Life Lessons My Mom Taught Me

In honour of Mother’s Day, we asked readers to share what they've learned from one of life’s most influential teachers.

Mother And Daughter 1Courtesy Marisol Martinez Solano
Marisol and her mother, Erendira.

I’m the youngest of six children. When I was four, my dad suffered a work accident that left him disabled, so my mom had to take care of him, too. My father’s family wanted to separate us kids into the care of different uncles. But my mom told them no, that she would support us. She had never worked before, but she found a job and was able to keep a roof over our heads, provide food and send us to school.

So even at age four, I had great admiration for my mother’s hard-working attitude. When she got home from work, she would play with us kids outside. We played with a ball, we looked at the sky and the stars, and she always answered our questions. I never heard her say that she was tired; she only wanted to see us happy. I thank my mom because she never gave up. — Marisol Martinez Solano, Mexico City

When I was a self-centred teenager, my mother, Hélène, would tell me that we don’t get points in life for being beautiful or intelligent, because those are traits we are born with. She’d say, “You only get points for being kind, because that is something you have to work at and choose to be.” I needed to hear that. — Lise D’Amours, Casselman, Ontario

My mom was the most generous, loving person. If she knew of someone who was sick or dealing with hard times, she immediately prepared food for them. Now I do the same for my loved ones. My brother just went into surgery, and I made the family meals to get them through the week. It brings me so much joy to know that I’m helping (and it doesn’t hurt that I love to cook). — Barb Kniel, St. Albert, Alberta

Mom taught me that everyone has something that drives them. She always said, “If you’re passionate about something, go for it and give it your all!” When she got tired of having a boss, she started her own business. And when she had to close her business, she tried something else she was passionate about. She taught me the importance of having priorities.

I don’t like my current job. Like my mother, my priorities are my family, my partner and my close friends. So I keep my eyes open, waiting for the opportunity to find the job that fulfills me. — Maude, Abbeville, France

My mother taught me to forgive and forget. That we shouldn’t dwell on past grievances, but that instead we should let go of them and move on. My mother and I joked, later in life, that in earlier years we didn’t always remember that lesson! But on her deathbed, we forgave each other for being human, one last time. That, l won’t forget. — Eleanor Holwerda, Victoria, B.C.

A few weeks before I married by husband, my mother took me aside and gave me some advice. Mum and Dad were married for 42 years and had four children. Throughout their marriage, they faced the many challenges that raising a family, juggling finances and having unexpected poor health presented.

Still, Mum is a straight shooter, so I was a little apprehensive as I followed her down the hallway of our family home and into her bedroom that day. After closing the door, she launched into the importance of being sure of the big commitment I was about to make.

Her closing advice left a strong impression on me: “You know, marriage isn’t one relationship, it’s a series of them,” she said. “Be prepared for things to change between you both. As new challenges arise, you’ll find that you both change. But if you work together, you’ll end up with a better relationship.”

This was the best wedding advice—and life lesson—I could have hoped for. And after 24 years of marriage, we’re still going strong, warts and all! — Louise Waterson, Sydney, Australia

My mom, “Bunny,” would tell it like it is. But she had the wisdom to hold her tongue if saying something would not be helpful. She would tell me: “If you don’t have something nice to say, keep your mouth shut.” I have heard these words echo in my mind on many occasions, and they have often prevented me from escalating issues. — Steve Lewis, Redbridge, Ontario

Mother And Son 1Courtesy A.K.
A.K. and his mother, Alice.

In addition to the many beautiful and uplifting things my mother taught me, I learned the importance of letting go once your children reach an age when they want to find their way and stand on their own two feet.

Of course, a mother will always see a son or daughter as her child, but we must have the courage to let this child leave the nest when the time comes. This does not mean we stop loving them, but we also show them that we believe in them, that they are strong, and that we stand behind them, no matter where life takes them. — A.K., Zurich, Switzerland

My mother passed on a whole world to me. She had studied piano and played regularly at home, bringing the essence of classical music to my young ears. We had an upright piano in the dining room, and I would sit on a stool next to her and watch her play Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven or Debussy’s “Gardens in the Rain.” I was fascinated. I started playing the violin when I was seven, and my siblings and I sometimes played together.

Today, I enjoy going to concerts, reading about great composers (I’m currently on Schubert) and I’m taking music-history courses.

My mother gave me such a beautiful gift. The older I get, the more I’m moved by music’s infinite richness. — Vincent Philippe, Paris, France

Remedios and Mercedes.

To speak of my mother, Remedios, is to speak of unconditional and infinite love. She was born in the 1930s, a few months after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and grew up during the harsh postwar period.

She was extraordinarily resourceful and created a happy and welcoming home for her family and friends. But her affection was always accompanied by the knowledge that to love well, you have to know how to say no to your kids.

I don’t remember my mother ever being idle; the only time she sat down was to sew, an activity that became an extra source of income for the family. Also from her blessed hands came magical casseroles and healing caresses.

Her unconditional devotion multiplied when she became a grandmother. Today, her legacy of love lives on in each of us. — Mercedes Dominguez, Madrid, Spain

Mothers are the greatest gift in the world. My mom is no exception. She made sure we got a university education, and she worked different jobs to help my dad with the household expenses. She never complained about how hard it was.

Now that I am also a mother, I realize how important a mother’s role is: A foundation of the home, the light of the family, the nurturer of children and an inspiration to others. My mom taught me that mothers are very special gifts from God—gifts that can never be bought and are always available. — Maricarl Garcia, Manila, Philippines

My father’s death pulled the rug out from under my mother, in part because she had no other close relationships aside from him, my sister and me. Her life revolved around her family. From that experience, I have learned that it is important to focus not only on family, but also to build a broad emotional base with friendships. This gives me support and resilience when life is more difficult. — Dominique Graf, Zurich, Switzerland

Mother And Daughter 3Courtesy Debbie Browne
Debbie and her mother, Ruby.

My mother taught me so much about life, both intentionally and by example. Having had six children, she was very busy trying to make ends meet in the 1950s and ’60s. We were fortunate to have some land, and my mom taught me how to be as self-sufficient as possible by canning, curing, freezing and preserving our own food. She also taught me to be more patient, compassionate and empathetic.

From my mother, I learned one of my most valuable life lessons: that we have the power to make our own lives happier, healthier and more meaningful than we realize. — Debbie Browne, Spruce Grove, Alberta

Being around my mother is like never leaving school. Dona Glaucia is an endless source of knowledge. Throughout my 30 years of life so far, this independent woman has showed me how to live with my head held high, to own my choices and not to linger over the difficulties but do what needs to be done.

Thanks to her, I learned that a suburban Black man has the right to dream and the duty to make that dream come true.

My mom, who is a nurse, always makes time for me—she finishes a chaotic shift and still finds the energy to ask me about my day, and she truly listens. She is always giving the best version of herself. — Walter Farias, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

My mom’s greatest lesson to me is that kindness never gets old or boring. Whether it is a smile for a stranger, holding a door open for someone or giving to a charitable cause, the rewards for making even a small difference seem endless. — Tammy Alagierski, Mississauga, Ontario

My mother had some funny yet wise suggestions when it came to finding a partner, such as, “If you want to meet a man, walk around the hardware store. You might meet a nice and handy man.” And: “If you see an attractive man, go up to him. Don’t wait for a man to come to you. You might wait a long time.”

Other gems of advice she shared:

  • “Never wear elasticized pants. To stay slim, be aware of your waistline.”
  • “A cup of tea enjoyed alone or with a friend is therapeutic and soothing.”
  • “Always get ahead of constipation; deal with it before it becomes chronic.”

Above all, she taught me to be kind, especially in marriage and toward those who need it the most. — Joan McCann, Toronto

If you enjoyed these life lessons from mom, don’t miss our roundup of fascinating facts about Mother’s Day in Canada.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada