As Mother’s Day arrives this weekend, our StyleBlueprint staffers pause to reflect on some of the best advice we’ve received from the strong women who raised us. From serious to sentimental to silly, it’s obvious that we’ve all been given a collective earful … and, moms, we really WERE listening!
Katherine Henderson Michalak, Contributing Editor
“You have to have something for yourself before you can share it with someone else.” –Merle Masters Henderson
I began hearing this tidbit as early as first grade, when my much-older siblings dove into the high school dating scene. Mom meant this as core advice for life… not just a guideline for romantic entanglements, often adding: “Don’t get so wrapped up in what others want that you forget who you are and what YOU want.” She urged us to be independent spirits — to value our own goals and identity far above whatever love interests or peer groups encouraged. If my friends or I prattled on about qualities we wanted in a partner, she’d pipe in with comments such as: “Oh really? Are YOU kind and spiritually-centered? Are YOU financially secure and on a successful career path? What are YOU bringing into the mix?”
Now, at age 43, I think about this wisdom as it applies to so many other relationships — from marriage and parenting, to professional pursuits. How often do parents forget their own identity, hyper-focused instead on the achievements of their kids? How often does a job become an overwhelming force straining family connections? How often do friendships fail when shared interests dissipate? Merle’s advice has become my rally cry during stressful times, asking myself if I’m living authentically and ready to face a new challenge, or if I’m feeling anxiety because I’ve wandered too far off my true path.
Katherine Rogers Snell, Atlanta Contributing Editor
As a new mom to a 10-month old baby girl, I always seem to be filtering my own mom’s thoughts, phrases and advice through my worried mind. I never quite lived by a few of her gems, such as: “Nice girls don’t go to Mardi Gras!” said to me over the phone my freshmen year of college as I was packing my bag for the Big Easy. I ignored other favorites like, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” and “Drink a glass of water between cocktails,” in my twenties, as well. Nowadays, phrases like, “You have to take care of yourself, too,” and “Take it one step at a time” and “Days and years go by so fast” are words that I repeat like a mantra.
There is nothing like having a baby of your own to realize what your parents provided you. I keep a picture of Mom on my bedside table. In it, she’s around the same age as I am now. She has a towel thrown over her shoulder, and I am sure my brother and I are just out of the frame, reaching up for her. She is my inspiration, and the picture is my gentle reminder that time with young babies does go fast — I need to spend less time worrying about schedules, baby milestones, and keeping my house clean, and more time treasuring this sweet time with my family.
Catherine Smith Romero, Birmingham City Manager
“But for the grace of God go I,” are the words I remember hearing most often from my mother while growing up. Whether it was the thirty plus years of teaching elementary school or the fact that she is an educator at heart, my mother has always led by example, being patient and kind, especially towards those less fortunate or different than we were. She showed us that not everyone is born the same, but everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness, and that everyone has a good quality and we should learn to look for it rather than the faults and flaws. My mom continues to be a strong influence in my life, and I am so very thankful to have her to lean on!
My grandmother on my father’s side was also a woman of great influence in my life. She and I would sip “pearl tea” (tea with loads of sugar and milk!) from fine china cups with matching saucers and sterling spoons, and I would wear her enormous amethyst ring while she gave me advice on how to be a proper lady. While wiping the lipstick off her cup, she’d say things like, “You know dear, a lady never puts lipstick on at the table (you always want others to think your beauty effortless!),” and express the importance of looking others in the eye and smiling, laughing, nodding appropriately during conversation. She was always dressed to the nines and up on the latest news. An engaging conversationalist with an infectious laugh and a smile that lit up the room, Gram was beautiful on the inside and out.
Heidi Harmon Potter, Louisville City Manager
My mother is a transplanted Texan via Palm Springs, California. She took to the culture of Texan beauty immediately and is always “fixed” and ready to go. When I was little, I used to love sitting next to her as she got ready for a night out. Her makeup and perfume and curlers entranced me, and I thought she looked like Snow White with her long dark hair and light eyes (note that she has become a blonde in her later years). She can entertain at a moment’s notice and her house is always camera-ready. My wild hair, lack of lipstick, tendency to wear workout clothes all day long and unkempt house devastate her to no end. But, she has passed her love of beautiful handbags, pricey makeup and shoes on to me, much to the dismay of my thrifty husband. When I think of my mother, I think of these quotes:
“Did you do your hair today? Are you going to? Oh, you did.”
“You need some color. Put on some lipstick. Here, try mine.”
“You need to put that baby to bed.”
And my favorite quote, from a woman who had four children, a house full of family and friends around, and a husband who worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week:
“Just remember honey, every child you have is YOURS.”
Christian Tabor Owen, Memphis City Manager
My mother addressed many of the same parenting challenges I have seen and will face through my lifetime. The only difference—she did it with the inexplicable strength, grace and charm of her generation. My parents were part of “The Greatest Generation,” the one that saved the world and then built a nation! They had absolute standards of right and wrong and lived by them.
I was always watching, Mom. Thanks for showing me how the job of being a mother should be done.
Amy Roberts Norton, Managing Editor
Being from Mississippi, I had the good fortune to grow up surrounded by Southern women who dispensed advice and wisdom with the ease and frequency that one might pour a glass of sweet tea. It flowed in abundance, in other words, and often on deaf ears … until I became a mom myself.
Mama, thank you for reminding me that when you act the way you know you’re supposed to, your heart eventually catches up. Granny Bourland, I see now that those Wild Cherry Lifesavers you kept in your “church purse” and doled out every Sunday helped me sit still long enough for those good words being spoken around me to have a chance to sink in. Grandmother, there really is no substitute for the perfect word — when I search the dictionary and get lost in the M’s, I know you’d take great delight in my pursuit of clarity. Ninny, though I’ll never perfect your biscuit recipe, you taught me that making someone’s favorite dish is another way to say, “I love you.” And Gran, you broke the mold made for mothers-in-law. Being able to laugh at myself in the midst of disaster is a gift, indeed.
Rowanne McIntyre McKnight, SB Guide Manager
“Shut the damn door.” This phrase makes anyone who knows my mom laugh and knowingly nod. In my parent’s mountain cottage, there is a screen door that does not automatically slam shut. Children racing from yard to porch and back often forget to completely shut it, posing a potential cat escape crisis. From the 2-year-old to the 92-year-old culprit, Mom can be heard upon the doorknob creak…”Shut the damn door!” It’s pretty direct, but behind that unfiltered statement is a big-hearted sentiment. What mom really means to tell us is pay attention, finish what you start, be thoughtful to other people’s property, slow down, be helpful and mind the care of mammals smaller than you. Then, sit down and spend some time with me on the porch!
Alex Hendrickson, Administrative Assistant
Growing up around women who love and live fiercely, I received generous piles of advice, all given with the hope I would learn to love in a similar manner. The three most influential women in my life, my mother, my grandmother, Jinx, and my grandmother, Me-Mommy, have pushed (and sometimes shoved) me to be the best version of myself. Thank you each for dusting me off, forcing me to question all things, showing me the power of lasting, loving relationships, and being the perfect role models of intelligent, successful women.
“Save your tears for the important things.” — Kate Hendrickson (Better known as Mommy)
“The key to happy marriage is separate tubes of toothpaste.” — Jinny Browning (Better known as Jinx)
“There is a big difference between lumps in your mashed potatoes and lumps in your breast.” — Claire Hendrickson (Better known as Me-Mommy)
Many thanks in advance for the advice that you will continue to give me, and that I will continue to live by. I raise a glass of wine in one hand and Kentucky bourbon in the other to you today, and everyday.
Liza Thompson Graves, Co-Founder
My mom’s side of the family is heavy on women and I grew up with smart, quick and heated discussions surrounding me. You were expected to work hard, read a bevy of good books, get the best education you could and, by all means, have an opinion — and be prepared to defend it! Wine started early and conversations got more lively as the evenings wore on.
Sometimes what was said was not kind to young ears, and my mom made a point to use these moments as examples: “Choose your words carefully. They live with you a lifetime and can never be taken back.” To this day, when I can’t live up to something I have promised or I regret a way I phrased something, I’m just disappointed with myself. In this day of social media, this rings so much more true, as there is a written account of what you said. In that regard, mom was ahead of her time making sure our words were chosen carefully. So, while I was NEVER told “If you don’t have something kind to say, don’t say anything at all,” I was raised to think about what you said and claim it, as you couldn’t take it back.
And, for my mom, something I am always proud to say is that I wouldn’t have the convictions I have today without your influence and the strength that you have filled me with each and every day of my life.
Elizabeth Fox, Co-Founder
Both of my parents were salt of the earth types, especially my mom. She was raised without a father, and as a result, became responsible at a young age. Of course, she passed that sense of independence on to me, so much so, that it drove her crazy. When I was six, I insisted that I knew the way to school (4 blocks away) and when she came to get me, I kept walking and said,”I told you I knew the way home.” When it came to advice, she didn’t dish it out and never had clever sayings, yet she was an example every day of graciousness and empathy. When she died, her friends manned our kitchen for four days straight. As I said to my sisters, “Mom has been sending casseroles out of our house for over 50 years, and 50 years of casseroles came back.” My advice to all of you is, don’t take the time with your mothers for granted. When they go, you’ll miss them everyday of your life.
Thank you to all the “moms” in our world helping navigate the journey. You are Queens of the Universe and long may you reign!
We love you! Happy Mother’s Day!