I was raised by a strong, imperfect, funny, loving, idiosyncratic, amazing single mom. I don’t think I realized how incredible she was until I became a mother myself and experienced first-hand just how intense and challenging it is to raise children — and I was doing it with a highly involved partner. I have no idea how my mother did it alone.
She pulled the whole single mom thing off while working full-time as a teacher, which is a very grueling job to have while caring for kids of your own. She was utterly exhausted after work, and I often begrudged the fact that she wasn’t as full of energy or cheer as other mothers seemed to be.
I see now that it made no sense to compare her to other mothers, because no mother is perfect. No mother has it all together, at least not at once. And I know now that my mother had the most essential ingredient needed to raise good kids: presence and unconditional love. She was always there for me and my sister — both emotionally and physically. She was our rock, and is the reason why we survived what was sometimes a very tumultuous childhood.
It’s why we not only survived, but thrived, and it’s why we’ve blossomed into two strong, resilient women ourselves. And a large part of that was because my mom was a survivor herself. Her life was an example of how to live despite difficult circumstances, having had the rug pulled out from under her more than once.
My mother practiced “self care” before it was a thing. She always took her mental and emotional health seriously, and set a good example for us girls. Without further ado, here are some mental health lessons my mother taught me:
1. Never Pour From an Empty Cup
My mom taught us that you can’t care for others if you don’t care for yourself first. She taught us that self-care is not selfish, and that making it a priority in your life not only benefits you, but also everyone you hold near and dear. My mom was an advocate of therapy (for both herself and me) from an early age, and is one of the reasons I have continued with therapy throughout my adult life.
2. You Have More Strength and Resilience Than You Know
When life throws me a curveball, I often think of my mom. I know that if she could get through some of the things she did, so can I. My mom taught me that each of us has a well of power and durability inside of ourselves, always available. We just have to believe in it, and my mom taught me to do just that.
3. Always Speak Your Truth, Even if it Scares You
My mom never silenced us girls, and allowed us to have a voice in our home. Sometimes that meant there was a ton of crying and whining. And once we were adolescents, our hormones made things… well, interesting. I applaud my mother for always allowing us to “let loose” at home. Our emotions were not shamed; our home was a safe place for our angst to land. And I have carried this lesson throughout life. I value the truth of my feelings, and express them when needed.
4. Showing Up is Half the Battle
Oh my goodness, life can get messy, and it can feel easiest to retreat from it all sometimes. But you don’t have to do everything perfectly to be a success in life. You just need to show up. On your darkest days, you just have to muster enough energy to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes showing up means asking for help. Sometimes it just means saying “I’m here,” to those you love — even to yourself.
5. Never Say No to Chocolate
The small, simple pleasures of life should be embraced to their fullest. My mom is a bonafide chocoholic, as am I. And even as I enter middle age, and see every ounce of sugar I eat go straight to my hips and thighs, I keep up my chocolate addiction. My mom taught me that life is too short to deprive yourself of stuff like that. Everything in moderation, but my mom is pushing 70, is healthy as a horse, and always, always eats her chocolate.