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EBSTEIN: Hearing Our Moms Then and Now

Seven years ago, I asked a wide-ranging group of sons and daughters, “If you could take one lesson from your mom that has made all the difference in your life, what would it be?”

The responses were rich and varied. They included, “Life’s not fair, but it shouldn’t stop you from dancing,” “Keep your doors open because the stranger is the friend you haven’t yet made,” and “Stay curious and look it up.”

Some children shared that their lessons from mom were about what not to do. “Don’t underestimate yourself,” “Don’t keep painful secrets hidden,” and “Don’t demand perfect.” Even though the times and social norms were quite different for our moms, their stories shared a common thread of resilience — something we appreciate even more in 2023.

But about 2023, would we take different lessons from our moms today, post-COVID but still embroiled in political acrimony and deep social divide? If so, what might we take? I went back to my contributors to ask that question, and here is some of what I got back. It suggests that we actually do hear our moms a little differently today:

Modest expectations are important 

“Any day you can get out of bed and put your feet on the floor is a good day. And laundry piles are a sign that everyone is well…”

This message is akin to, “A messy house is a happy house.” We’ve certainly had a lot of mess over the last three years, but maybe not so happy a house.”

Find opportunities for kindness

Mom never let the world get her down. She taught me that every morning we wake up is a blessing and an opportunity to live in positivity and kindness.”

This mom also woke up her kids each morning by singing a Broadway show tune that might not have felt too kind at the time. Clearly, though, she valued spreading good cheer — very useful today. Her son, who internalized this lesson, has found ways to show kindness and cheer as an educator.

You are never too old to find friends and make connections

The octogenarian mother who exhibited this trait moved from the east coast to the west coast to be near her son. Then, around the time of the pandemic, she moved back to the east coast to rejoin her community of friends.

Her son was understandably unhappy about the distance. Still, he appreciated that “Even amid COVID, my mom was not to be deterred. She continues to reconnect with people and make new friends wherever she goes.” Given that COVID has made us more insular and less social, his mom is a good reminder that we should always be in the friend-making business, regardless of age.

Keep Moving 

Seven years ago, a daughter shared how her friends would stop by to see her mom, even if the daughter wasn’t there. Her mom, who was of modest means, would say, “I have no more meat, but I can add potatoes,” as she created an open home for all.

Fast forward, and the daughter fought a significant health battle. Fortunately, she has recovered, but during her darkest days, she would hear her mom in the back of her mind saying, “Keep moving.” Her mom never succumbed to her own personal battles, choosing instead to “keep moving.’” So has her daughter.

Get a good night’s sleep, and the world will look different to you in the morning.

These were the words I heard many times from my mother. In 2017, I shared her lesson of continuous lifelong learning — a value I am committed to. Over the last three years, different words of my mom have resonated. I remind myself to get a good night of sleep to cope better in the morning. We need our strength when the world seems overwhelmingly sad. I’ve passed along this advice to my family.

My re-engaging with sons and daughters has shown me that lessons from our moms have been tweaked with new ones emerging. What we shared in 2017 still holds, but there is a renewed respect for tenacity and equanimity, purpose and patience, as the elixir for our times. COVID and our mood have tamed us with a dose of pragmatism. We believe we best honor our moms’ memories by embodying their truths.

One contributor wrote, “Believe it, and you will be it.”

Happy Mother’s Day to one and all.