My mom never tried to be my best friend.
She never told me it was ok to drink as long as I handed in my keys. When it came to sports, I promise you she never said, “It’s only a game.” She warned, “Don’t bother coming home if you ever get a tattoo,” and the only reason I have the top of my ear pierced is because I did it myself.
My mom was just really good at being a mom. She never once sacrificed being a mom in order to play high-school-friend or big sister to her teenage daughter. She taught me what was wrong and what was right, and if I chose to ignore her, then it was my job to dig myself out from whatever pile of crap I was buried under.
My mom’s parenting policy followed Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is a complete and opposite reaction.
If I wanted to drive my car through a blizzard, I had every right to do that—as long as I could accept the consequences of wrecking it (I flipped it, actually).
My mom’s rules weren’t about control—they were about chain reactions. She never once gave me a curfew. Like corporate dress codes, employee handbooks, and everything else I grew up to hate; staying out until 1AM versus midnight was the last thing either of us cared to argue over. Would the world stop turning if I were too tired the next day? Probably not.
She did, however, once ground me for two weeks—no phone, internet, or seeing friends—for missing an optional cross-country practice. Would California get buried under a tsunami if I missed that practice? Probably not. But in the upcoming years, running would become one of my greatest assets. It paid my college tuition, gave me a sound outlet in lieu of punching a wall, and offered something to talk about at bars and job interviews.
My mom didn’t try to create a path for me—she just wanted to make sure I was on one.
When I was twenty-two, I quit my first job out of college. I had no alternate plan. My mom didn’t offer sympathy, tell me it would all be ok, or encourage me to follow my dreams. She told me flat out, “If you quit that job, don’t think about moving back home.”
Going back to Iowa was never on my radar. I didn’t have anything on my radar, actually. There was no plan, no strategy, and what my mom knew—that I wasn’t ready to admit—was that I could do better.
I am so very thankful I quit that job. It lead me down a windy path of meeting people and gaining all sorts of skills I never would have had otherwise. What bothered my mom about the whole ordeal, was that she was watching a daughter without a goal. For twenty-two years, I always had my sights set on something. I wanted to run in college, so I did it. I wanted to move to the East coast, so I did that too. And then suddenly, there wasn’t any path I cared to travel down.
My mom’s law of physics applies to good and bad actions alike.
Meaning, if you work hard and make sacrifices, a positive reaction will come your way. For the eighteen years I lived under her roof, her only goal was to get me to make as many positive actions, and limit as many negative ones, as humanly possible.
For twenty-two years, my mom stood by me through every frustration and setback, and promised the hard work would be worth it. She trained me to think openly about the consequences of my actions. And for better or for worse, thinking in those terms made me continuously ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” in any situation.
The greatest gift my mom ever gave me is the ability to think for myself.
She gave me the power to make quick decisions and come back from any setback. She gave me the control to evaluate the choices I make, and how those choices affect me and those around me.
The great lesson my mom ever taught me is the same thing she’s told me, every single day, for the past twenty-seven years:
Be smart. Be safe. Make good choices.