What my mother taught me.

What my mother taught me.

Last week my mailbox was stuffed with invoices, and my thoughts immediately turned to … my mom. Our schedule was packed with meetings and deadlines and kids’ ballgames, and it wouldn’t have been a huge deal to put them off for a week. But I made myself sit down and pay those bills—because that’s how my mom taught me to do it. (I’ll explain.)

My parents are celebrating their 40-somethingth anniversary this week, and I’ve been reflecting on the influence they’ve had on me, in ways big and small. Today I’m focusing on what I’ve learned from my mom: from the big picture stuff to the practical minutiae, her influence is everywhere:

my mom and me

My mom gets consistently excellent service from every person she hires to service, repair, or maintain anything, ever. (There must have been an exception sometime, but I can’t think of one.) She’s kind, which helps, but she also pays them immediately. It doesn’t matter if her bill says due in 7 or 30 or 45 days: if the invoice is ready, she’ll pay on the spot; if not, she’ll pay it the day (make that the minute) it arrives.

(Incidentally, when the a.c. goes out in the middle of a summer heat wave, whose house gets serviced first? That’s right. My mom’s.)

Not just nice (although she is) but kind. Say hello to people, ask how they’re doing. It’s not that hard. (At least once a week someone stops me on the street and says Are you Martha’s daughter? I just LOVE her.)

My mom is an extrovert’s extrovert: she is genuinely glad to see people she knows (or might know, or suspects she knew in another life), anytime, anywhere. She never waits for them to notice her: she says hi first. And because she does, she has a lot of great conversations with everyone from long-lost childhood friends to long-unseen grade school teachers, all over town.

Most people are happy to see an error in their favor on their receipt. Not my mom. She points out missed items, incorrect pricing, and bad math whenever she spies them on her tallies. We were at Kinko’s together once; the cashier undercharged her, and she told him so. He was stunned: customers never pass up errors in their favor. Her reply: “If I’m going to sell my soul, I’ll sell it for more than 52¢.”

If it’s grey and rainy out, don’t wear black, wear something cheerful. Everyone’s happiness (including yours) needs a boost on a gloomy day.

This was more a warning to my adolescent self than an intractable statement about human nature. She warned me that if you cheat off your friend’s math test in 7th grade, people are going to remember when you’re 30. And do you want a cheater doing your taxes? She didn’t think so.

My mom knows everyone, or so it seems: she runs into people she knows on the streets of Chicago, at the top of the Empire State Building, in the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. The world is smaller than you think, she’d say—and now technology has shrunk it more. (My mother, the prophet.) And she always said our city (Louisville: metro population 1.3 million) is “a big small town”:  you think it’s too big for everyone to possibly know your business, but they do. Behave accordingly.

Do you have a mother, or mother figure, whose influence is all over your life? What does that look like? 

P.S. More things my mother taught me: love per wear, and a decision making hack.


  1. Sarah Jane says:

    Ha! I think your mom and I are kindred spirits. While I love your blog, I always think, “I’d be too loud for Anne!”:) Wondering if I’ll have an awesome book-reading daughter- sure hope so!

  2. Rebecca says:

    My mom taught me to be counter-cultural, or to be who I am even if that doesn’t sync up with whatever popular culture said was cool. The result was interesting; I’m a tattooed, conservative and liberal Christian who likes deep theology but also rompy SciFi and an avowed feminist who is currently the SAHP. Anyway, if I end up like my mom (who lived by her motto) I’ll be a pretty awesome person.

  3. Kristine says:

    Thank you for sharing about your mom. Inspiring! Speaking of small world…I found your blog while living in the Czech Republic and have been following for a while now…(a year? maybe two?). This summer my family is relocating to…Louisville. Maybe I’ll bump into you some time! Pretty funny.

  4. Bethann says:

    Love your list of you Mom’s wisdom! Thanks so much for sharing! Sounds like she’s a friend to all she meets because she treats others as she wishes to be treated! What a beautiful example of how moms should be and some important daily values moms should instill in their children.

  5. Janet says:

    In addition to the qualities you listed about your Mother, may I add Smart, she’s definitely smart. She reminds me of my Mother-in-law who never met a stranger, was kind, helpful, loving and wise. She’s been gone 26 years and I miss her still.

    I love the one about selling your soul for $ 0.52, I do point out errors in my favor, sometimes it just annoys the clerk.

  6. I love the advice about paying the self-employed first. I’d never really thought about it, but I can see why it is important. My mother taught me that even the smallest house can seem spacious when a few homey touches are added.

  7. Allison says:

    My mom taught me to follow my own thing and not the crowd because everyone else was following the crowd. And I learned my lesson one day in 5th grade when we were doing math in groups of 4 and my answer was different than the other 3 in my group, who all had the same answer, so I changed my answer and of course I get called to the board to do the problem and just copied it from my paper with their answer. It was incorrect and my original answer was correct. I am now 51 yo and that has always stayed with me.
    She also taught me “all roads lead to Rome” – which is what she used to say when she would take a new and different route just to see where it would lead. I chuckle to myself when I hear myself saying it to my kids when I’m driving now.

  8. Kelly says:

    These are so great Anne. Your mom is a very wise woman. One of the most important things my mom taught me was to be true to my word. If I say I will do something, be reliable and follow through. Her advice has served me well in my adult life.

  9. Jeannie says:

    Your mother sounds like a great person, Anne! I especially related to the one about not selling your soul for 52 cents, because I do that as well.

  10. Amy Patton says:

    Beautiful post and congratulations to your parents. Your mom sounds so like a mom of the 70’s… and a wonderful woman. Interesting, such an extrovert made such a lovely introvert.

  11. Tim says:

    My folks always handed the extra change back to the cashier as well, Anne. Their example taught me a lot more than just making sure everyone had the right amount of money after a transaction.

  12. glenda says:

    Oh Anne…Your mother sounds like mine. She is 78 years young and never meets a stranger. She spoke to a woman the other day, (a friend of my sister from high school) that she had not seen in 40 years. And that woman remembered my mom so fondly that it brought tears to my eyes. There is nothing like the lessons we learn from our mothers. So thankful.

  13. Alyssa says:

    My mom taught be about hospitality. She never hesitated to open our home to both friends and strangers, making simple meals stretch far, homegrown flowers on the table, endless cups of tea and a listening ear.
    She taught me that family comes first and worry never helps.

  14. Karlyne says:

    Your mother sounds like my best friend, Karen, and I’ve always thought that just being her friend makes me intelligent (for having the sense to pick her). Wait, your mother’s name isn’t Karen, is it? No, Martha. Well, it’s a small world, and if I ever meet your mother, I’m sure I’ll make her my second, best friend.

  15. Nancy says:

    She sounds awesome! I love your question and I went with the first thing that popped in my brain. My mom taught me how to play. As a child, she seemed to have endless energy to play with me. Everything we did growing up was played (homework; cleaning our rooms; dishes; brushing our teeth etc…). Games were made up on the fly with rules so complicated they really became an inside joke. Now, with two boys of my own, I am so thankful I know how to really, truly play with them. We taught my husband along the way too. When this family goes to the park, we go to play…not sit on a bench. Valuable life skill.

  16. Jennifer H says:

    Your mom sounds a lot like my dad. One time we were on a road trip stopping for gas in the middle of nowhere really, and he ran into someone he knows. He is always full of great advice – one of my favorite sayings of his is “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.”

  17. Dana says:

    My mom, who is 83 and lives with me, taught me:

    Be generous and “people matter more than things.” She will willingly and spontaneously give away things of hers that people admire or need. She has done this as long as I can remember.

    Think the best of everyone. My dad used to call my mom “Pollyanna” because she is so positive and affirming of everyone she knows or meets.

    Be interested in other people. Ask them a question about themselves and let them talk. Everyone who knows my mother just loves her and I think this is why. She lets them talk about themselves and is truly interested in their stories.

    Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them. “Love you to the moon and back” and ” I love you muchly” are 2 of her favorite phrases.

    Thanks, Anne for a great post.

  18. Love it! This is a very affectionate article that reminds me a lot of my own mother. When we are teenagers, we frequently ignore the positive qualities of our parents. Often, it’s not until later in our lives when we come to appreciate all the sacrifice our parents have invested in us and the lessons learned, especially from the person who loves us and knows us the most, our mother.

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