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Things My Mother Always Said – That Now I Know Were True

By Debbie Hensleigh June 01, 2022 Mindset

When my mother was the age that I am now, I had five children, ages 11 to 3. I was home schooling all of them, making food from scratch, and living my best earth-mother-type life. And, I had a neuro-muscular disease that resulted in general fatigue and muscle weakness.

My mother lived 1000 miles away from me and her visits were yearly, for several weeks at a time. Frankly, those visits resulted in more work for me… not much help from my visiting mother.

I am grateful now that my children have pleasant memories of their maternal grandmother. I was a little surprised the other day to find that my daughter did not know that I had a difficult relationship with my mother.

But it was a pleasant surprise. I’m glad that I kept my frustrations with the woman from her grandchildren.

Now, 35 years later and 7 years after her passing, things my mother said often come to mind. Imbedded deeply.

Her generation was so different than mine. She was from the Greatest Generation, they say. But opportunities for women were limited… especially for those who did not attend college, were of modest means, and shackled by conventional mores.

Limited as my mother’s contributions to my confidence and happiness were, there is a lot of good, solid wisdom from sayings and expectations she passed along to me. Here are some of them that stand the test of time.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Don’t Say Anything

Keeping silent when you’re bound to say something negative? Yep. Good advice. I tried some variations of this with my own kids.

At one point, we had a family “rule” that if you said something unkind about a person, you had to come up with three positive things to say about that person. There is just no need to be unkind.

I remember one son having a hard time with positive comment #3 about a young friend. He finally came up with “…It is good that <unnamed person> lives so far away from us.” Since we all shared some of his initial sentiment, that one passed that one time.

Say “Please” and “Thank You”

Common courtesy takes no effort. I have tried, even with my husband of 50 years, to remember to say please and thank you. It reminds me that he is a person who deserves simple respect, even at home.

I thank the barista, the teller, the salesperson, the postman. I try to always thank my colleagues and to say please. To ask with please says that I don’t take other people’s efforts for granted.

Most would say we live in a self-obsessed time and culture. I think that remembering to appreciate simple and even common interactions with a “please” or a “thank you” is a way to remind ourselves that others are important.

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

I remember hearing the beggars can’t be choosers saying a lot, but honestly, I’m not sure of the usual application. Maybe if I didn’t help with preparing dinner growing up, I should not complain (even though I was not a fan of a dollop of mayonnaise on my pineapple slice).

Now, I think that it comes to mind when I am considering my own satisfaction with someone else’s offering. If I didn’t do it, should I evaluate it?

If I ask for water and it comes with ice that I didn’t want but didn’t NOT ask for, I should say thank you. If I ask for someone else to do the dishes, I should not complain about the way they stack the dishwasher. And, I should say, “thank you.”

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Our family was blue collar and we had limited resources. My dad worked hard and was a gifted sign painter. But he worked for the same small company for his entire adult life, after returning from WWII, and with sub-par pay.

He lacked confidence, which still makes me sad, but he provided as he felt he could for his family of a wife and three daughters.

I don’t think I was overly needy or wanting for what we didn’t have, but I do remember hearing this phrase often. I’m glad for the underlying truth it conveyed. I have always been a hard worker and have managed my earnings well.

While my husband and I made choices that limited our income (like me staying at home for 20 years, raising our family), I managed our resources well. Other than only having one pair of basketball shoes and a shared family vehicle in high school, our kids lacked little.

I think this concept of realizing money is earned with hard work makes me especially appreciative and in awe of the wonder of our new home.

We have designed and built a modest home on 15 acres of woods we have owned for 25 years. And, a river runs through it! It is a wonderful, simple place to help our grandkids learn about what grows on real trees and about wildlife and fresh eggs and starry skies.

Because I Said So             

Few phrases frustrated me more, growing up, than “Because I said so.” Not a good enough reason! So, I rarely used it with my own children. I tried hard to be patient enough to give them a more complete answer.

We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come to It

No reason to worry and fret about anticipated future events. I find that the things we are tempted to worry about the most are the least likely to happen, somehow. And, there are usually good resources available when the challenge appears if you don’t panic or overreact.

Attend to the present. Live and enjoy the moment. That will get you ready for the future.

If Everyone Jumped Off a Bridge, Would You Follow Them?

Ha! Another very annoying comment my mother would make in my teen years was the jumping-off-the bridge-along-with-the-crowd one. “But everyone is doing it…,” I would say.

Maybe this helped me not be a fad follower. Maybe it helped me develop some independence (which was not all that well received by my mother).

I do still find value in this sentiment. Know what I believe. Stand for what is important to me. Risk doing the right thing. Do my research.

You’re Not Made of Sugar, You Won’t Melt

I know I’m not made of sugar. My mother insisted on it every time I complained of any discomfort from rain. Now, it strikes me as a curiosity… I may try to find its origin.

A Little Birdie Told Me

Yep. I now know that no secret remains a secret. It almost always comes out or is found out. It’s amazing how quickly actions are told or stories are repeated.

This reminds me, even now, that “if I don’t have something nice to say, I should not say anything at all.”

Good reminders, all of these timeless sayings. Along with these, I remember others too:

Can’t never could.

Chew with your mouth closed.

This too shall pass.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

All these Old Wives’ Tales still have a ring of truth in them. Now that I am an old wife myself, I can remember with gratefulness the annoying sayings from my childhood that have stood me well.

What do you remember your mother saying that has stood you well? What do you hope your own kids remember from you? What was the most annoying thing you heard often that now you say yourself, with new understanding? Please share in the comments below and let’s have a fruitful conversation.

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The Author

Debbie Hensleigh is a serial entrepreneur and business coach who is intent on living life on purpose. She is a speaker, writer and leads workshops on intentionally designing your best ThirdThird, from ages 60 to 90. Building on the FirstThird (learning years) and the SecondThird (earning years), the ThirdThird can be the best Third. Please visit Debbie’s website here

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