Things I Learned from Mom


I have a great mom.  I’m blessed that she continues to be a great mom, healthy and active and on the move.  In honor of her and to celebrate mothers day, here are some lessons she taught me.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

She really did say this.  Didn’t your mom?  Obviously, this can’t be a hard and fast rule, because there are times when you have to say painful things that people need to hear.  I couldn’t do what I do well if I everything had to be “nice,” as in never hurt feelings.  Yet I’ve come to believe this is true, and all too often I know I’m sinning when I break it.  What do I need to say that hurtful thing for?  My ego?  Revenge?  Because I’ll get a laugh at your expense?


You can only spend it once. 

Sounds simple and obvious, and yet it speaks to priorities and choices.  I have always taken this as the reminder–I mean, since I became an adult and started paying attention to what my mom said–to think consciously about whether this is the best way to spend my money or not.


Gilding the Lily

There was no direct instruction accompanying this phrase.  It was simply an observation, as in, “Well, that’s gilding the lily!”  It means you have something that is already special and you choose to go over and above with it, thus adding gold to an already beautiful flower.  Does it really make it any more beautiful? The implication it carries is, “Was that necessary?”

When “gilding the lily” involves ice cream, the answer is “yes.”  But in other areas, it speaks to me of choosing contentment with what I have, especially when what I have is pretty nice.  I suspect Mom would say that a lot of folks gild the lily these days.


Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome

I know exactly what this means.  Don’t stay longer than you should, don’t impose on others’ hospitality, don’t make yourself a nuisance, don’t wear out your host.  What I don’t always know is how to tell.  When I would be playing at my best friend’s house, sometimes Mom would call, ask to speak with me, and let me know I had worn out my welcome.  How did she know?!?  I didn’t hear my friend’s mom tip my mom off, and I couldn’t see any signs from my friend or his mom that this was so.  But sometimes you simply bow to the expert.  I still ask Mom sometimes, “Have I worn out my welcome?”

“Who said life was fair?” and “Nobody said life was fair.”

So the first one, it turns out, is a rhetorical question, ironically answered by the second.  I didn’t always appreciate hearing this.  It usually came in response to my complaints about some grave injustice I was experiencing.  I wanted sympathy.  I got a reminder that life can be rough and sometimes downright unfair.

I say this to my own kids now, because honestly, though I believe in God’s justice in the long view, in the short turn the deck often looks pretty darned stacked.  But I quote mom when I say it, so I don’t seem like the bad guy.


Give it the old college try.

I often wondered what Mom’s experience going to college was.  When I was in elementary and high school, I didn’t really get this one.  I mean, it meant give it your shot, try hard, but why?  When I went to college, it seemed “the old college try” must be doing it while utterly sleep-deprived after having left it until the last minute.  But I’m guessing it meant something else to her.  I do say this one to my children sometimes, too.

I mean, “I know this is ridiculous, but try, anyway.”


“Careful, your face will freeze that way” or “If you stick that lip out any further, a bird will land on it.” 

Neither of these ever happened.  However, Mom was not a big fan of self-pity, and still is not.  I thought the former was absurd when I was a kid, but the older I get, the more I realize that people who smile a lot and people who scowl a lot both shape their faces with those expressions.  So yeah, long term, Mom was right.

For the latter, I will just lump it in with the phrase below:

“If you’re going to feel sorry for yourself, no one else needs to.” 

It took me a long time to wrap my brain around this one.  The lip thing, sure, that’s not an attractive face and you’re providing a potential bird perch.  Kind of making fun of you, kind of suggesting that you look preposterous.  Fair enough.  But if you actually have something worth sympathizing over, why does feeling sorry for yourself prevent or obviate someone else’s concern for you?  And how are they supposed to know that they should feel sorry for your unless you convey that by feeling sorry for yourself.

But once again, Mom is right.  Self-pity is very unattractive.  And whether it’s deserved or not (see “Who said life was fair?”), when you see others feeling sorry for themselves, or “throwing a pity party” (is that phrase still used?), the most common reaction is to get away and leave them to it.  Trying to generate sympathy for oneself often leads to isolation.


This is a small sampling of what Mom taught me, but they are the ones that jump most readily to mind, which shows me they are the ones I’ve taken to heart.

Thanks, Mom.  Turns out all that effort wasn’t wasted, after all.


3 thoughts on “Things I Learned from Mom

  1. Rhonda Rusk

    I was told the bird would poop on my lip, not perch! Either way, your mom has shared many words of wisdom with many people over the years. I count myself blessed to have been one of them!

  2. Chris Wells

    Mike, I always enjoy your style of creating words into entertainment and education simultaneously. Knowing your mom’s love of life and BEAUTIFUL character and smile makes those words have an even larger impact! Thank you!

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