Mom Rules

My mother gave me some impossible advice: “Don’t be like me.” (My essay of the same title was just published in skirt! Click here for a funky link to the issue’s pdf and find page 31). I don’t know many women who don’t fear discovering—and then finding–aspects of their mothers in themselves, do you?

Another of Mom’s gems was, “Don’t grow old.” This puzzled me as a child. Was I supposed to look forward to an early death? As a person who was diagnosed with cancer a year and a half ago, I can tell you that there is nothing I look forward to more than growing old.

I have tried to take a more pragmatic approach with my daughters. Here are my top tips to them:

  1. Pay off your credit cards in full on time, every time.
  2. Try to have a job where you don’t have to wear pantyhose everyday (I dispensed this tidbit before it was acceptable for people to leave the house in their pajamas).
  3. If you want to have children, try to have a career that allows you to work part-time.
  4. If you want to save money, don’t buy alcohol at a restaurant or bar.

When my eldest daughter, Emma, was experiencing a difficult time in college, I recommended that she figure out one small thing she could do each day NO MATTER WHAT—brush her teeth, put on lipstick, do the dishes, get dressed. “For me, it’s making the bed,” I added. Emma now makes her bed religiously, and says this is the most helpful thing I’ve ever said. I only wish I had thought to say it before she left home for college, leaving behind her a bedroom that looked like it had crossed paths with Hurricane Katrina.

Who knows what bits of mother wisdom and folly will lodge in kids’ brains?

Actually, my mother gave me some very valuable advice on top of the impossible:

  1. If you want to read good writing, read The New Yorker.
  2. If a man hits you, even once, walk away and never look back (I passed this one on to my girls).

Here’s what I really hope I’ve passed on to my girls from my mother. She didn’t write it–I came across the well-worn clipping in her drawer. It wasn’t even published until 1972, when I was almost out of the house. But my mother could have been the author–it was the air I breathed growing up. Take it and pass it on; you could do a lot worse:

Children Learn What They Live

By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Thanks, Mom. You rule.


What was the best and worst advice you got from your mother? How about the best and worst advice you’ve given your kids?







4 thoughts on “Mom Rules

  1. My mother had this up in her classroom! I love it and know it well. (My mother also taught me to make my bed every morning. And that sometimes you have to do something over and over in order to do it right.)

  2. Best advice I gave my daughter (and wished I had heard growing up) is for her to be her authentic self. Not to live her life pleasing others but to follow her heart in pleasing herself. I had too many voices in my head telling me what to do, how to do it and with whom I should be that crowded out my own voice until I was in my mid-20s. Main voice was my mother’s very critical and judgmental one. I didn’t want my daughter to live her life trying to please me or her dad or her life partner. And if she is successful at this, it will please us to no end: to see her happy, and jazzed up about living a life that has meaning to her.

Leave a Reply to Janine Kovac Cancel reply