Sometimes the most impactful life lessons we learn from our parents don’t make themselves known until many years into our adulthood. In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s some of the most valuable wisdom I gleaned about love and relationships that my mom never knew she was teaching me.
1. “Nothing good happens after 10:00 at night.”
For an embarrassing number of years, 10 p.m. was my non-negotiable curfew, long after all my friends were allowed to stay out later. Mom’s reasoning was that nothing going on after that hour was anything a “nice girl” like her daughter needed to be involved in.
As much as it chafed (and on the few times I was able to fabricate my whereabouts and sneak out till a scandalous midnight and beyond), in hindsight I will grudgingly admit that most of the things I was sneaking out to do were probably not the best idea for a fairly naive young teenager.
As an adult, I realize Mom’s advice applies extremely well in one specific area of dating: A guy who calls you late at night to get together probably isn’t looking to take you out for a milkshake and fries. Thanks to Mom, I managed to recognize a booty call when I got one, and save myself from leaping at it when I was hoping it meant something more.
2. “For God’s sake, put on some lipstick.”
I was a little bit of a tomboy as a preadolescent, and when I did discover makeup in my teens, I favored mostly sparkly nude Twiggy colors. I didn’t wear makeup so much as make my face glittery. Without fail, as soon as I got ready to go anywhere, “You need lipstick!” was my mother’s clarion call.
When I was an actor, I became so enamored of the magic of cosmetics I had to check myself so I didn’t doll it up like a drag queen, but that’s not why this was good advice. While I’m very happy with my face with or without cosmetic intervention, I have to admit that when I really want to rock it, nothing gives me the kind of confidence skillfully applied makeup can. I use it to feel sexy or professional or polished, to draw attention away from blemishes or under-eye circles when I’ve had a late night or just to give me a little oomph on days when I’m feeling sub-par.
Do I need lipstick? Not really. But there’s something to be said for the confidence and power a woman gains from looking her best.
3. “You can’t have a relationship before you’re ready.”
In elementary school I had a massive crush on a boy in my class, Raymond. Raymond asked me to “go” with him, and when I excitedly came home and told my mom, her answer was, “Go where?” Followed immediately by, “No. You’re too young.”
As “going with” a boy at that age meant little beyond bragging rights at school and perhaps some passed notes, and because my mother of course had no way of monitoring that, naturally I told him yes anyway, and we “went.”
The next week at a party in the basement of my best friend’s house, while her mom sat upstairs doing her best to tune out the shrill 12-year-olds downstairs, I caught Raymond kissing my BFF, devastating me on two counts, and resulting in some fairly extravagant histrionics on my part.
My mom was right; I wasn’t ready to date (none of us were). But more important, I learned never to embark on a relationship before I was ready, whether it was turning dating into something sexual, getting serious too soon or because I was rebounding and hadn’t yet recovered from heartbreak.
4. “Measure twice, cut once.”
My dad died young, so we were largely raised by my mom on her own and she was exceptionally handy. This was a rule that stuck with me; careful evaluation and planning ahead of time saves you a lot of frustration on the back end.
If I’d followed this advice when I was younger, for instance, it would have let me stop and think twice before dating a man who was very recently separated from his wife, and wound up dumping me to try again with her (on our way out of town for a romantic weekend). It’s what reminds me now, when I get upset at my husband, not to vent my feelings without a filter, but to take a moment before I speak and think about my words and the impact they might have on him, to calm my initial childish impulse to lash out and instead measure my words before I do irreparable damage.
Once you make the cut, you’re committed. If you’ve done it wrong you’ve ruined your materials. Mom was right; it’s worth stopping to measure, twice or even more, before you do something irrevocable.
5. “Life is a series of choices.”
This was usually what Mom said when one of us was in trouble, as in, we chose poorly… and consequences were headed our way.
But the words echo in my head frequently as an adult: When I chose a guy who had no interest in anything long-term or even particularly committed, and two years later he broke my heart. When I finally broke up with someone I didn’t love but had stayed with out of a sense of guilt and a deep affection for his daughter. When I met a man who was kind and genuine and funny and open, and chose to take a chance on jumping into a life with him after only a few months. (We’re in our seventh happy year together, four of them as husband and wife.)
Most of all, Mom taught me that the most important choice is happiness. No matter what life hands us, we can decide to let hardship overwhelm us and color everything else, or we can accept the difficulty… and choose to be happy anyway. Of all Mom’s lessons, this is the biggest lesson, the one that has most shaped not only my relationships but the entire course of my life: Choose happiness.
Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). You can find her at www.phoebefoxauthor.com, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your inbox here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.