Today I turn 59. For the past several years, I’ve taken my birthday to write a letter to my mom. This year, I’m spending my birthday in Steckborn, a quaint Swiss village. Greg and I are here visiting his parents. It’s his first visit since they moved from where he grew up in Weiningen and our first visit in two years.
A few days ago, I knew I’d focus this year’s tribute to my mom on some specific lessons learned from her over the years. These are things she’s said through the years that have stuck with me. Either because they were timely, profound, or I needed them repeated! Hey, sometimes we need to hear things more than once for them to sink in. You probably have a few of your own that may come to mind as you read on.
You Teach People How to Treat You
My mom’s conversation around this went something like, people will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. This can be difficult to hear when you’re in the midst of blaming someone for treating your poorly, not respecting you, etc. And this may not apply to someone’s first transgression. It does apply when it’s repeat offenses that you complain about as if you have no power. Mommy would say, “When you get tired of it, you will change something.” She meant something about me. Something I was or was not doing that positioned the behavior to continue. This is never about changing the other person because that’s never really an option.
This became one of the fastest ways for me to jolt myself out of a “blame it on somebody else” funk. I ask myself the questions, “Did I inadvertently contribute to how this person is behaving towards me – by allowing it to continue unchecked? If so, how? And what do I need to say or do differently to communicate that there is a problem?
It was always about repositioning self. The change I made was to realign myself with my values. Setting parameters that honored self – empowered me. Very often, the changes I made caused one of the following to happen:
- The person changed because I set clear boundaries for myself
- The person didn’t change – so I removed myself from the relationship
- The person didn’t change – and they removed themselves from the relationship
I work to never deal with this from a place of anger. Still, sometimes, this process can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, I usually feel better afterward.
You are Not a Circus Clown
This is one of my favorites. “You’re not a circus clown. Circus clowns are hired to make people happy. That is not your job!” This one stuck with me the first time I heard my mother say it. Whenever I needed a reminder, I was able to call on it from within. My mother identified it for me years ago when I was doing the nice things I thought all people wanted to do when in healthy relationships. It doesn’t matter if it is a romantic relationship or a friendship. When we care about someone, love someone, and appreciate someone, finding ways to show that – well, isn’t that normal? When you’re doing those things, and the person seems to stay miserable – are you questioning yourself? If so, stop!
It’s a sobering thing to realize that some people choose to find unhappy and live in discontent – daily. And an unhappy person might recognize and even appreciate the good things you do that represent the joy in your life. Unfortunately, they often find it difficult and darn near impossible to reciprocate. Everyone is responsible for bringing their own joy to this world. It’s like a potluck. When everyone brings something, we all eat!
There’s Enough Love to Go Around
When you grow up in a stepfamily, this can be one you need to learn early on. You realize that you can love your biological parent and your stepparent. You can love your biological sibling and your stepbrothers and stepsisters. You learn that your mom or dad can love you and a stepchild. You know that we don’t have to pick and choose as if we’re going to run out of love. Understanding that love is not a sum-zero game is powerful. Mommy always said the more love people put into the world, the more love there will be to go around.
Love Always Exists
My mother is 75. She’s still teaching me life lessons. Six years after my dad (Perry) died, she’s enjoying life and enjoying finding love again. I’ve watched her set boundaries when she realized a relationship she was in wasn’t working for her. She had the uncomfortable yet dignified conversation to end it. Today, she’s in a relationship that is working for her. She met someone who is happy with his life. They enjoy laughing and finding new places to explore. They talk about what they like and don’t like. They’ve lived enough life to be able to learn from each other and with each other. Being right isn’t necessary and being wrong isn’t the end of anybody’s world.
For me, the most powerful thing from this lesson is her belief that love is always a possibility. If you desire to have it and believe in it for yourself – you can find love at any point in your life. Or perhaps, love finds us, and we simply need to be ready for it and willing to embrace it.
So, at 59, I once again thank my mother for bringing me into this world. I thank her for the lessons and the love.
Happy birthday to me. I’m looking forward to another incredible year.
Chief Engagement & Empowerment Officer, Dr. Lisa Summerour, is a speaker, coach consultant, author, and founder of the Live Empowered Institute. Her desire is to create a space where, through different experiences, people can find paths to self-empowerment. Dr. Lisa earned a doctorate in education with a focus on ethical leadership from Olivet Nazarene University. She has a master’s degree in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a master’s in Christian studies from Grand Canyon University. Her bachelor’s degree in sociology is from Trenton State University. This year she authored the “Get Ready to Work Workbook” designed to help individuals with limited resources, on their own or through job readiness programs, prepare for the interview process. She loves to sew, cook, and she’s an avid DIY’er. Her clients love her sense of humor, and the creative ways she helps them discover new and empowering experiences.