There is only one time my mother has ever led me astray. As an inquisitive preteen I asked her what childbirth was like, and she told me it was a “piece of cake.” In my late teens I found out that this was a gross exaggeration (bordering on falsehood because, as I understand it, there is rarely ever cake involved) and from that time on received her sage words with a more watchful eye and discerning ear.
But as I grew older—as I stubbornly blundered through life, insisting that I knew best—I realized that my mother is one of the wisest women I have ever known.
Many of us roll our eyes at the wisdom and admonition of our mothers. But the truth is, our mothers are often the only ones in our lives who are willing to risk pushing past our pride—and sometimes even our wrath—to give it to us straight. Most of our mothers have been through the trenches of singlehood, dating, and married life, and they have come out on the other side with deep insight into the human heart.
Here are six particularly good ones from my mom.
01. “Finding the right man is like shopping for a dress . . .”
I know you're thinking this one's gonna be good because I thought the same thing at the time. But then she explained her analogy: “You see,” she said, “the dresses that look great on the rack are not always the ones that fit the best.” As time went on I saw that it was true. My mother’s advice encouraged me to remain open to the men who were not my “type,” even if it was just one date. And, as I dated, I saw firsthand that the real steals were rarely the trendy, sexy ones that everybody else was trying to squeeze into.
02. “Don’t leave home without your mascara.”
This piece of advice is in no way disparaging of my natural beauty. I know I am beautiful as I am, short eyelashes and all, but I love the way that putting a little mascara on accentuates my brown eyes. My mom and I believe that, done well, makeup is an opportunity for a woman to shine a little—in the same way that wearing a beautiful dress or artistically arranging your hair can be. So when my mom says to not leave home without your mascara, she simply means that you should always make an effort to shine—for you and for anyone you may meet. Whether it's mascara or just a well-ironed shirt, putting forth a little effort to look your best is appreciated by female friends and male admirers alike.
03. “Love is a choice.”
What if the man I love stops loving me? What if I fall out of love with him? I asked my mother these questions fearfully—and her response has kept me grounded ever since. My mom explained that a man who truly loves you is a man who chooses to, even when you are being a pain in the arse, and vice versa. My mom taught me that love is a visible sign we commit to over and over again, not an enigma—not a phantom feeling. This truth has illuminated the dark corners of my heart and helped me to set aside my fears that love might one day fail me.
04. “The male ego is not to be underestimated.”
Many women believe that the best way to handle the male ego is to ignore it or attempt to stamp it out, mostly because it is seen as a negative thing. But my mom didn’t see it that way. The male ego is a rather negative-sounding reference to a man’s sense of worth and value, and my mom has always taught me to give it the utmost attention. Shaunti Feldhahn, author of For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, found that the overwhelming consensus is that men deeply desire to be trusted, admired, and respected, and this is usually what motivates them. So when a man I’m with wants to teach me something or be the one who pursues, my mom would tell me to pay attention. Knowing what makes him tick and what makes him feel valued is a gift to the man you love and to you.
05. “Our differences complement one another.”
Vastly unlike each other in so many ways, my parents have always celebrated their differences. My mom has always been fond of pointing out the way she and my dad complement one another—the way she depends on my dad’s desire for order to balance out her love of a creative mess, for example. This reminder of the complementarity that can be found in a future spouse helps me to see differences as an opportunity for growth, not necessarily a roadblock to love.
06. “Don’t ever lose that spirit of service.”
My mom did say this once to one of my married sisters, but this piece of wisdom has been revealed primarily by example. Throughout my parents' forty years of marriage, I have witnessed them put the other first. My parents' example has taught me that love is not give and take, it's about giving of yourself without any expectation of reward. Mutual love has no tally card; it's a generous outpouring in every direction. The practice of serving those you love, and allowing yourself to be served by those who love you, must be studied. Luckily, I know I can look to my mother as an example.