Teenagers don't listen anyway, right? Maybe it's a good thing because the advice we offer them is probably time-warped flawed. When I think back to all the things my mother used to say to me five decades ago, only one kernel still rings of the truth. It was when she said, "You need to make your own mistakes. Just please try not to make the same ones I did."
That was Mom's one golden nugget. The rest of her advice? Well, it kind of went in one ear and out the other, which was maybe what was supposed to happen. Here are 10 things Moms in the 1960s used to say:
1) You can fall in love with someone born rich just as easily as someone born poor.
Money meant a lot to my Mom. I don't fault her or stand in judgement of her attitude. It wasn't born of materialism or greed but rather of need. She was an immigrant who married an immigrant and both worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. Their one goal was to send me to college; Mission Accomplished. My mother didn't want to see me struggle and she viewed money as the antidote to most of life's miseries with the exception of good health, which (see next point) couldn't be bought.
But as for her advice about falling in love, well, she was wrong. I could never easily have fallen for someone who was born rich. Watching my parents work so hard instilled in me a strong work ethic and healthy respect for people who relied on their own resources to get ahead. Trust fund kids? They always were and always will be spoiled brats in my book. Give me a self-made millionaire any day over one fed with a silver spoon.
2) You can't buy good health.
Mom would generally say this when she heard about a rich neighbor who was just diagnosed with a dreadful disease of some kind. Even at a tender young age, I thought she might have it wrong.
Yes, you can buy good health. You can buy access to better doctors, better medical tests, and the medicines, procedures and nursing care you need to help you through your illness. You can also live more healthfully with better food and vacations to relax and in better communities with less pollution and traffic stress. Sure, it may not be enough to do the trick and some illnesses will trump your bank roll, but money and good health do go hand-in-hand.
I am reminded of the old saw about how only the rich can afford to have nervous breakdowns. Everyone else just gets up and goes to work the next day.
3) Men just want one thing and one thing only.
Mom could barely bring herself to say the word sex, let alone discuss it with her teenage daughter. Plus, I hit my teens during the 1960s' women's liberation movement, which proved to be a test of wills for both of us. Mom and I practiced a kind of early "don't ask, don't tell policy" and I think it met both our needs.
I charted her growing acceptance of my emergence as a adult by the care packages she sent to me at college. In my freshman year, she sent boxes of Oreo cookies and packages of Hanes underwear -- briefs. When I was a sophomore, she sent checks and more Hanes underwear -- but bikinis, not briefs. In my junior year came a box of condoms accompanied by a New York Times' article talking about the rise in sexual activity among young unmarried adults and a hand-written note from her with the aforementioned advice about the one and only thing men wanted.
When I came home from college engaged to my long-time boyfriend, she made up the sofa bed for him with the instruction that there would be "no hanky-panky" under her roof. This from my condom-sending mother.
I can't speak to whether young men just want one thing and one thing only, but I did learn that mothers have a remarkable ability for selective blindness.
4) Nobody goes out for hamburgers when they have steak at home.
This little gem was Mom's credo regarding infidelity. Presumably it was meant for young married women as advice on how to keep your man at home. The women-as-meat reference still gets stuck in my throat and I struggle equally to swallow the belief that a wife is somehow to blame for a cheating husband, but this was the prevailing wisdom of the day and imparted by many a mother to many a daughter.
Time eventually -- and gratefully -- left this advice in the dust. But before it died a natural death, it spoke volumes to how women saw themselves and their role in their marriages. Enough said.
5) Never let a man see you without your face on.
Mom was the kind of woman who slipped out of bed 10 minutes early to apply her makeup before coming to the kitchen to make my Dad's breakfast.
I don't think she actually believed that he would have divorced her if he saw her without lipstick on, but she saw looking her best as her one of her responsibilities in their marriage. It was the prevailing attitude of the 1950s; what a difference a decade made.
6) You only have one chance to make a first impression.
While technically true, when Mom said it, it was generally a direct reference to my clothes. Mini-skirts and bell-bottomed jeans were my uniforms. Mom and I had our most virulent disagreements on the days I went on job interviews wearing "my" clothes instead of the sensible career suits she insisted on buying me.
Not without some irony, just last weekend I tried to get my 15-year-old daughter to put on a dress for a dinner out. My never-leaves-her-yoga-pants daughter, who has heard my stories about growing up, replied with "Why? Am I trying to make a good first impression on the waiter?" Touche.
7) Always carry money in your shoe for emergencies.
When I would leave the house on a date as a teenager, Mom made sure I had cash stashed in multiple places on my person. This was pre-cell phones, so presumably if the boy taking me to the movies turned out to be a rapist or serial killer, I could flee and find a pay phone to call her. Never mind that the boy lived up the street from us his whole life and had been in every class with me since kindergarten. It was a security thing and oddly, a coin stuffed in my shoe felt comforting.
Today, the GPS in my daughter's phone lets me know exactly where she is and pay phones are, of course, found primarily in the Smithsonian.
8) Always wear clean underwear in case you are in a car accident.
I can think of many reasons to wear clean underwear but being in a car accident is not chief among them. The idea that you should worry about the state of your underwear when they rush your broken and bloodied body to the emergency room is kind of preposterous.
Yet, to hear my mother talk, the greatest worry in this situation would be whether the doctor would think ill of you for not putting on clean panties twice a day. "You just never know," she would insist. I suspect that on her scale of the most-desirable sons-in-law, doctors ranked very high and she missed few opportunities to try and find me one to marry.
9) Things haven't changed as much as you think they have.
Yes, Elvis daringly swung his hips, but the Beatles changed the world. I suspect so has Kim Kardashian on some level. The fact is, life is an evolution and nothing stays the same. Mom was wrong: Things changed monumentally when I was a teenager and are still changing today.
I regularly heard how my boyfriend's hair was too long. He should shave his hippie beard if he wants to find a job. If I didn't wear a bra, I would develop back problems. Black was for funerals, was I going to one? What did I have against makeup anyway? How about just a little lipstick? Skirts should cover your knees; cross your legs at the ankle when you sit; always wear heels because they help you stand up straighter.
And today I tell my kids how much I hate tattoos and facial piercings, that the unfettered use of profanity offends me, that rap music hurts my molars so can they please wear headphones if they must listen to it in the car, and that texting is not conversing.
10) You can be anything you want to be if you work hard enough.
This is the stuff immigrants inhale to get them through the day. Sure this is a great country and all, but possibility shouldn't be mistaken for probability. Abe Lincoln paved the road on this one, but does anyone besides Spielberg actually think he'd get elected today?
Truth is, some people are born with more advantages than others. And once you get ahead, you tend to stay ahead. I'm not trying to quash anyone's dreams here, but I'd rather my kids set realistic goals for themselves than chase rainbows. But mostly what I'd rather is that my daughter never publish a list like this about my advice to her.