Unsolicited Advice From Your Mother
When we’re young, mothers seem omniscient. Infinite. All-knowing even when they don’t tell us that they know, and we are embarrassed to discover months, perhaps years later that they were very much aware that we would skip school every Wednesday to watch movies or that we used to write love notes to the curly-haired boy two desks down. And they are wise, aggravatingly and intrusively so. Each remark to “eat your vegetables”, “apologise to your sister” and “separate your whites and darks from your colours” finds its way into the topography of our brains, likely in the section that our conscience inhabits, which lights up when we consider entering a self-destructive relationship or see a carbohydrate classified as “high GI”.
And then we age, memories filling the cracks that adolescent fantasies once inhabited. We begin our careers, move to different cities, we fall in and out of love, contemplate a nomadic lifestyle, cycle through various hairstyles, experience heartbreak. Through these experiences, those of us who are lucky are mothered still – if not by the women that birthed us, then by new maternal figures: our fathers, relatives, in-laws, partners, friends. The mothers of our adulthood are corporeal, mortal, fallible. Which isn’t to say that they were different before. We were simply too young, too overwhelmed by the newness of the world and the tumult within our bodies to see otherwise.
The wisdom of our adult mothers feels heavier. Perhaps this is because adult advice is swathed in history. The knowledge they possess about the world gains meaning because we no longer see them as timeless and mythical but as humans with a trajectory of experiences not dissimilar to our own. And their advice, though at times unsolicited, is grounding. Good motherly advice is practical; it insists that it be actioned. At times it is prophetic and unexpectedly profound. The best motherly advice, delivered at any age, has our best interest at heart.
In anticipation of Mother’s Day, we explore unsolicited advice passed down from maternal figures near and far.
Essay Chynna Lao
Image Mary Cassatt, Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, ca. 1889
Unsolicited, which is to say, not asked for.
Advice, a stand-in for guidance, a guide to action or conduct. Your mother –an individual, often a female parent, bearing the relation like that of a mother, as in being the origin, source, or protector.
Life is unpredictable, meteorologically and cosmically. We never know when we may be provoked to rush – perhaps it might rain, or the train could be moments from arriving. We could find ourselves on uneven terrain, or on an unexpected adventure. Oscar Wilde once wrote that “to expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” My mother says the same thing. “Always wear comfortable shoes,” she tells me. “Who knows what could happen?”
Or, as my own barbershop choir-singing, pranic healing, naturopathic mother says, “find what you love to do and cultivate it.” Fulfilment is not a product of wealth, social validation or any other mythical equivalent of success. It is a habit that we cultivate, a decision to actively and repeatedly devote energy to the projects and relationships that we care about.
"At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities,” says philosopher Jean Houston. Humour provides distance; recognising the absurdity of life’s tribulations allows us to step outside of our own frame of thinking. Sharing laughter with another during a difficult time can eradicate, if only momentarily, experiences of isolation. Humour normalises, releases, relieves stress. Laughter also burns calories.
Which is to say, tread carefully and resist the urge to rush. Hunger begets impatience and impulsivity. Regular and mindful nourishment is vital to the creation of a meaningful life.
Or, phrased without subtle admonishment, communicate with kindness and respect. Manners today are often classed as antiquated, however in a culture that rewards ruthless self-interest and normalises dishonesty, there is something to be said for the ceremony of politeness. Mannered speech is not about social restraint but about active respect. About communicating in a way that nurtures.