7 Very Important Things My Not-Very-Healthy Mother Taught Me

by Kassandra Lamb

Waterolor beautiful girl. Vector illustration of woman beauty salon

This post is part of the Beauty Of A Woman Blogfest V sponsored by one of the most beautiful women I know, inside and out, August McLaughlin. And because she so bravely shares of herself to help and inspire others, I’m going to be a little more revealing in this post than I might otherwise be (no, not that kind of revealing; get your mind out of the gutter 😉 ).

And since this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, I decided to talk about my mother.

I’m sure I’m not the only sixty-something woman who’s had to grow past the not-very-healthy role models presented by our mothers and the mixed messages our generation received about what it means to be a woman.

My mother was not a very strong person, emotionally, and she was a product of her time, coming of age in the 1940’s. She codependently let my father do whatever he wanted, in the interests of “keeping the peace” and “staying together for the sake of the kids.” My father wasn’t a bad man, but what he wanted was often misguided and almost always self-centered. He unintentionally caused his family a lot of pain, and she let him do so.

But putting aside that major flaw, my mother was a wonderful person in a lot of ways. And she taught me several valuable lessons. Some of these she taught me directly or by example, and some I learned by witnessing her bad example and doing the exact opposite.

1. She taught me to make the best of a bad situation.

Not that I would stay in a bad marriage like she did, but she showed me how to look for the way around obstacles without butting your head against them.

I didn’t appreciate this lesson for many years. In my youth, I tended to follow my father’s obstinate head-butting style.

His style of dealing with problems at work got him fired or “asked to resign” from so many jobs I lost count. Her style was to smile, make friends with, and eventually cajole her rivals into seeing things her way. As a result, she rose to director/dean level at the college where she worked, and she did so after having spent the first two decades of her adulthood as a stay-at-home mom.

2. She taught me to smile.

My mom laughing

Not in a false or fake way, but to genuinely be cheerful even if life isn’t completely going the way you would like it to.

I look back now and realize that much of what allowed her to be so cheerful was downright denial. But nonetheless, I grew up with a mother who often had a smile on her face.

She had a good sense of humor, which to some degree skipped a generation and showed up again in my son. What a delight it was to watch them interact!

3. She taught me to talk about my feelings with my friends.

I didn’t get just how miserable she was in her marriage until I was about fifteen years old. Gradually, during my teen years, she and I shifted from mother and daughter to friends and confidantes.

Looking back, I realize it wasn’t very healthy for a woman to share with her daughter how unhappy she was with the girl’s father. But in this case, I found those revelations validating. It wasn’t my imagination that my father was hard to live with.

When we went shopping, we’d sometimes pretend to be sisters. We frequently bought things (well, she paid for them), coats or pieces of jewelry, that we would share. I still have one of the pendant necklaces we bought on such an outing.

Was this a sick blurring of boundaries? Definitely. But this experience taught me to open up and share when I was hurting, something that would serve me well for the rest of my life.

I’m especially grateful for this lesson when I see female friends struggling to ask for what they need emotionally. The misguided message of our youth was that women should always put others first, which often translated into believing we were not worthy of support ourselves. But I learned, through my mother’s example, to ask for support.

4. She taught me to love shopping, and to cherish a bargain above all else.

shopping mall

A shopping mall at Christmas time was heaven for us! (photo by BazzaDaRambler CC-BY-2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Seriously, retail therapy is almost as good as the best counselor out there! (This coming from a retired psychotherapist.)

But my mother was very frugal. The only thing better than finding the perfect purse, dress, sofa, drapes, etc. was finding it on sale, with an additional X percent off.

One of the items we bought and shared was a pair of earrings that were little shopping bags, with “Shop Til Ya Drop” on the sides. I wonder what happened to them…

Today, shopping for clothes or pretty things for my house is preferable, of course, but I even find grocery shopping or running to Home Depot for bags of mulch a reasonably pleasant experience.

5. She taught me to be a good mother-in-law.

Unlike all too many mothers, she was not the least bit jealous of nor negative about the girlfriends and boyfriends my brother and I brought around to the house. She welcomed all of them–the sluts and the nerds, and the sweet girls and nice guys.

And she welcomed the people we married into the family with open arms and a generous heart.

Thanks to my mother’s legacy, it wasn’t hard for me to realize what a wonderful person my daughter-in-law is.

6. Ironically and indirectly, she taught me to put my child first.

wailing newborn with his grandmother

My newborn son (36.4 years ago) with his grandmother; he’s wearing a sleeper that says #1.

At some point in my adulthood, she told me that my brother and I were the best things that had ever happened to her. Not an unusual admission by a parent, but it actually surprised me.

Why? Because she had thrown us under the bus with my father more than once.

Her own father was a well-meaning but spineless man, addicted to get-rich-quick schemes. He couldn’t hold a job (sound familiar), and finally my grandmother tossed him out on his ear. (She was a strong woman.) My mother was twelve at the time.

For the next decade, she received eloquent letters full of empty promises (we found them in her papers after she died). But she saw her father rarely, and then not at all.

Her desperation for a man who would actually be there in her life was so great that she would do anything to keep her man, including ignore the damage he was doing to her children.

My son and I lock horns occasionally. (We both inherited a trait from my father that my mother called stubbornness. I prefer the term determination.) But when my son really needs something, I will drop everything to be there for him and his family. I surprise even myself sometimes by the ferocity of my reaction when he is in need.

7. She taught me to be strong and independent.

Again, not by being a role model for those traits–she was anything but those things–but she gave me permission and encouragement to be confident in myself. My stubbornness frustrated her when I was a kid and a teenager, but later she admitted that she was pleased to see how strong and independent I was. She was proud of the adult I had become.

And for all her flaws in raising me, once I was an adult, my mother and I were best friends. She’s been gone for thirteen years now, and I still wish I could pick up the phone and call her to talk about whatever’s on my mind.

I love you, Ma! Happy Mother’s Day!!

Please head over to August’s website to find the links to the other posts in this blogfest about the Beauty of a Woman. Some of the posts are serious, some are fun but all are interesting and well worth your time.

How about you? What did your mother teach you, for better or worse, about being a woman? (Note: I will be traveling this week, so there may be a delay in responses to comments.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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40 thoughts on “7 Very Important Things My Not-Very-Healthy Mother Taught Me

  1. Pingback: The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest V! #BOAW16 - August McLaughlin

  2. Jennifer Jensen

    Lovely tribute to your mother, Kass. And of course a psychotherapist would be able to see the good that came from weaknesses!

    My mother is strong and very independent, and did a great job of passing stubbornness down to all three kids. And yes, it’s stubbornness. 🙂 But one of the best things she did besides general love and mother-bear protection was to have high expectations of us and to instill in us the idea that we could succeed at anything if we worked hard enough. Not to be a professional singer when we couldn’t carry a tune or anything, but that we had brains and opportunity and capacity, and it was up to us. Hmm…I feel a mother’s day blog post coming on myself!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks, Jennifer, and I’m pleased that I inspired your own post! 🙂 That whole “you can do anything you set your mind to” message has become overused these days. But we grew up in an era when bolstering your child’s self-esteem wasn’t part of the parenting manual. Good for your mom that she realized how important that message was!!!

      Reply
  3. August McLaughlin

    Kassandra, I can’t thank you enough for the beautifully kind words and for participating in the fest! If I recall right, you were the first person to have your post ready—giving you extra raffle points for that. 😉

    I so admire your honesty here—the way you celebrate your mother, challenges and all, without painting a “perfect” image. Really, there’s no such thing. And the fact that you were able to turn many of those challenges into goodness, rather than holding a grudge of sorts, is inspiring gold.

    Beautiful tribute by a beautiful woman! Much gratitude. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Audrey Kalman

      I love how you’ve highlighted the opposites in your mother–how you learned from the traits that made life difficult for her. And that you loved and appreciated her while she was here!

      Reply
      1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

        Thank you, Audrey. I wish I had appreciated her a bit more while she was here. I did appreciate her, but some of these insights have come in more recent years, since she has passed. My brother and I especially understood her a lot better after finding those letters from her father in her papers. They were so sad.

        Reply
    2. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      You are very welcome, August! You deserve tons of kind words every day for all the goodness you spread in the world.

      As for being able to see my mother realistically, it took many, many years to get to this point. But it feels good to see her and myself as human, both able to do great things and also have flaws and make mistakes.

      Reply
  4. Kimberly

    Lovely, real sentiments about your mother… wonderful that you can see past the things that could have held you back, and found the good in it. Love that she was always smiling… from the pictures, it looks like she was inherently a genuinely happy person, despite some of the things she was up against! I enjoyed reading this – thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks, Kimberly. Glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, she was a genuinely happy person. I think I value that legacy from her the most of all!

      Reply
  5. Lynn Kelley

    Thank you for sharing these valuable lessons you learned from your mother, Kass. Very touching and compelling. You son is a couple months older than my son! Safe travels!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks, Lynn! I’m actually in Virginia in a motel room as I’m replying to people’s comments. I see the boy child and his munchkins next week!

      Reply
  6. Aurora Jean Alexander

    What an amazing mother you had Kassandra! I envy you for these amazing memories. I’m still fighting mine who’s got nothing better to do than to put me down.
    I admire you for your strenght!! A great tribute to Mom.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thank you, Aurora Jean. How sad for your mom and for you that she is stuck in that negative loop. 🙁

      Reply
  7. Patricia Sands

    What a lovely post, Kassandra. I’m sure you told your mother often how you felt, but wouldn’t it be nice if we knew we could deliver these messages straight to them now? Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Yes, it would be, Patricia! I have a funny feeling she’s up there cracking jokes with God as we speak.

      Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      You are very welcome, Diana. And thank you for stopping by to read and comment!!

      Reply
  8. Jennifer

    I, too, learned a lot from my mother, both in what to do and what not to do. Sounds like we have a lot more than that in common—great post! 🙂

    Reply
  9. Kendra Tanner

    What a great tribute to your mom! I begrudged my mom’s weaknesses for a long time and made a point to make sure I was different than her. Finally am learning to accept her for who she is. It’s helped me to accept who I am more too. Another form of beauty!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Great way of putting it, Kendra! Accepting our mothers and accepting ourselves , those two things are so intertwined!

      Reply
  10. Kitt Crescendo

    Mothers tent to be so key in how daughters perceive themselves, no? Sometimes our lessons are taught through their flaws, sometimes their strengths. I love how you laid your lessons out with such loving honesty.

    My mom taught me to be strong, self sufficient, and independent so that I would never feel I had to settle for a man being in my life because I needed him financially, etc. but rather he’d be there because I genuinely wanted him there.

    Through her flaws she taught me the value of self control and anger management. When she gets angry she says all sorts of things, half of which she doesn’t mean, the other half she doesn’t even know she’s said. I, on the other hand, have become controlled and very watchful of my words so that I don’t say something I don’t mean and can’t take back in anger.

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      All very important lessons too, Kitt! Especially the watching what you say in anger. I’m still working on that one!

      Reply
  11. Karen McFarland

    Even though your mother wasn’t without faults, you wrote a lovely tribute about her. The fact that she could turn adversity to laughter is not in itself a bad thing. She wore a smile, which we know can be just a frown turned upside down. Yet she smiled! It was different times. You didn’t complain. You made the best out of what you were given. But that didn’t mean you were necessarily happy. You just pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and kept on going, doing your best. Rather remarkable really. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Thanks, Karen! The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how important it is to put things in their historical context. In my youth, I tended to judge my mother based on my liberated generation’s standards. When I learned to see her through the filter of how she grew up, we got along a lot better!!

      Reply
  12. KM Huber

    Absolutely loved this: “what allowed her to be so cheerful was downright denial. ” I, too, am a sexagenarian whose mother used denial similarly. It took me decades to understand that. And it is only recently that I have caught myself using denial similarly. It is more easily done than most would think. Really enjoyed the post for in so many of your scenarios I saw my own mom. Thank you for that.
    Karen

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Glad you liked the post, Karen. My all-time favorite saying about denial: “When denial is really working, you don’t know it’s there.” 😉

      Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks, Christy! And thanks for dropping by. I will get to all the BOAW posts eventually.

      Reply
  13. Megan Fleming

    Kassandra,

    Great tribute to your mother. As a therapist, I can appreciate that sometimes it’s a journey to see the blessings of what we did and didn’t get from our mothers. Too often, it’s easier to get stuck in the pain points. These qualities that you share are true gifts. Happy Mother’s Day!

    Megan

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      It’s been a long journey to get to this place, Megan. And I had some new insights even as I was writing this post. Thanks for reading, and Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!!

      Reply
  14. Pingback: Beauty and Sexuality Quotes: A #BOAW16 Wrap-up - August McLaughlin

    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it, Susie! Yes, they are our first role models, for better or worse. 🙂

      Reply

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