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The Very Best Lessons I Learned From My Mom

One of my fondest memories of my mom from my teenage years is the night we fought a badger.

My dad was out of town, so my mom and I were managing life on the farm with the help of our outdoor farm dog, Bob. Bob, like his namesake, was a barker, and this time his barking alerted us to a problem — he had an unknown animal cornered under our front window.

Aided by only a flashlight, we peered at the hissing pile of fur and scurried back inside. Our World Book encyclopedias helped us identify the animal as a badger: aggressive when cornered.

Bob was a fierce dog, but he was small and would be no match for the badger.

Mom and I took action — which is to say, we mostly worried and formed hypothetical solutions involving my dad’s shotgun and a call for backup. Fortunately, we didn’t need to resort to violence. The badger left on its own, probably as annoyed as we were with Bob’s incessant yapping.

That night wasn’t just fodder for family folklore; it was also a bonding experience with my mom and it highlighted her resourcefulness, strength, and sense of humor.

Those were traits she was developing long before I knew her.

My mom, the oldest of five, also grew up on a farm where she started her career as a compassionate caregiver. She overcame polio at the age of five, crying with her mom during the painful at-home rehab sessions. She played school with younger siblings, rubbed backs at nighttime, and as her younger sisters grew to adulthood, my mom took them on adventures, teaching them about life and love along the way.

She played the role of mother, even before she was a mother.

Like my dad, my mother has taught me plenty of lessons I now apply as I parent teens of my own.

Parenting Advice from my Mother

Be Ready With Advice

I was barely out of my teen years when I lived in my own apartment for the first time, working and going to school and trying to figure out who I was. I had a studio efficiency with barely enough room to cook.

I also had my mom on speed dial.

“Do you use a recipe for chili? Or just dump stuff?”

“Cottage cheese in lasagna? Yes or no?”

Questions about cooking gave me an excuse to hear her voice in my empty, echoing apartment.

I hope my own sons ask similar questions as they prepare to move out on their own. They have learned many life skills through the years, but I’m sure there will be gaps to fill. I look forward to calls on topics from big (Which job offer should I accept?) to small (Which measuring spoons should I buy?), no matter how old my sons are!

After all, my mom still gives me advice. When I’m struggling with a career decision or want to talk through a parenting challenge, she’s the first person I call.

“We have just two tickets to an NBA game this week,” I recently told her off-handedly when we chatted. “We’re trying to decide if we should buy two more or just send the boys. They’re pricey.”

“Buy the tickets,” she said. “Then the four of you can go. You won’t get this time back.”

So we did, and she was right. Together we cheered for our team, drank overly-expensive sodas, and questioned the ref’s eyesight. I’ve already forgotten how much we paid for the tickets.

As a teenager, I was annoyed by how often my mom was right. Now, I’m thankful.

Be Ready With Silence

When I rotated through boyfriends as numerous as the pairs of flare jeans and crop tops in my late-90s closet, my mom didn’t hound me or push me away with lengthy lectures or unsolicited advice. From pierced belly buttons to sudden career changes, she’s chosen to support rather than oppose. She may have raised her eyebrows or asked a curious question, but she never made me feel foolish. (And there were plenty of times I deserved to feel foolish — for fashion and romance choices!)

Today, too, there are plenty of times she listens without providing answers. I call to talk about my older son’s college plans or to rehash a conversation with a coworker. She doesn’t give advice every time. Somehow, with her magical mom discernment, she knows which situations require counsel and which necessitate quiet support.

I try to remember to practice similar discernment in interactions with my sons. Whether we’re driving across the city to school or standing side-by-side cleaning up dinner dishes, I listen and nod. They share details about some drama at school, a small conflict with a teacher, or thoughts on current events. I might ask follow-up questions, but mostly, I let them talk. Sometimes I forget and push too hard with interference or rush in with my proposed solutions, but those results are never as effective as the times I remember my sons aren’t always looking for me to fix things.

As my parenting role shifts from coach to cheerleader, my silence is required more often than my advice. I can thank my mom for teaching me that.

Be Ready With Forgiveness

During my teen years, the badger wasn’t the most dangerous thing to threaten my mom. My sharp tongue posed the biggest danger. I critiqued and complained constantly. My dad would serve as referee, telling us to pipe down as Mom and I argued in our shared bathroom. Now I can’t even remember what our one-sided fights were about. Was I questioning my curfew or critiquing her method for making French toast? I just know that 25 years later, I still think of my wounding words and the tears they inspired.

My mom doesn’t, though. Or if she does, I’ll never know. She never once brings up old arguments or wants to rehash those hurtful moments. Instead, she embraces the present and looks to the future. She lives out the wisdom that love keeps no record of wrongs.

I work hard to do the same with my sons. Whether it’s a critical word when I’m overtired or a sarcastic comment taken the wrong way, we say and do things that cause harm to one another and the accusations fly: I’m too sensitive. They’re mean-spirited. After we’ve cooled, though, like my mom, I model forgiveness and grace. I’m not keeping a list of wounds to bring up 20 years in the future.

I hope they aren’t keeping a list either, because I’ve made plenty of mistakes through the years. Instead of remembering the content of our disagreements, I hope my sons remember that those arguments never diminished the love and support we all shared. Each morning always brought a fresh start.

When someone told teenage me that I looked like my mom, I groaned internally and rolled my eyes. I didn’t take it as the compliment it was intended to be. Now, though, I hope I’m like my mom — wise, thoughtful, and forgiving. I hope my sons will describe me that way, and I hope it’s how they’ll want to see themselves in the future, too.

Kimberly Witt is an Iowa transplant placing roots in St. Paul, Minnesota. With the help of her husband, she is raising two amazing teenage sons who were born in Ethiopia. She enjoys writing, running, and (surprisingly) helping her sons with math homework. Find her at

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