Life Lessons from our Mothers (Part 1)
In one of my more nostalgic moments, and with Mother’s Day almost upon us, I asked a few friends to share their favorite life lessons from their mother. In compiling this, I found out that few of my friends had what we all consider as a traditional mother, meaning warm and nurturing. It turns out some of my pals either were not even raised by their birth mothers or had several mothers along the way. And, then others harbored such bad feelings from their childhood that even today they couldn’t recollect anything positive from their mother. While the latter situation was regrettable, it selfishly allowed me to put into perspective my own mother‘s austere way of raising her children.
My mother, Helen, was brought up by staunch Protestant parents who instilled in her a strong Christian ethic. Of her many lessons—most of them straight out of the Bible—the one I liked best was “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Either through embracing philanthropy in my life today or by offering small acts of kindness to friends and sometimes even strangers, I find following this example enriches my soul. It also makes me overall a happier individual.
In comparing notes with Joan Brower, a retired public relations senior executive, I learned she was raised by two mothers. Her birthmother, died of breast cancer when she was a teenager. As she explained, her family fought a good fight for five years. “As an only child,” Joan recounted, “I learned to shoulder enormous responsibilities, both physical and psychological. To this day, I am aware that my great emotional strength is derived from the way my mother faced adversity and its inevitable outcome. Always a cheerful, positive and gentle caregiver, she showed me how to accept both life and death while expressing gratitude for loving relationships. “ When Joan’s father remarried, his new wife devoted her life to raising Joan in a caring manner. Today, Joan is her second mother’s caregiver, a role she cherishes.
Christine Converse, a senior executive in a leading financial firm, learned the importance of being self-sufficient and never having to rely on someone else for money. Her mother, who worked as a billing clerk in the medical field, set the example for her daughter. “If you have your own income,” Christine explained, “you have more choices and options. And you won’t feel trapped. I did this in my life and it’s great! I am a stronger person for it.”
Christine Lumb—one of my oldest and dearest friends—was raised in Mauritius by a very gentle woman of great intelligence who was also a published poet. Later in life, Christine’s mother became very frail and had to rely on constant care given by “a team of dedicated young nurses of different ethnic backgrounds: Pakistani, Hindu, African creole, all French-speaking Mauritians.” As Christine recounts it, one night her mother’s favorite nurse, Apsara, consumed a fair dose of whisky while on the job and became helpless. When the family found out their natural inclination was to replace Aspara. “Interestingly, at the time my mother was never scared or annoyed. In chatting with her nurse to find out what was troubling her, my mother learned that earlier that day Apsara had experienced un chagrin d’amour and had used alcohol to sooth her broken heart.”
While her mother understood her family’s concern, she asked that they forget the episode and forgive her nurse. “What I learned from that is jhow Mami used the situation as an opportunity to become a confident and to demonstrate understanding, forgiveness and compassion.” Apsara remained her mother’s most faithful caregiver and was with her until her last breath. As Christine reflected, “I think the moral of the story is to try and penetrate the soul of people. It takes openness and the willingness to analyze, think and discipline one’s impulsiveness. I have very often thought of that and it has indeed influenced me in many ways.”
Susan Sokol Blosser, one of Oregon wine industry’s pioneers and author of two books, has written extensively about her mother and the difficulties of their relationship. “Yet the older I get, the more I miss her and wish I had known her more as another woman rather than just as a mother.” As Susan explained, her mother was a strong, talented woman in a man’s world. As a violinist, she performed throughout college, played with the Chicago Women’s Symphony, and later formed her own girl’s band which toured the country. “She gave it all up after she married and had her first child. She imparted to me a love of music, especially classical and violin.”
Susan also inherited her mother’s professional performance ethic that “no matter what, the show must go on.” As a remarkably strong, resilient and focused individual in her own right, Susan reminisced, “There have been many times in my business career when I’ve had to call on that credo.”
Over lunch recently, Lori Tieszen—a spirits industry marketer—told me about Nancy, her 93-year-old mother, who drives a red convertible and is still plays a mean game of competitive bridge. While raising Lori and her brother, her mother also worked alongside her husband, an entrepreneur. She taught Lori that “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” When I asked if that lesson applied to her brother as well, she replied “Absolutely. My mother was a total equalitarian. If you made good grades in school and were thin (my father struggled with weight issues!), Mom would allow us to do pretty much whatever we wanted.”
Stay tuned for the second half of Life Lessons from our Mothers in next week’s posting.