Listen to Your Mother (And Your Grandmother): 20 Practical Life Lessons

Posted by Deborah Huso on Nov 13, 2011 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Success Guide |

My grandmother: training the next generation

You’ve heard the old adage, “Listen to your mother.” Well, when your mother is a teacher accustomed to having other people listen to her and bend to her will, you learn pretty quickly that listening is in your best interest, at least when your car is still on her insurance policy….

The same goes for a grandmother who has been at one and the same time a factory worker, farmer, homemaker, and mother and who can churn out hundreds of lefse in one day (and yes, because it’s a Scandinavian food, you can only make one at a time), get 20 different bowls of food hot and steaming on the dinner table all at the same time, and chop an invasive black snake’s head off in one fell swoop with a kitchen knife without compunction.

I grew up under the example of these stern women, influenced by their relentless stoicism in the face of adversity, their insistence on getting what they want, and their dedication to seeing that the world bend as much as possible to what is right and good…or at least what they believed to be right and good.

Perhaps it was their stoical Scandinavian ancestry and the sense of personal responsibility that comes of being Lutheran that made them the unyielding, witty, and fearsome creatures that they are.

It was my grandmother who taught me how to sew, how to make things grow, and how to laugh at the absurdity of everyday life. She passed on to me old family recipes, showed me how to kill bugs with soap and water, how to stop the itch of a mosquito bite, and instilled in me the usefulness of knowing how to drive a tractor.

And then there was my mother, who, after four decades of reading, studying, and teaching the eternal truths of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens and watching the careful interactions of young people dancing in that netherworld between childhood and freedom, tried to pass onto me her, at one time, nearly flawless understanding of human nature.  Better informed than a psychologist on what made people tick, she gave the soundest advice on how to handle human interactions. It was advice I rarely followed but always learned I should have.

From these two women came practical life lessons that I have often taken for granted as much as washing one’s hands before dinner. But their simple advice, both spoken and demonstrated, has often been my guidebook through the twisting path of life:

  1. Ignore negative criticism; accept constructive criticism and compliments graciously.
  2. Never send form Christmas letters. The only person who cares that your two-year-old has an IQ of 160, that your daughter just got accepted to Harvard, and that you and your husband spent three months last summer flying around the world in a hot air balloon is you.
  3. Do send personal, handwritten thank you notes, especially after weddings and funerals.
  4. Have the willpower to walk away when you don’t get your asking price from a salesperson. This is especially true when shopping for cars or buying homes.  You’ll likely get a call in the morning….
  5. Buy 12 five-piece place settings, even if your dining room table only seats eight. Despite the china salesman’s demonstration, you can only stand on a teacup so many times before it breaks.
  6. Turn off the television. You’ll find you have a lot more time on your hands than you think.
  7. Keep a garden. You never know when it might come in handy to know how to produce and preserve your own food.
  8. Pick your battles carefully. Nobody listens to the person who always complains and criticizes.
  9. Learn how to do your own taxes and home repair or marry somebody who can do them for you.
  10. Never say anything you wouldn’t want repeated.
  11. Always say “please” and “thank you,” especially to your spouse, your children, your employees, and wait staff.
  12. Avoid airing your political and religious views in public.
  13. Remember that skepticism is your best defense against salesmen, politicians, lawyers, doctors, and the media.
  14. Maintain high standards. Others will emulate your example.
  15.  Always remember and recognize the birthdays and special holidays of your friends and family, even if you think it’s just an excuse for Hallmark to make more money.
  16. Wear high heels to church, even when you’re 80. How you dress reflects how you feel about what you’re doing.
  17. Never stop doing anything you love, even when you’re 90. You are as young as you act, no matter how it feels.
  18. Don’t go to sleep when passing through the Grand Tetons. That might be the day a grizzly bear crosses the road.
  19. Friends are people who call you when you’re troubled, not just when they are.
  20. Remember that happiness comes from living up to your own expectations, not other people’s.


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