As Mother’s Day approaches each year, I begin to hear my mother’s voice. It’s hovering, haunting – cajoling, reminding, prodding. It’s not particularly loving or sweet or nurturing. In fact, it’s pretty direct. Truth be told, it’s constructive criticism – not always welcome but determined to put me on the right path to adulthood.
"Stand up straight,” she would say, echoing what her mother drummed into her. And she absolutely did have me and my sister parading around the house with books on our heads!
“Remember the Golden Rule!” “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”
“Get your hair out of your face,” was another favorite which you’d like to think was because she thought your face was worth looking at, though she’d stop just short of saying so.
These words obviously belong to a different era – so far back, in fact, that one of the things she would ask as I sped out the door was, “Do you have a dime with you?” She never wanted us to be stranded without the ability to make a phone call!
Wondering if my friends and acquaintances had mothers who were so, well, corrective, I started asking: What do you remember your mother saying to you during formative years?
Here is a sampling of responses – many of them were echoed again and again. You’ll recognize which ones.
“Hold your stomach in,” recalled an old friend from high school, adding, “It’s sad that I can’t think of any others though I do carry her positive attitude with me. She always looked on the bright side.”
Another friend shot back: “You’re asking ME? Someone who’s been in therapy for nine years?” I wonder if this could be why: “Are you really wearing that?” Or “Have your thought about a new hairstyle?” Determined to offer something more positive, this friend recalled advice from her beloved, late mother-in-law for raising children: “Just love them!”
One bit of advice, we’ve all come to realize as we’ve gotten older – and probably heavier: “You are what you eat!”
A close friend offered her mother’s upbeat beginning to the day: “She always made sure we washed our faces first thing in the morning, as soon as we got out of bed. She’d say, 'God gave you a new day. The least you can do is begin it with a clean face.'”
Speaking of faces, a very close friend whose mother died when she was nine, has raised her own daughter with this: “Patience is a virtue. Virtue is a grace. Put them both together to make a very pretty face."
Here are some others that will no doubt sound familiar:
Blood is thicker than water.
Don’t sell yourself short.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,.
If the shoe fits, wear it.
Nice girls do not call boys.(We're definitely dating ourselves here!)
Do as I say, not as I do.
You are the company you keep.
Don’t talk with your mouth full.
More inspiring words of encouragement sometimes came from friendly mother figures – particularly for those of us who lost mothers way too soon.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Don’t lose your head.
Be nice to everyone – you never know who they might know.
Stand up and be counted!
Lead, follow or get out of the way.
If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?
It’s interesting that none of these women have recalled the kind of words of encouragement that boost self esteem in today’s young women, say, “You can be the president if you put your mind to it!” – or of support, like “I’m so proud of you, and I’m behind you whatever you choose” or “Of course your father and I think it’s a good idea for you to sail the ocean alone!” or even, “Of course you aren’t fat!” These words seem to belong to a more modern mode of child-rearing.
Though not of the current era of child-rearing, my mother did sometimes offer encouraging words, often reciting Shakespeare's famous line “To thine own self be true…” Those words have kept me grounded over the years.
Going hand-in-hand with that is this example sent to me by a college friend:
“When I was 15, I was so excited to spend the night with a friend who lived in a much more fun neighborhood than mine where lots of our friends lived, and we liked to party. As we left her mother said, as she said every time Carolyn went out, ‘Be an honor to us!’”
One thing we never heard my mother actually say was something she wrote to a class of high school boys when they dedicated their yearbook to her, the secretary to the headmaster. In her letter of thanks to them, she typed: “And the joy love brings is the reason for being.”
You can’t ask much more than that.
Do you “hear” things your dad told you when you were growing up – great bits of wisdom or advice? Please email your "Dad-isms" to Susan!
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.
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