My mother has been a great teacher over the years. Some of her lessons were intentional, and some were unintentional.
She was always big on safety, long before she went back to school in her mid-fifties to be a licensed practical nurse. We would hear cautions about waiting at least an hour after eating to swim, being careful when cooking to keep from getting burned, and making sure our fingers were away from the needle when using her Singer sewing machine—to name a few. Years later when I started taking solo journeys, thinking she’d be proud of my wanderlust, she’d say, “I don’t like you traveling by yourself. It’s just not safe for a woman.”
What she would see as sharing life lessons were renamed “sermons” by my older sister, who even went to the point of numbering them, mostly out of earshot of Mama, saying “Sermon No. 101” when Mama would start in on one of her themes of being grateful, or thoughtful, or working hard. Once we picked up on that ‘preachy’ tone of voice I think we must have tuned out Mama’s words, but we couldn’t tune out her actions.
She was tireless in the way she lived all those sermons, never fussy about what she had because it was always plenty, thinking of the welfare of others with little regard for her own, working until late in the night and up early in the morning to do the endless chores of her job and our farm. Her kindnesses have continued even with her advancing dementia, smiling often and reaching out to touch a fellow resident’s arm in greeting when I push her in her wheelchair down the hallways of Parkview.
But Mama also taught me in ways that she didn’t intend—like the problem with avoiding conflict. She was raised to never say anything unkind and for her that sometimes meant not acknowledging the problems that were before you. If there was a situation that was going on in our extended family or community, Mama would never speak about it. I think it would have helped to know some of that when I was growing up so I would have been prepared for that as an adult.
How surprised I was when I married my husband and found his family didn’t approach life that way. They’d talk openly about how things in their extended family or with their neighbors weren’t ideal.
Likewise, my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, would say if she was having problems with one of her friends, one of the ‘girls’ that had worked with her at the telephone office. They’d been operators for many years and were friends outside of work, maintaining their close relationships into retirement. Mary Dell didn’t hesitate to say if she was mad at her friend for saying or doing something that she didn’t like. Sometimes they’d part ways for a while then makeup and go back to their usual enjoyment of going out to lunch and then shopping in thrift stores. My mother-in-law taught me that you could acknowledge disagreement and then get beyond it. You didn’t have to ignore the less-than-perfect truth.
I think about how I’ve taught my two sons things I intended and those I didn’t. I’ve apologized to them for all I couldn’t be as a mother—and like other mothers, I did the best I could at that point in my life. And what was always true, was how completely I loved them.
Now our family has a new generation with the birth of my grandson eleven days ago. My daughter-in-law, Emily is finding her way as a new mother, doing the best she can for that little boy she loves more than she knew was possible.
And hopefully, over these generations, we’ll see that mothers love deeply and do the best they can. There is grace provided that makes what we learned, both intentional and unintentional, sufficient to guide us through our lives and honor the mothers that did their best.
How about you?
What are some of the intentional lessons that your mother taught you?
What are some of the unintentional things you learned from her?