This article originally appeared in Herself360, an online magazine supporting woman through stories.
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The first love of my life was my mother. When I was a young boy, I used to tell her that I loved her “this much,” and then I’d hold both hands behind my back—insinuating that there was no beginning and no end to my love for her. One day I even told her, very matter-of-factly, that we would one day be married and live together forever. Such was my love for her.
I learned a lot from my mother these past 36 years. She helped me to become the man I am today, and for that I will always be grateful. Because I truly love who I am today. Though much has changed since then, there are valuable lessons that still stick with me today, and perhaps the most important are these: Don’t assume you know what others are going through; their story is unique and often hidden, so before you judge, dive in deep to understand. Don’t give up on the ones you love. Independence is good, but being dependable for others is better. And lastly, there is no one else like you, so be the best You there is.
1. Dive in Deep to Understand
I learned most of these lessons in a rather roundabout kind of way. When I was sixteen years old, my parents began transforming our home into a place no one wanted to be. With so much yelling there was always tension between them and the vibe in that house was simply unnerving. Not long after this my mom left, and I was just glad that it was finally quiet and that a sense of peace had finally returned to the house.
After leaving, mom moved out of state and started a new life. Her story is not for me to tell, and one that she’s currently writing herself, so I won’t share it here. But what I will share is how I responded to the situation, because though I didn’t exactly respond well, I did learn a lot from the experience. And perhaps the most valuable lessons of all were born out of my biggest regret.
Not long after moving away, I learned that my mother was in a rather unhealthy situation. This is devastating news to learn about someone you love, and even more so when you’re young, when there’s so much distance between you, and when there’s nothing you can do about it. At that time, I still saw the world in black and white. If something wasn’t working, fix it. If it couldn’t be fixed, walk away from it. To me, the solution was clear: My mother needed to walk away from what was no longer serving her highest good. And when she didn’t walk away it become unbearable to watch her life fall apart that one day I gave her this ultimatum: do what you need to do to take care of yourself, or don’t talk to me anymore.
I realized immediately what I was insinuating. That apparently there was an end to my love for her, and therefore we would not one day be married and live together forever. I cannot even imagine the pain that these words must have caused her, and looking back with the gift of time and perspective, I now understand that life is never in clear black and white, but rather colored in shades of grey, mixed with emotions, highlighted with conflicting desires, and coated with misunderstandings and fears. Just when my mother felt the most isolated and most needed the support of her closest loved ones, I retreated, giving up on her to save myself from emotional turmoil. And this is how I learned that we must never assume that we know what others are going through. In my limited understanding of the complexity of human nature, I projected my own desires onto my mother, not yet realizing that her story is unique, her life experiences hidden, and her desires and fears quite real and quite overwhelming.
2. Don’t Give Up on Others
Thankfully, my mother did eventually take care of herself, and when she came out on the other side, I worked to understand her, to see her as the whole person that she is. I recall asking her questions like, what was life like before you had me? When you were a child, who did you want to be when you got older? These questions allowed me to dive deep with her, to gain a new perspective of my mother, to truly see and understand her as a unique person. It was from this lesson that I gained this valuable realization: That there is never a good reason to give up on the ones I love.
3. Be Dependable for Others
When my mom left, I learned how to be independent. I learned how to both support and take care of myself. This is a valuable lesson that not everyone gains. I have many friends who can’t seem to make a decision without first consulting their parents, as if they never really left the nest after all. And though my parents likely didn’t intentionally teach me this lesson the way that they did, it is surely one that all parents must desire for their children. Today, because of my mom and dad, I am quite independent and no longer need them, and an important freedom is made available because of this: though I don’t need them, I still want them. This is liberating, because there’s a marked difference between being in a situation where you need something for survival, and where you are instead given the freedom to choose what enriches your life and the life of those you love. This is how I learned that independence is good, but being dependable for others is better.
4. Be the Best You There Is
Today I’m living out the lesson that I most remember my mom telling me from a very young age: You can be anything you want to be. Whatever you want your life to be, live it! There is no one else like you, so be the best You there is! I’ve sincerely taken this to heart, and any time I even consider playing life small or taking the easy way out, I remember this lesson and choose instead to play life big. To learn all that I can. Gain all the skills that I can. Have all the experiences that I can. And truly soak in and appreciate everything as an opportunity to express my highest self.
Today, all that I do is an expression of gratitude for the love my mother has shared with me. And though we will never be married (I’m pretty sure there are laws against that!) she will always live with me through the lessons she shared that helped me to become the man I am today. And for that I will always be grateful. Because I love who I am today. Thank you, mom.
Jonas Cain facilitates positive change initiatives for emerging leaders and their influencers.