The Best Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me

“When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” – Erma Bombeck

My 6th grade music teacher decided that, for the school Christmas program that year, our class would be doing a musical play. I was pretty excited, because I was musical and had a pretty strong singing voice. The main characters were Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, so of course I anticipated that I would be Mrs. Claus. We had our simple auditions, and the next day, when the parts were announced to the class, another girl got the role of Mrs. Claus. I was devastated. And to make matters worse, my role would be that of the reindeer keeper—not even an elf! There was no solo singing part and very few lines.

The teacher later told me in private that I was totally suited for the lead role, but because I was so much taller than every other kid in the class, and “Santa” was rather short, it just wouldn’t look right. And I couldn’t be an elf either, because of my height.

When I got home from school, I broke down and, sobbing, told my mother about the horrible events of the day.

At that moment I hated my height, I hated the teacher, and I vowed to just stop singing in music class. My mother asked me a question that I will never forget: “Will it matter five years from now that you did not get the part you wanted?”

That was the first time I heard my mother ever ask that question, but she would ask it many times over the next several years, as situations and events either angered or hurt me. And that question is the first thing that pops into my mind now as an adult when I have been “wronged” by someone or some situation or face a setback of any kind. That little question was just one of several guiding principles that I picked up from my mother.

Here are the other “rules of life,” according to my mother:

  • Never compare yourself to anyone else. The only comparison that is important is to who you were yesterday, last week, or last year. This is such a liberating concept. If you are growing intellectually and morally, that is what counts.
  • Stop judging others. When you judge others, you really aren’t defining who they are. You are defining yourself as someone who needs to judge others. Making judgements comes from low self-image, so best to check what it is that is making you feel badly about yourself.
  • We can always find time for the things we want to do. The hard part is finding time for the things we don’t want to do. Do the distasteful things first. You’ll feel better about yourself.
  • Ask yourself one question before you choose to do something that might be questionable. Would you be fine if this were shown on television tomorrow? If the answer is no, don’t do it.
  • Stop agonizing or getting angry over the small stuff. In this universe you are only a speck, and the little things are even tinier than that. If you close your eyes and move out into the universe and look down at the earth, where are you? You can stop taking yourself so seriously now.
  • Whether you share your money, your food, or your time, it doesn’t matter, just share. Sharing develops character when it is done quietly without any benefit of outside praise. And do not share with the expectation of anything in return—that’s not sharing; that’s making deals.
  • Own your mistakes. Blaming others or circumstances is a “cop out.”

It’s often hard trying to live by my mom’s “rules.” And when I break them, I feel like she may be looking down at me with disapproval. So, I have shortened versions of them on my fridge to remind me how I am to teach and respond to my kids.

More importantly, I like to think that I am modeling these rules on a daily basis, because that is really how my kids will learn and practice them. So far, it has gone well—my kids are becoming their own people, and I really like who they are becoming.

But even when I forget, after my kids have angered or hurt me, I still ask myself the most important question: Will this matter five years from now?

Leona Henryson is a graphic designer and IT consultant at SPH. While she certainly has always enjoyed design, her other love is writing, and she has combined those two passions by sharing her personal experience through guest blogging. Follow @Leonahenrynson and Google+ 

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