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Parents' View

Mom's Most Unusual Advice

By Bethany Hardy

Multigenerational portrait.

I was painfully shy as a kid. I hid behind the curtain at my first dance recital and burst into tears at my own birthday party because I couldn’t stand the attention. When I stood behind my mother instead of saying hello to kids from school at the store, it was intervention time.

”How hard is it to say hello?” Mom asked, exasperated. “People are going to think you’re stuck up if you don’t overcome your shyness.”

That hit me like a splash of cold water. I felt far from superior to anyone. In the years that followed, my mom’s words resonated. From navigating office politics to dealing with a testy four-year-old, a ”hello” and a friendly smile can go a long way.

Quirky Tips from Mom

What’s the best advice your mom ever gave you? Often, the quirkiest tips end up becoming the most practical.

This Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate those little gems from our moms—tips that have steered us through life, such as:

  1. Make a fist.

    Lois Harris, an author from Anacortes, Washington, remembers her mother’s unique lesson for helping children build self-confidence.

    It was time for the annual Girl Scout cookie sale. As Harris set out to go door-to-door in her neighborhood, she recalls: “My mother’s departing words rang in my ears: ‘Be confident! And remember, if you start to feel unsure, fold your thumb across your palm, cover the thumb with your fingers in a tight fist, and keep going with a smile.’”

    The handy trick helped: Harris sold the most boxes of cookies in her troop. And she still uses the fist trick “when faced with a difficult situation.”

  2. Don’t “review or preview.”

    When it comes to making a big decision or helping someone else to do so, Mom can help you take the bull by the horns, says C. C. Christakos, a federal employee from Alexandria, Virginia.

    “There have been instances in my life where I was so beyond stressed I couldn't see straight, in particular when I was confronting a difficult [job-related] decision,” Christakos says.

    Her mother’s advice? “Don't review or preview because you won't know until you make the leap. So take the risk and go for it!” As her mom notes, overanalyzing can just lead to paralysis.

  3. Speak clearly and simply.

    Annalisa Crannell, a professor at Franklin and Marshall College, says that it took a rocket scientist to teach her how to speak clearly.

    Crannell remembers visits by her mother—an astrophysicist with NASA—to her own elementary school classroom. Her mom would come toting a cardboard box that she said contained her “most important scientific instrument.”

    “The kids would all guess like crazy: A telescope? A microscope? A Geiger counter?” Crannell says. “But no, it was an ordinary, black plastic telephone. She’d tell us that even for scientists, the most important thing to do is communicate well with other people.”

  4. Follow the “syllabus of fun.”

    Sometimes, kids can take themselves way too seriously. Elle Beauregard learned this lesson the hard way. The Seattle-based author remembers being passed up for a coveted job in college because she didn’t know how to answer the question, “What do you do for fun?”

    “I hadn’t realized just how serious I’d become,” Beauregard says.

    In response, her mother created what she called the “syllabus of fun.”

    Knowing how to appeal to her daughter’s academic side, she developed a to-do list of simple activities, from reading fashion magazines to going out for dinner. And it worked.

    Beauregard says the syllabus led her to lots of “great experiences” and “new friends,” including the man she would eventually marry.

  5. Go to the bathroom.

    As generations of potty-training parents will agree, this one comes in handy in nearly every adult situation.

    Amy Borkowsky, a New York City comedian, recalls words of advice left by her mom on her answering machine: "If you haven't already left to go to the motor vehicle bureau, keep in mind that the wait is very long. So before you get in line, you may want to empty your bladder."

    Borkowsky adds that her doting mother, who passed away a few years ago, may have been on to something: “Maybe a full bladder explains why everyone always looks so uncomfortable in their DMV photos.”

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    Bethany Hardy is a Washington, DC-based mom, writer and communications consultant.

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