Words to Live By

When our lives were just beginning, we turned to our mothers for information: Where are my sneakers? What’s for dinner? How does Santa Claus get around the whole world in one night?

But as we get older and perhaps wiser, we discover that the depth of Mom’s knowledge goes far deeper than we ever imagined.

In honor of Mother’s Day, seven high-profile Boston women share with us the best piece of advice they ever received from their mothers.

Read more on the next page below.

Try, Try Again

 “She taught me to never give up, and to be resilient. My mother believed you don’t always hit the mark the first time and things don’t always go the way you hoped they would, but you need to keep trying if you believe passionately in what you are doing.”

– Ruth Bramson, CEO, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts

Better Than Any Book

“Since I lost my mother to cancer last July, I have been reflecting on her many gifts to me. I am most grateful for the sense of security that has grounded me throughout my life. I never doubted her love. Neither did my siblings. In fact, while we were children, we each somehow believed she loved us best. It takes a special kind of sensitivity to the individual needs of your children to accomplish this. She also welcomed the disorder that children bring to a home. So, we could make forts out of blankets in the living room, or play dress-up with her high heels. She could often be found playing board games or splashing in the wading pool with us. I hope I learned to be a good mother from her. I know I relied on her for advice more than my child psychology books.”

– Kathleen McCartney, dean of Harvard University Graduate School of Education

‘No-Thank-You Helpings’

“As a chef and young mother, I loved being able to say, “Oh yeah, my kid eats everything.” Oysters, smoked salmon, olives, even Gorgonzola – our 2-year-old would shove it all into his ravening maw. And then, seemingly overnight, he turned a culinary corner. Nothing too salty, too spicy, too green, too anything. Not only was it hard work prying apart those clenched little teeth, his rejection of my food, my professional-chef-food, was a rejection of me.

Of all the wise advice my librarian parents loved to quote, the words that made the strongest impression on me were these: Everyone has to take a no-thank-you helping. You should taste everything, if just a little bit, whenever it’s offered. This principal saved me, my son, my daughter, and still later, all of their friends who came to eat at our home from tearing our hair out over food. When they were little, I would allow our kids to serve themselves from a bowl of the novel food, permitting them to control the size of their no-thank-you helping. We still had some struggles, but over time, new tastes did take hold.

To this day, I make any visitors at our table remove their hats and eat something green. ‘Is your mom for real?’ Roxanne and Oliver just smile and shrug and say, ‘You gotta do it. Just try a taste.’

Research into the development of children’s palates suggests that it takes something like 15 tastes for someone to acquire a taste for a novel food. Fifteen no-thank-you helpings! When customers tell me they don’t like something, I send out a tiny sample. Sometimes the empty plate comes back to the kitchen with a request for more, but when it doesn’t, I don’t fret – they’ve got 14 more chances.”

– Jody Adams, chef/owner of Rialto in Cambridge and TRADE

Her Most Influential Teacher

“My mother, a great educator, and also my fifth-grade teacher believed that every single individual regardless of economic status or family background was created with unique and valuable gifts to contribute to the world. She often reminded her nine children to treat every person with honor and respect and to appreciate the joy and value that comes with learning from others, even those with whom you may disagree.

She was truly a student of the golden rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I am guided by this advice each and every day. She truly had a way of making everyone in her presence feel extra special.”

– Carol Johnson, Ed.D., Superintendent of Boston Public Schools 

Weathering the Storms

“I have been blessed with an extraordinary mother. She has been diagnosed with cancer and beaten it three separate times. Her strength, courage and determination have shown me what it means to persevere. I can recall hearing these simple, yet powerful words – Everything happens for a reason” – come from my mother’s mouth countless times, through some of my life’s highest moments and greatest challenges. These words still echo in my head. Now, I hear these same words coming from my own mouth (we all really do turn into our mothers don’t we!). I am grateful for my mother’s amazing ability to make me feel better just by being there, and now I strive to do the same for my own children.”

– Cindy Fitzgibbon, Former Fox 25 Morning News Meteorologist

Never Work a Day in Your Life

“My mom, Jackie Williams, has given me lots of great advice, as all moms do.  However, there’s one thing she said that has stayed with me through the years. My mom has owned and operated the No. 1 independent real estate company in central Connecticut (Sterling Realtors) for 25 years. I am the oldest of three girls and when we were kids she worked 90 hours a week; we would ask, ‘Mom, why do you work so much; don’t you ever get tired?’ She told us that if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. She never looked at it as a job. Putting families in homes was her passion and she did it with love. That’s how I try to live my life.

Someone once asked me, ‘I don’t understand why you work? Your husband is successful and provides for your family; you could be home on the couch eating bon-bons watching Oprah.’ I am grateful every day for Ray’s hard work, commitment and devotion to our family; but being thankful isn’t enough. Like all the other women I know, there’s so much that we hope to accomplish in our lives.

My mother instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in me as a young girl, she taught me and my sisters that it’s important to contribute to the GNP our households. That’s why I work; encouraging our children to live their dreams, developing our production company’s TV and film projects, running our independent record label, helping Ray with his foundation and dedicating time toward a cure for our son Walker, and the millions living with Type 1 diabetes.

As always, Mom was right, it’s not work; it’s just doing what I love.”

– Shannon Allen, entrepreneur and wife of former Boston Celtic and current Miami Heat player Ray Allen

Hitting the Right Note

“I always appreciate that Mom never had stars in her eyes as far as a career in music was concerned. Although not a musician herself, she loved music and was very practical. She knew that a performing career is highly competitive to break into and had me audition for 10 different conservatories during my senior year of high school. She was loving and supportive, and sewed many of my outfits for special performances. In fact, most of my concert outfits that I still wear at the Boston Symphony Orchestra are ones she sewed for me!

During my last year at Curtis Institute of Music, I called my mom and said I was seriously considering quitting the flute! I was feeling really discouraged with my playing. Rather than freak out about four years of conservatory down the drain, she just said she loved me no matter what I wanted to do with my life. As it turns out, I passed the preliminary round of the BSO audition a couple weeks later. But I’ll always cherish the fact that Mom thought there was more to me than just the flute.”

– Elizabeth Ostling, flute player with Boston Symphony Orchestra

Susan Flynn is associate editor of the Boston Parents Paper.

Originally Posted April 2011