Ten lessons my mom taught me, on this, the tenth anniversary of her death.

breast cancer motherhood Oct 02, 2019

The 2 October 2009 was a beautiful spring day in Johannesburg. It was warm, the riot of spring flowers were on full display and the sky, through the vibrant green of the new leaves, was an endless cornflower blue. It was not the right kind of weather to die. I remember the details of that day so clearly because it was my mom’s last day on this earth. At 3:30 in the afternoon, in her own bed, she breathed her last ragged breath surrounded by her family. Ironically, she was diagnosed with breast cancer during breast cancer awareness month and died several years later in the same month.

Ten years on I still miss her terribly and think of her every day. I wish she had been here when my kids were born, but I will never forget what she taught me about mothering.  During her last few weeks she and I spent many hours filling out “The mother’s book” created by Elma van Vliet. It is  a journal filled with questions for daughters to ask their mothers: when did you first fall in love? What was your first pet’s name? How did you feel when I was born? That book is precious to me because it captures so many of the lessons my mom lived her life by. Lessons that I hope to carry on into my own life and motherhood.  Lessons I want to share with you, because maybe they can encourage you in your own motherhood journey.     

1. People matter

 One question in the book was “If you had a motto in life, what would it be?” Her answer was “people matter.” This wasn’t an abstract concept for her. Unlike me, my mom was not a big talker. She held her beliefs firmly, but didn’t see the need to shout them from the rooftops. Instead in her day to day life, she lived them out. When she spoke to you, she listened. She remembered all the details, not only what was going on in my life, but the lives of my friends, and when she saw them she would always remember to ask “How did that piano exam go? “Is your gran feeling better?” “Are you settling into the new house?” Her and my dad created an environment where our friends loved to be, and our house was like a railway station.

She had a particular heart for people who were suffering. For many years she mad “Love boxes.” Little shoe boxes filled with gifts and words of encouragement for people in the church who were going through a hard time.    

I hope to create a home that invites people in, even when its not perfect. As my boys get older I hope they want to bring their friends here. Also, I could certainly learn to listen a little harder, and talk a little less!


2. Friends matter

This idea that people matter was carried through to her friends. She had a group of incredibly supportive women in her life, and they all looked after each other. She understood the importance of investing in friendship. She put it like this “ I guess friendship is vitally important to live your life. A friend should care about people and take interest in other’s lives, especially in the tough times. Friends have taught me that life is enriched because of friendship, in good times and bad. You have to act to work on your friendships.“ I have had the privilege of close friendships in my own life, and can testify to just how much they matter, particularly in the trenches of motherhood.

3. Loving your spouse matters

My mom never made me doubt that we as her family were her absolute priority. She loved my dad with all her heart and and I never heard her raise her voice, even when they disagreed. Their solid relationship provided such a sense of stability and safety for my brother and I. Don’t underestimate how important your relationship with your spouse is to your kids, they are watching, even when we don’t realise it.


4. Family traditions matter

 My family had many little traditions which I believe created a sense of identity and belonging. They created a lifeline of familiarity, even when life was full of sorrow. These were not rigid, imposed rituals, but little habits which became part of who we are: chocolate croissants on Saturday mornings, making mince pies and shortbread at Christmas, and gathering on our parents bed to do the 10 minute crossword each evening, well into our adulthoods. These times together offered opportunities to connect after busy days and to talk about what mattered.

In the family I am creating, we have established some of our own traditions, including movie and pizza night each Friday.

 5. Showing up matters

 My mom was both protective and proud of us. When I was at school, she never missed any events in my (extremely mediocre) sporting, debating and public speaking careers. Her unconditional support  and being there to cheer me on, made me feel like I could do anything. 

I don’t know if I will have her patience to show up to infinite cricket games, but I will certainly try!


6.Telling your kids how you feel about them matters

Though a woman of few words, she would regularly express her love by surprising us with unexpected little treats- like a beautiful new duvet cover when I returned from a  school trip and a surprise 13th Birthday party when I was away on a church camp. I also have many little notes, birthday and Christmas cards where she expressed how she felt about me. Search out opportunities to remind your little ones how much you love them.


7. Chronicling matters

Our home was filled with photo-albums and scrapbooks. (And an enormous collection of scrapbooking paraphernalia, buts that’s another story) My mom took the time to record all those little moments of our family life. We told our stories to one another over and over again. Stories of when things were hard, stories about adventures we had been on, stories about how we had been protected in difficult circumstances. This is a tradition I have carried on. I try to create photobooks of each year of our family life, and journal to remember all those little details of our family’s story. My kids love to look back, especially at the books which record their births and babyhoods.     

8. Maintaining your identity matters

After she had us, my mom chose to give up her teaching career to be with us. But teaching was something that she loved to do, so when we are a bit older she would take on locum roles and taught extra maths lessons which she fit around family life. She saved up the money she made for trips we would go on. As a mom at home in the battleground of motherhood with two small children, I have needed to find an outlet to maintain my own identity, not merely as mom. Blogging and  creating online courses has been that outlet for me. It allows me to challenge myself and learn new things.

9. Adventure matters

 My mom absolutely loved to travel, and the bug certainly bit me too. When I asked my mom “What country would you absolutely love to visit and why?” her answer was Norway. She wanted to see the fjords. Sadly she never got the chance, but in 2016 my husband and I, and our two littles did an amazing two month trip through Scandinavia in a motorhome.  I have so many happy memories of exploring new places with my parents. We were very privileged to be able to go overseas, but even little day trips to nearby places created memories.  

10. Faith matters

My mom’s faith was lived out on a daily basis. It was not an abstract set of beliefs, but a personal relationship with her saviour. She would quietly study the bible each day. After she died I found draws and draws filled with prayer journals where she had recorded her prayers for us. It is a privilege to know that each day your mom was praying for God’s best in your life. I hope to do the same for my little boys.

 In the last pages of "The mother's book" as room for any more thoughts you may have on life. Her answer was this " I loved my life and bringing up my children." If you are in the midst of the crazy season of bringing up your littles, know this: each time you deliberately choose to do the best for your kids, you are impacting on them in a way you may never come to see. Even on the hard days, know that what you are doing matters.  

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