friends that I am too nice, or that I care too much. To me, there is no greater compliment. Our culture often sends a different message, implying that caring equals weakness. I wholeheartedly disagree. My mother, who was a nurse for most of her career, is one of the most compassionate people I know, and she is also one of the strongest women I know.

3)     My mother never told me to expect the worst. I am an eternal optimist. I will always find the silver lining, or die trying. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I genuinely try to see the good in a situation, or the best in a person. Focusing on the worst, rather than the best, just wasn’t in my mom’s nature, and neither do I find it in mine.

4)       My mother never told me to throw in the towel, when life sucker punched me. And it has, plenty of times. Thank goodness my mother taught me resilience by supporting me and encouraging me to get back up and keep moving forward, when the hard knocks of life knocked me on my, you-know-what.

5)      My mother never told me to go with the status quo. I’m sure the first word I spoke, must have been, “why?” Always curious, even to current day, I have never been one to accept mediocrity or stick my head in the sand when something unjust is happening to someone I care about. I ask a lot of questions. I’m a bit of an independent thinker, and I credit my mother with speaking courage into my life by not speaking about being dependent on the way it’s always been. Life is ever changing. It’s good to be flexible.

As I write this, I am painfully aware that not everyone has been blessed with a mother as caring and nurturing as mine. I talk with people all the time who have painful mom stories. If that’s your truth, I’m sorry for your loss. While no mother-child relationship is perfect, it’s a loss when that connection is more bitter than sweet. What I do hope for those of you who find yourselves saddened by this post, rather than inspired to reminisce on your own relationship with your mother, is that you can find and focus on at least one positive life lesson you learned from your mother. If many of the words your mom spoke to you were painful in some way, it’s often healing to think about what she taught you in the unspoken. Sometimes mothers intentionally withhold words from their children that they know would be hurtful. There is kindness there. Hidden treasure is often found in the quietness of the soul. Silence can be a gift. Maybe your mother gave you more gifts than you realize. Even if it’s as simple as the inside track on the best brand of laundry detergent.

What did you learn from your mother?

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