Disclaimer: My “mommy” (Ginnie) is the woman who took me in at 13. My “mom” is the woman who gave birth to me.
I woke up this morning, made some coffee, and enjoyed a cup while smoking my morning cigarette and reading some news. I love the News App on the iPhone. Mostly because I can select what issues I want to read about and I find that pretty fucking awesome. That’s beside the point though. As I was completing my morning ritual I started to think about my mommy and everything she’s taught me. It’s overwhelming. Were it not for this woman, I wouldn’t be alive today. That’s undeniable. But what’s equally amazing is how much she managed to teach me even though I had years of damage and misconceptions about life fighting against her wisdom. She raised me to use critical thought, to fight for what’s right and fair, to defend those who can’t defend themselves, and to be honest, among many other things. Which moves us to the actual topic of this article:
•7 Things My Mommy Taught Me•
1. I have a right to my own emotions.
When I moved into my mommy’s house at 13 I was significantly damaged. I had little emotion; none of which I would show. I was numb. Some of the situations I had been previously raised in had led me to believe that not only did my emotions not matter, but it was better for me to hide them altogether. That thought process became so ingrained in my being that by the time I was a teenager I rarely expressed emotion at all. This did not fly in Ginnie’s house, as she always encouraged her children (and then me) to own their feelings. How did she do this? In her words, “by creating an environment where honesty is acceptable”, and encouraged. She gave me a safe place and coaxed my real feelings out of me. And she never punished me or made me feel bad for the way I felt; even when those emotions got hurled at her like bricks.
2. Honesty is sacred and vital.
Honesty was another thing I wasn’t too familiar with when I came to her. I had grown used to lying to CYF, to the courts, to abusive stepdads, and inevitably, to everyone else too; mostly out of survival and habit. Mommy was no more a fan of not being able to trust me than I was of not being trusted. She wanted to be able to trust me but because of my relationship with dishonesty, she couldn’t. I had always used lies to protect myself, whether from getting beat or ending up in a foster home separated from my siblings. In the end, dishonesty was what I was taught for survival; not honesty. When mommy took me in this protection strategy didn’t work anymore; yet I didn’t know anything else. So she applied the same rule to me that applied to her own children. “If you do something wrong and you tell me the truth, there will be consequences, but you won’t be in trouble.” For instance, if I skipped school and told her, she wouldn’t ground me but she would drive me to and from school every day for however long she deemed appropriate. I was not a perfect kid at the time. It was like I had this demon inside me that would cause me to make bad choices and do things that I knew were going to end badly. Her “Truth Rule” made it possible for me to tell her when I had messed up, without making me fear something drastic would happen to me because of it. Consequently, she’s the only mom I know to this day who could find out what her kids had done because we would talk about it right in front of her. That’s what happens when your kids are used to telling you everything anyway. In that same token however, she always respected our right to privacy. She never went through our phones or journals because unlike a lot of parents, she realized that we were human beings who had that right to privacy. Not to mention, she always found out everything eventually. This lesson made honesty something that I revere. I use it. I live by it. It is probably one of the best things she ever taught me the value of.
3. Family first. Loyalty always.
She raised my siblings (Tom and Amber) and I to always protect and defend each other. She said we could mess with each other all we wanted but no one else was allowed to and we were to make sure of that. She taught us that family isn’t always blood, but it is forever. So our mix and match family became one strong, impenetrable unit. We stood up for and by one another. To this day, when one sibling is hurting or needs support, the other two are there. If someone messed with either of them, I’d be on that person, immediately. I know they would do the same for me. We fiercely defend each other and we don’t throw each other under the bus. Now this could lead to three kids who stand together while being bullies to everyone else; but mommy understood the balance necessary to raise good people. That fact brings us to my next lesson…
4. Don’t be a bully.
“No one likes a bully.“ “You have to protect the people smaller or weaker than you.” “You don’t stand by and watch others get hurt.” She taught me not only to defend myself, but also to help the next person. In school growing up there were always those kids who picked on people smaller or weaker than them. And there was always that kid who needed just one friend, one person to defend them. She raised me to be that friend; to always defend those who couldn’t defend themselves. She raised me not to bully other people because it wasn’t nice and we can never know how far the ripples of our actions go. She raised me to be a kind, empathetic, protective person who loves wholly and unconditionally.
5. Never Settle For Less
This lesson came from my mommy and her mom. It was probably the hardest lesson I ever had to learn. In a life where I’d experienced the worst ways people can treat you it was hard to figure out what wasn’t acceptable and what I deserved. I learned not to date people who beat or raped me but everything else took awhile. I learned how to defend myself long before I learned how to walk away. I would fight and scream for what I deserved but wouldn’t leave when I didn’t get it. I placed my faith in people who didn’t deserve it. I forgave games and manipulation that I shouldn’t have. I took abuse I didn’t have to, all the while excusing the person’s behavior for them. These bad experiences in combination with this lesson and the love and respect mommy showed me, finally taught me what not to settle for. I have the phrase “Never Settle For Less” tattooed right on my wrist so that with everything I do, I have a constant reminder, right where I can see it. Mommy married a man who treats her kindly, fairly, compassionately, and with understanding and respect. She treated her children the same way. She taught us to treat others this way. And sometimes, she took step back and let us learn what “less” was, on our own. I know I did. Today I set boundaries and have enough self respect to know what’s unacceptable. I walk away from situations and people that aren’t good for me. I love toxic people from a distance. I don’t settle for less than I deserve.
6. “No” IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE.
This lesson touches on a lot of very personal things for me. None the less, it needs to be mentioned here. Like most of you know by now, I spent years surrounded by toxic people. People who used my good nature, small frame, and kind heart against me. It was common for me to being manipulated, coerced, or guilt tripped into doing things I either didn’t want to do, didn’t have the time to do, or didn’t agree with. This ranged from uncomfortable intimate situations that I wanted no parts in to giving people free rides when I could barely afford to feed myself. No matter what, I always had this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me feel bad when I said “no”, even if it was something I had every right to disagree with. I felt like other people’s feelings were my responsibility. I walked through life not having a voice; seemingly incapable of speaking up for and defending myself. Most who know me today would be shocked by this, as I’ve developed into a woman who defends myself and my beliefs with fervor. But I became who I am today by learning who not to be anymore. I used to always follow up a “no” with reasons why I “just couldn’t” do this or that. Sometimes I felt I wasn’t able to say no. Instead, I’d make excuses for why I “couldn’t” instead of giving the very real reason why it wasn’t plausible or acceptable me for to do whatever was being asked of me. I was raised in an environment where my feelings, wants, and needs always came second, if at all. This trained me to believe that other people’s feelings, wants, and needs were my responsibility to maintain. It felt like I was a “bad person” if I put myself first. Mommy taught me how to do just that; defend what I will and will not do. She taught me to protect my own feelings and stand up for what I believed to be right. She taught me that “No is a complete sentence.” Now I live a life where I’m lucky enough to pass this invaluable information on to the people that I care about.
7. Families are made by love, not blood.
I am truly blessed to know and love the people that are in my life today. I have a solid mixture of blood and love family and I know that they all love me equally. I know Mommy loves me exactly as much as any mother could ever love her biological daughter and I know her children are my siblings the same way my mom’s children are. My friends are my family also. I would kill and die for them. I’ve spent a lot of years losing and gaining people; finding out certain family members were toxic and didn’t belong in my life, and distancing myself from others. All this happened and then I met Ginnie (mommy). She told me I was her family and I didn’t believe her. I didn’t trust the people I was related to, nonetheless someone I had just met. But she always did right by me and protected me. She treated me with love and compassion. She made me her daughter and she became my mom. She told me family isn’t made by blood; it’s made with love. I believe her today. It took many years of her not walking away when I pushed for me to realize that she truly is my family. She has taught me more valuable lessons than I could ever write. How do you put the wisdom a mother shares with her daughter over the years into words? I didn’t always follow that wisdom at the time but I did hear it. Finally after years of finding out the hard way on my own, it just kicked in one day.
The only way I could be luckier than I am now is if I have children of my own some day and can pass these lessons down to them. If they’re anything like me (or mommy) they’ll listen, a decade or so after I share it with them.
by Ashley Hebner
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