‘The Best Advice My Mother Gave Me’
Many of us carry within us our mother’s words of wisdom and advice to help guide us forward in life, but during these scary and uncertain times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to amplify their voices now more than ever.
For Mother’s Day I reached out to an array of leaders, journalists, entertainers, and poets and asked them to share what their moms would be telling them right now to help get them through this difficult period.
As I gathered these stories I was stuck by a generational similarity to these mothers–no traces of tigers or helicopters. These women are more models of strength and simplicity without spelling it out. My own mother fits that bill. She was not particularly maternal but I always knew she loved me and my siblings absolutely. While my Irish father was an emotional showboat with difficult ups and downs, my mother was steady and the least neurotic person I ever knew.
In the last few months, I’ve noticed a difference in how people deal with this pandemic. There is definitely a glass half-empty vs. glass half full dynamic going on and I count myself lucky to be a true blue optimist. And today, I realize that’s from my mother. Priscilla Doyle often quoted this line of poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson: “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
I’m so glad I listened to my mother. Happy Mother’s Day everyone.
My mother’s mantra was, “Leave it in God’s hands.” She was an optimist by nature and would have told us that things would eventually get better. She was also pioneering and adventurous, interested in new technologies and always thinking outside the box. She suffered from COPD, and I know her doctors would be telling her to stay away from everyone. Although it would have been hard for her, I do think she would have been compliant, both for herself and others.
As she got older her filters went away and her opinions came out more freely. I can imagine her today watching the evening news, sipping on her Manhattan, and having some choice words for people flagrantly abusing the social distancing guidelines!
–Neil Bush, Chairman of Board of Directors Points of Light, son of First Lady Barbara Bush
“Whether or not we are blessed to have our mothers with us, we carry them in our hearts every day, and especially celebrate them on Mother’s Day.” -House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
My darling mother, Nancy D’Alesandro, was devoutly Catholic and a wonderful mother. In fact, she believed that mothers are God’s co-helpers in caring for children and the future. She taught us the importance of faith, family, and caring for others as a reflection of our Catholicism. She made things beautiful for us with music, flowers, fun, and Italian treats. And she was beloved as a grandmother, too.
Whether or not we are blessed to have our mothers with us, we carry them in our hearts every day, and especially celebrate them on Mother’s Day.
–Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
“My mother always told me when stressed or facing a tough job, to pause and take a deep breath. Just take a moment and breathe deeply. I can’t tell you how often I hear her voice in my ear, especially now!” -Andrea Mitchell
My mother always told me when stressed or facing a tough job, to pause and take a deep breath. Just take a moment and breathe deeply. I can’t tell you how often I hear her voice in my ear, especially now! She also always said we women are strong and can handle anything that comes at us. Sometimes I’ve doubted that, but more often than not, I realize she was right. Finally, she said my sister and I would be best friends for life. Truer words have never been spoken.
-Andrea Mitchell, anchor MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports and NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
My mother always said, “this, too, shall pass.” It works for both good and bad situations. In good times, it was a reminder to be appreciative of your happiness. In trying times, like the one we are in now, it is encouragement that you can survive anything. To loosely quote Winston Churchill, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
As for quarantine fashion, you know my mother would have the most fabulous masks and gloves to match her outfits. She would be fully glammed for all of the zoom calls, as she would remind me that glamour has no alarm clock and fashion never sleeps!
-Melissa Rivers, author, producer, actor, daughter of Joan Rivers
My mom always said,”Kristi, remember when you see a stranger on the street or in a car or wherever, give a smile! You never know how their day is going! A smile can turn someone’s day around.”
I see people that I can’t touch, hug, shake their hand or even help carry their groceries. But I can smile! That definitely works in times of social distancing.
–Kristin Chenoweth, award-winning singer and actor of stage, film and television
When I think about this pandemic, I think about how many of us have gone to ground and are learning to live with less. And this reminds me of my mother–a Depression era baby who was the original Scrooge McDuck. She reused Ziploc bags, (I do, too) she taught us to wash out our pantyhose with the remains of Ivory soap, and once when she was in her ‘70s, I found her wearing what I realized was a shirt I wore in middle school. “It’s perfectly good,” she said.
So, these days I find myself drawing on my thrifty mother–part minimalism and part respect for the planet. I think we’ve all learned we don’t need as much as we think we need, and we can all take a look at what is enough and how can we make do with what we have. In this doomsday scenario, it’s time for the affluent to see that less is more and ask, “do I really need this?”
-Lee Woodruff, “New York Times” bestselling author and co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation
My mother is my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my greatest inspiration. The most important lesson she taught me was to be believe in myself… From the moment I told my mother that I wanted to be a journalist, she has stood by my side every step of the way. -NBC’s Kristen Welker
My mother, Juliet Welker, is my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my greatest inspiration. The most important lesson she taught me was to be believe in myself. My mother is living proof of the power of that lesson. Raised by her mother (the late Margaret Hennegan) in Philadelphia, my mother beat all the odds and was accepted to Penn State University where she thrived.
She became the first African American president of the women’s student association. She graduated with distinction and was recognized with the Hetzel Award, which according to the university, “recognizes a combination of high scholastic attainment together with good citizenship, and participation and leadership in student activities.” My mom then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in city planning.
As a professional she became one of the first African American realtors to start her own company in the Center City area of Philadelphia – she was a true trailblazer. From the moment I told my mother that I wanted to be a journalist, she has stood by my side every step of the way. Her support has given me the strength to pursue my dream of not only becoming a White House Correspondent but also the co-anchor of the Weekend Today Show.
My mom texts me after every single live report to cheer me on. I would not be the person or journalist that I am today if it were not for my mom. I feel so fortunate to have her as my mom every day, especially in these unique and challenging times. Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and yours!
-Kristen Welker, co-anchor “Weekend Today” & NBC News White House Correspondent
It is not necessarily what my mother ever said but what she did that has stayed with me and helped me through this most difficult time. First of all, my mother, Pearl Gluck Nathan, died at the age of 103 and was remarkable. She did say that life doesn’t come to you, that you have to reach out and make the most of whatever life you are given.
She would have made the most of quarantine as I have tried to do–reading, walking, trying new recipes, and learning to use features like zoom. My mother would have said something like, “ask that machine that knows everything (the computer) how to use Zoom.” A lifetime learner, she would have used her time wisely to make the most of a bad situation and said to be grateful for what you have, even in diversity.
-Joan Nathan, “New York Times” contributor and author of “King Solomon’s Table” and other cookbooks.
A few things my mom used to say that ring in my head during times like this and other times:
“Problems are actually like little alarm clocks that tell you it’s time to do something very different. Look at them as second chances to figure out better ways or smarter plans.”
“Define your reality and create hope.”
On being upset or frightened around your children: “It’s ok to be emotional. It’s not ok to be out of control.”
“Don’t ever forget that you have a responsibility to the world. You were put here to love and help other people, most of whom have less than you.
“Your darkest or saddest times will end faster if you do something for someone else.”
“The best way to heal your grief is to get tangled up in someone else’s.”
“Failure is an invitation to think.”
“Happiness is often a choice.”
-Ann Tisch, founder of the Student Leadership Network
My mother was a brilliant mangler of the English language.
“That’s meat for the fodder,” she declared. “Do you mean fodder for thought?” I asked. She blushed. “No, we’re going to mix a little meat in it.” Once she said that something “shrieked her out,” but my favorite word mix-up was the time she wrote a letter to a friend of mine who was going through a very hard time and counseled, “Just remember, nobody’s free from immunity.”
If I knew how to needlepoint, those words would be on a cushion.
“I don’t know,” said my mother, who knew she was wrong but still liked the way it sounded, “Every time I say it, it just flows.”
It also flows beautifully across a pillow my daughter-by-marriage, Meg, gave me for my last birthday, which was three weeks before the pandemic put the whole country on lock-down. I look at the words on that pillow every day. My mother was so right. And so funny! Most people have trouble being both these things at the same time.
–Phyllis Theroux, essayist, mother of Justin Theroux
My mother wasn’t one for bromides or words of wisdom dispensed during difficult times, at least not that I remember. What I do recall is her yellow writing pad. She organized her day, designed home renovations, plotted dinner, and managed family troubles on yellow pads: lists and outlines, sketches and recipes. She used the lined paper as a way of making order, even when life was upended and disordered by tragedy and illness. So, the idea of list-making compels me as I move through this pandemic.
While I don’t use yellow pads, I try to make sense by writing poems, by writing something during this time, which seems charged with the unknown. Women are makers whether they’re making beds or soup or paintings or face masks. My mother was a woman of ordinary actions. She died a long time ago, but I think she’d surely be making a list on her yellow pad every day. I take her example to heart as I write my way through these strange virus times.
Ironically, I guess, my mother, Jane, didn’t dispense much actual advice. She really did NOT like telling other people what to do. Almost ten years after her death, I find myself wishing–daily–that she had passed along more hands-on instruction, because I’m as floundering and floppy now as I ever was.
Mainly, my mother believed in tending your own garden; working on yourself; developing the quality of your interior attention. And in that regard, being raised by her has prepared me very well for what we are all going through now. “What is this world coming to?” gets replaced by, “What can I do?”
Because of this orientation, I will always worry more about what I’m doing than what you’re doing. This ability to resist the desire to control other people has helped to keep me more or less balanced during this time.
My mother also always had a potted geranium in the kitchen. She kept her geraniums blooming through the longest and darkest New England winters. I’m doing the same. Soon it will be warm enough for me to put my geranium out onto the porch, but over the past two months, this little plant has reminded me of my own need to bloom, even in the dark.
-Amy Dickinson, author, advice columnist “Ask Amy,” panelist “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”
This article was featured in the May 10th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.