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Jealousy is a curse, turkeys are just big chickens … what Guardian readers learned from their mums


Find a hobby

My mum used to tell me that the best way to make friends was to find a hobby. She said it’s the easiest and simplest way to find people who will become lifelong friends – and she was right. Two weeks before lockdown in 2020, I joined a CrossFit gym with much trepidation, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. The people who are part of the gym have lifted me up, kept me going and been there through thick and thin this past year – albeit virtually, mostly. I’ve made real friends who’ve checked in on me when I’ve been down or shared walks and giggles when we’ve been allowed. Thanks, Mum. Sarah Wolf, media officer, Frome, Somerset

Tom Spencer’s mother in 1994.
Tom Spencer’s mother in 1994. Photograph: Image supplied by Tom Spencer

‘Jealousy makes people do strange things’

Several years ago, when I was going through a work-related conflict, I received considerable moral support from my mother, as well as my wife. Despite having left school at 14, my mother had a very philosophical take on life. She enabled me to see that the source of the long-lasting dispute at work was professional envy and the phrase she used – “jealousy makes people do strange things” – has always stayed with me. Tom Spencer, teacher, Switzerland

Don’t judge the future by the past

My parents had an unhappy marriage and a messy divorce, so when my boyfriend asked me to marry him, I said no. When I told my mum, her only comment was: “Don’t judge the future by the past.” This made me realise that my instinctive reaction was nothing to do with this wonderful man. The next day, I told him I’d changed my mind. We’ve been ridiculously happily married for 27 years. Rebecca Hough, teacher, Italy

Have a glass of water

My mum has had lots of advice for her children over the years, but whenever we’re ill, stressed, tired or panicking (sometimes all of the above), she tells us to “have a glass of water”. It fixes everything – or at least gives you a minute to pause and collect yourself. Sometimes, it can feel like the least useful advice at that moment, but it works. These days, it’s become a family joke, but we’ve all found ourselves at some point telling friends or partners to “have a glass of water”. Mum knows best! Emma Richards, London

Graham McKenzie’s mother.
Graham McKenzie’s mother. Photograph: Image supplied by Graham McKenzie

Energy begets energy

My mum started telling me this when I was a teenager – I could have slept for Britain. But it is advice that has remained true in later life, too, when three hours in front of the telly watching sport quickly turn into three or four days. Get up, walk, do some gardening, vacuum or play golf and then you feel like doing more. Graham McKenzie, publisher, West Sussex

Eat breakfast

When camping, my mum always taught me to make sure everyone gets a proper breakfast. She also advised me to save a little bit of money each month that you can cash in from time to time, whenever you need to. And, when I worked as a teacher, she advised me to lower my expectations of the pupils, colleagues and myself at the end of term – everyone has had enough! Sophie McElroy, programme manager, London

Kat McCulloch and her mother.
Kat McCulloch and her mother. Photograph: Image supplied by Kat McCulloch

Be present after school

My mum suggested to me, when my boys were very small, that it’s good to be around at the end of the school day. She said that when children come out of school, they want to talk about what’s happened there and then – if you wait to get home after a day’s work then children tend to have forgotten any small niggles or concerns they had. I actually listened to her on this occasion, so my husband, my mum and my sister worked around various jobs to make sure one of us could always meet the children after school. I am truly grateful to my mum and chuffed that I listened to her sage words of advice. Kat McCulloch, senior communications officer, Winchester

‘It’s just a big chicken’

This is my mum’s catchphrase for something that feels like a challenge, but is actually just a bigger version of something you’ve done before. It comes from her experience of tackling the Christmas turkey. It’s just a big chicken! Grace Williams, public sector manager, Hertfordshire

Ros Coffey, pictured in a wheelbarrow, with her sister Annette and her mum.
Ros Coffey (in the wheelbarrow) with her sister Annette and her mum. Photograph: Image supplied by Ros Coffey

Be practical

My mother always had a saying for every situation; in truth we often thought she made them up to fit the scene. However, the one that sticks with me is: “An ounce of practicality is better than a pound of pity.” My mum was an intensely practical Irish woman so, because of her, I have sent a practical gift each month to friends, to cheer them up during the pandemic: hand-knitted socks for friends getting chemo, food parcels with treats for friends on furlough or those who were made redundant, chocolate for one friend who was feeling down and a craft class to distract another friend. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, just something that says you care, and you have thought about what they really need. Ros Coffey, executive assistant, London

Don’t follow the crowd

My mum advised me against learning the flute or the clarinet – “everyone plays them” – so, as a child I learned to play the oboe and, once I had grown bigger, the bassoon. The choice led to so many opportunities: I was competing against far fewer people for orchestral places and, in time, I won a place at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and then the National Youth Orchestra (where there were 13 bassoonists competing for eight places rather than 300-plus clarinettists). I travelled to many countries and developed a deep knowledge and love of music which has enriched my life immeasurably. My mum died three years ago, and I miss her wisdom. It was never just about which instrument to play; at the heart of her advice was the message “don’t do what everyone else does”. It’s the best advice anyone ever gave me. Katy Astley, fundraiser, Cambridgeshire

‘Will it matter tomorrow?’

Growing up, when I was worried about something, my mum would ask me: “Will it matter tomorrow? Will it matter next week? Next month? Next year?” It was and still is a good way to put life’s turmoil into perspective. It doesn’t prevent worrying, but it does make me realise how pointless it often is. Cabi Grosvenor, teacher, Bath

Sarah Luty’s youngest son and her mum just before her 90th birthday.
Sarah Luty’s youngest son and her mum just before her 90th birthday. Photograph: Image supplied by Sarah Luty

‘This shall pass’

My grandmother’s advice in times of struggle or worry was always: “This shall pass.” Whether it was not getting a good school grade, a broken teenage heart, grief, teething infants or poor sleep, she would say this to us with a smile and a pat on the head. She was right, of course – most pain, fear or distress is short-lived and eventually ends. This advice avoided adding drama or causing additional angst with rumination, and her quiet wisdom recognised that there will be a time when such feelings and emotions seem distant and small. Sarah Luty, GP, Scotland



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