The Things My Mother Never Taught Me

My mother never taught me to arrange flowers

There are times as I have grown older when I’ve suddenly realised I don’t know something that everyone else seems to know. Does that happen to you?

These bits and pieces of information have been many and varied throughout my life. But they cropped up constantly when I was a young adult. Usually it was the little things . . . like I didn’t know how to make smooth custard; and I also chucked out so many pots of burnt stewed apples. Lumpy custard with burnt apples anyone?

Sometimes though, there were relational issues when I had absolutely no idea. Such as how to relate to unknown males as a young married woman. One day, not long after Stephen and I tied the knot, I had a big heart-to-heart with a young man while sitting at a dimly lit table at a church coffee shop. At the end of the evening he offered me a lift home! I am not sure who was more uncomfortable when I showed him my wedding ring.

One sunny day a few weeks later, I smiled at a young workman labouring with a team in our street as they worked on powerlines. To my embarrassment, when I left the house a little later, a wolf-whistle echoed up the street in my direction. His supervisor growled at him – and I finally learned a valuable lesson about not encouraging strange young men.

Yes, I have Gaps!

I put these gaps in my knowledge down to the fact that I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was just 16. She was sick for a couple of years before that though, so in reality my learning from her probably stopped when I was 13 or 14 years old.

There were so many areas where, in a perfect world, I should have picked up the information from my Mum: child-rearing, keeping house, cooking, relating to people in general, relating to boys in particular, and these are just a few of them.

Then there are skills she had, which I would have loved to learn from her. For example, before my mother became unwell she made beautiful sponge cakes, our home was always filled with stunning flower arrangements, and her dress-sense was impeccable. I am sure she would have passed these things on to me if she had lived longer.

As it is, I’ve had to rely on others showing me, such as my mother-in-law, who taught me to make a sponge cake. Or I make things up myself, which is why I still have trouble working out what clothes suit me. Or at least I do research and figure it out – this is how I learnt about gardening. I am quite resourceful, and I’ve managed to make a success of many areas that were once a mystery. But I still am aware of the possibility of those gaps, and always wonder if there is something I don’t know, just outside my awareness.

Yorkshire always produces great cooks!

Last year while I was visiting my sister in England, I was telling a lady called Jackie about my mother’s death when I was a teen. Jackie’s mother is still alive and well, and while she was moved by my story, she couldn’t really personally engage with what I had to say.

Until I started to talk about the many places where I have gaps.

Suddenly she said, “Oh, I’ve just realised. I have gaps too!” And her story tumbled out.

It turns out that Jackie grew up in Yorkshire, “And everyone expects women from Yorkshire to cook very well,” she said. “So, people always say to me, ‘You must a be a great cook. You are from Yorkshire!’

“But I tell them, that no, I am not. I am a terrible cook! I never learnt.”

She leaned a little closer. “I never learnt to cook because my mother never learnt. And she never learnt because her mother died when she was 18!”

I don’t think Jackie had quite realised about the huge impact her grandmother’s early demise had made on her. It wasn’t just about the cooking. The big question was: if she missed out on learning to cook, what else had her mother failed to pass on because she simply didn’t know?

It wasn’t just Jackie becoming aware . . . the penny dropped for me too. Suddenly this concept of “having a gap” took another turn.  It goes much further than your own parents running out of time to pass on things they know, because there can be generational gaps. I am aware of this happening in my children too. There are things I never learnt from my mother, and so they haven’t learnt from me.

It is a much bigger issue than I first thought

The fact is, everyone has gaps!

For whatever reason, either parents run out of time (like mine), or they simply don’t know every detail to prepare their children for the big wide world of adulthood. Most of us do our very best to provide all the knowledge and wisdom we can, passing it on to our children at the right time. But often there are things we do not know – and the sad thing is, sometimes we don’t even realise what they are.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Personally, this is where I ask God to show me. It is what I did when I was first pregnant, and overwhelmed with the task ahead. And I still do it, even today. The number of times inspiration has struck, not long after praying, tells me he has shown me an awful lot!

As a result of all this, I have begun to compile a list of things my mother never taught me. Of course, there is plenty you can work out for yourself. Google and YouTube are pretty good knowledge banks these days. However, some of the gaps take a little more skill and ability, and I am still learning. Plus, I am sure there are other gaps I have yet to realise are even there!

My blog will slowly begin to feature some of these practical realities, and stories about how I learnt them. I’ll be telling other people’s stories too. Soon there will be a treasure trove of all sorts of things that were gaps, and how to fill them.

Let the discoveries begin!

questions for you:
Are there areas where you know you had gaps and had to fill them?
Or that you still have no idea what to do?

Great Questions to Ask Your Kids

Leafy Green Park

Whatcha doin’?

Her little voice piped up whenever she found herself with a willing listener.

It was the well-used question one of our girls offered as she made conversation with friends, young and old. It usually got people going with a story about their latest activities. She would then launch forth into her own explanation of how her day was going.

The thing was, she was barely two years old!

When she grew up to be a school girl, I had no trouble finding out how things were going in her class. Every afternoon I would get the full story: How the teacher said this – or her girlfriend said that – or that someone was in big trouble today!

Now an adult, our daughter is as outgoing as they come. She is always ready to be someone’s friend, or to help someone out. She is unfazed at the size of her audience, or at filling up silence in a conversation.

One Time Only

On the other hand, I also have introverts in my family. One of my two boys took much longer to get his head around speech. There was nothing wrong, it simply took another year or so. For example, as a two-year-old he was prepared to say each word he learnt, once. And once only!

“Train!” he pointed out one day as we sat in the car waiting at a level crossing. And that was the one moment we heard him say it.

“Cheese!” he said at breakfast. It was one of his favourite foods. But did we hear it repeated? Nope.

“Water!” Even though he drank water at every meal, the word was spoken just once.

My guess is he knew he could say it, so why should he say it again? It wasn’t until he was well past his third birthday that he began to verbalise, and suddenly it was a tumble of sentences.

However when he was older, trying to get information out of him after school was an interesting challenge. And his older brother was the same. Our afternoon walks home down the hill, through the leafy park (much like the picture above), were full of newsy items from my girls. But grunts and nods were often all I could gather from the boys as they ran wild and free downhill. Sometimes I had to quieten the girls, so I could catch the boys’ snatches of news!

That particular son is now also a grown-up. He too, is as ready as his sister to be someone’s friend, or to help someone in need. But he doesn’t command the same space she does, and prefers to be in the background. Although it has to be said, he is still happy to stand in front of a crowd when necessary. He surprised everyone when he gave the Best Man’s Speech at his mate’s wedding! Mostly though, he doesn’t seek the limelight like his sister. He is energized by being on his own. On the other hand, as an extrovert, our daughter is energized by being with others.

When it comes to being outgoing, these are the two extremes in my tribe.

The other three fall somewhere between them.

And that’s the thing. Each child is different. You would think in a family of five siblings you might get lots of similarities, but to be honest you find more differences!

As a mother with young children, I soon learned to tailor my responses depending on the child. Yes – there was one set of basic rules when it came to discipline and expectations. But each child was different.

I decided it was very important to throw away the cookie-cutter thinking, and to relate to them as individuals.

I had a big after-school challenge with my boys though. Because how do you get someone to tell you what’s going on for them with one word replies?

I didn’t ever get very good at this. Something about running around with five children makes it difficult to think through strategies very well. (Most likely, my mother could have taught me a thing or two here, but of course, that was not possible.)

After a while I realized it was pretty pointless asking questions with one-word answers. Although to be honest, I often caught myself asking them.

Questions such as:

“Did you have a good day?”         “YES”, came the response

“You must be feeling pretty tired now.”      “NO”, he’d say. I realise now that was a terrible one – it isn’t even a question!

“Did Charlie play with you at lunchtime?”      “YES”. Silly me, you would think I would have worked it out by then.

“Did you hand in your project okay?”                      Nod of the head. Not even any words!

I found out a lot more by asking questions like this:

I call them the W-questions, because they either start with, or have, W in them – What, Where, Why, Who, How.

“What sort of day did you have?”     “GOOD”, was his answer. Well, I suppose that’s better than Yes or No.

       “How are you feeling?”     “OK.” I mean, what was I expecting him to say?

“What did you do at lunchtime?”     “Played with Charlie.” Actually, I probably already knew that.

“What did the teacher say about your project?”     “Nothing.” Perhaps that was asking too much, as it’s unlikely a teacher would say anything at all about work as it was handed in. What did I expect?

As you can see these were still not very powerful, and it would take much more coaxing to get anything much out of them. But have a look at my recent finds! I have discovered there are other questions which really find the “chat” in chatterbox.

Try these for size:

“What problem did you solve today?” (I love this one!)

“What is the funniest thing that happened to you today?”

“What part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

“Which of your friends makes you act your best?”

Where did I find such gems? I recently subscribed to parent.co. And every email I receive has one of those great silence-busting questions. They are just as good for adults as they are for children.

But thinking about it now . . . maybe this is the best and most simple of all:

“Whatcha doin?”

You can hear me talk about this here >>>

The Secret to Long Life and Happiness

Rose Garden

The last few weeks were like a roller coaster for me as the year rolled on past significant birthdays and anniversaries.

First . . .

The date of my mother’s birthday in late January – a quiet day which rarely rates a mention, but is always silently remembered by us four sisters.

Soon after . . .

My birthday in early February, followed by the anniversary of my mother’s death only a week later. About 10 days after that, arrived a personal glass ceiling for me ever since my mother died: the day when I equalled the age she reached on her final day.

I know many people experience this barrier – it is impossible to imagine what your life might look like after you reach the age that your mother died (for daughters), or your father died (for sons). As a primary relationship, your role model simply no longer exists after that date.

That day was a milestone for me

It brought a day of both reflection and amazement – I had made it in full health and happiness! Remarkably the day closed with a chance phone call from my lovely stepmother, who had no idea how perfect her timing was. It was good to share my thoughts with her.

With all this reflection and awareness, it made sense to visit the place where my mother’s ashes are buried. I planned a trip from Hobart across to Melbourne a few months ago, unaware of how important it would become. I am not really the sentimental type, and only once before have I visited the cemetery. To be honest, I am happy to remember my Mum anywhere, and don’t have a need to go and visit. But it seemed fitting to see this place, and take some time to remember her life, especially given my recent glass ceiling breakthrough.

I asked my eldest sister to come with me

I would have asked my other sisters also, but they do not live in Melbourne. More than a decade separates us two, and I often feel like the kid sister in many of our interactions, but this was a good way of connecting a little more deeply than usual. It was only later that I realised how unusual it was for me to take the initiative.

We arrived at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and the memories flooded back. The day of Mum’s funeral, and cremation service afterwards, are forever etched in my mind. It is a beautiful place, and it struck me how this is a special place of reverence, honour and respect for those who have gone on ahead.

After making some enquiries, we found the specific rose garden and searched for the Rose Garden_plaqueplaque, engraved in our mother’s memory. We had a beautiful rose with us which we placed in the space provided. And we remembered. Standing there quietly in those peaceful surrounds, we reflected on Mum’s life, recalling a few incidents over those days, so long ago.

Tears were shed.

Hugs exchanged.

The world stopped for a moment.

On the way back to the car, she said,

“It’s lovely to be here with you today. Sometimes, it seems like you are so much older and wiser.”

I quickly responded with equally loving words. But it occurred to me that perhaps I am changing. Perhaps this journey of honouring my mother, even so long after her death, brings me to a point of maturity and self-awareness I have not known before.

Stephen reminded me later . . .

My husband, Stephen, is so good at helping me keep things in perspective! He reminded me about one of the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses when the Israelites were setting out on their journey to the Promised Land. It  says this. . .

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Deu 5:16 (NIV)

And then many years later in his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul re-wrote that command and added a little editorial comment . . .

 “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph 6:2, 3 (NIV)

Ohhh! Of course. It’s a promise!

God says to us, each one,

“If you do this, then I will do that.”

If you honour your parents, you will receive blessing. Things will go well. Long life will come.

It does not mean the opposite is true. My mother died young, but not because she did not honour her parents. This world is broken and fallen, and things like cancer take hold, which is awful, but no one’s “fault”.

While she did die too soon, I know my mother did honour her parents, because her “life was prolonged”, which is how the Amplified Bible translates the words given to Moses. I know that. Her life was extended. She did last longer than expected. That is part of another story.

So, here are my reminders for you today:

  1. The Promise: It is good to honour your parents – don’t forget about that promise! Life, wisdom and good things come from honouring.
  2. The Difficulty: Perhaps you feel it is too hard to honour one, or both, of your parents?
    • Maybe you don’t feel that they did much for you – but let me remind you they did give you life, which is something to be grateful for.
    • Perhaps you find them hard to honour because they are no longer with you? However, I think I have shown it is possible to do that, no matter how long they have been gone. Even if it is simply with thoughts and words.
    • I know there are those who struggle with elderly parents, requiring so much love, care and attention. It can be very difficult. But I also know God sustains, God knows, God understands. Lean into him. He will give you strength, ideas, and solutions to honour your parents that you didn’t know were there. Just ask him.
  3. The Problem: Does honouring your parents mean agreeing with them? Well, no. Perhaps you have confused honouring with saying “YES” all the time. And that’s not what is means.
    To honour means to give respect. To listen carefully, and consider what they say. But this does not imply you must do as they say. If you truly cannot agree with them, let them know in as respectful way as you can, and make your own decisions with a clear conscience. Then don’t bad mouth them or put them down.

Honour them!

That’s how things will go well with you, and you will live longer.

You can listen to me talk about this here >>>