My mother is the most selfless person I have ever met. I don’t understand how she is so effortlessly generous and kind, but I have noticed that the world recognizes it like I do. People flock to her: her smile, her laugh, her sarcastic sense of humor, and her leadership. It’s hard to tell you exactly what my mom has taught me in 30 something years, especially since she was my first teacher.

Now that I’m a mother too, all of these lessons she’s been ingraining in me have even more meaning. For her birthday, I’d like to honor her by passing on some of her most precious messages about motherhood, and life in general.

Be generous, and don’t worry about what comes after

I am very fiscally conservative (to the point of being paranoid and sniveling), and I used to get stressed out when my mom would donate money to people or organizations. “How do you know that they’ll use the money for what they say? Can’t they just cut costs, or live more simply? Why are you giving them money when you can’t be sure what they’ll spend it on?” Calmly she would tell me, in her own way, that it didn’t matter. What mattered is that she was trying to help them; she was being generous, and it didn’t matter what the recipient did. That wasn’t her concern, and it wasn’t in her control.

Acts of kindness are always acts of kindness. There’s no need to read into the situation or lose sleep over it. Just focus on being the most genuine, most selfless person that you can be. If other people can’t do that, or even if you’re taken advantage of, that’s their sin. Not yours.

Now, as a mother, I see that my children need the example of kindness and self-sacrifice. They don’t worry about what happens after. Their innocence is all I need to remember.

For My Mom on Her Birthday - Real Simple Mama

Give people the benefit of the doubt

I’m Type A, Catholic, and I love rules. When I was younger, I felt like everything had to have justice. I was very black-and-white about things: deadlines, responsibilities, you get the idea. And sometimes (ok, most of the time) I chose to be just instead of merciful.

My mom is the opposite.

She’s shown me, with her patient example over the years, how to give people the benefit of the doubt. She believes in humanity, and that everyone has good in them. We are all capable of meeting those high expectations, and she doesn’t waste time nor energy on doubting people.

While I chose to be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed in someone, she chooses to lift them up and encourage them.

Once I became a teacher, and now as a mother, I look to give people the benefit of the doubt like my mom does. I strive to teach a life lesson rather than hammer down a hard deadline, and I realize that the relationships with my students and children are far more important than rules.

Take care of those you love

While my mom is a gentle and kind person, she’s also the epitome of a Mama Bear. She has a fierce love for her family, especially her kids and grandkids, that cannot be compromised.

In life we may be tempted to do more exciting and glamorous things than be with the people who love us in this world. My mom brushes it all away.

She cared for her own mother for over 25 years, particularly towards the end when my grandma’s dementia really set in. And she selflessly takes care of others on a regular basis, with encouragement and home-cooked food and fellowship.

Take care of those you love - To My Mom on Her Birthday - Real Simple Mama

Look for the good in the world

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Fred Rogers

I think Fred and I may have been brothers. This sounds exactly like my mom! Her air of positivity and happiness shines even when things look dreary. She puts her head down to keep fighting the good fight, and she never loses sight of the wonderful things in our world.

Mom teaches me to always count our blessings: not because we should feel guilty for having a bad day, but because life is too beautiful not to cherish.

Find a way to laugh (even if it’s at yourself)

By now, I’m sure you see my mom as this kind, radiant, sweet woman. And she is.

But she’s also a smartass.

My mom is witty and sarcastic. She’s ridiculously funny and so comfortable with herself, that you immediately feel at ease around her. And she laughs all the time!

People are drawn to the sunshine which is a person who is smiling and laughing with their eyes and in their heart. And that’s my mom.

She’s also the person who is quick to make a joke, even if it’s self-deprecating humor. I love that about her: she’s so confident and so comfortable in her own skin, that she doesn’t mind pointing out a flaw or something stupid she said in a meeting. If it makes you laugh, and if it shows you how human we all are, then she goes for it.

Keep your eye on the prize

My mom has said this to me hundreds of times: through band auditions, leadership roles, tough times in relationships, and as a new mom trying to figure out what in the hell I’m doing.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t forget what you’re fighting for. That’s what it means. It means to persevere, to fight and fight and fight some more. As women, as mothers, as human beings. Never give up.

I will always hear this phrase in her voice.

Always have faith

Ultimately, I think that this lesson sums up all of the others. My mom is selfless because she’s looking towards life after death. She’s doing all she can to earn her spot in Heaven one day, and she keeps her eye on that prize of redemption on tough days.

When I’ve been appalled at the world, or in a transition during my life where everything seemed to be one big question mark, my mom is there. Steady as a rock, patient and calm. And I know it’s because she is the greatest example of faith on earth. She shows me every day what it’s like to really be a Christian in what you say and do.

Through job losses, death of loved ones, health scares and unexpected changes, my mom’s faith never wavers. Even now I look to her to give me a bit of spare grace, and to help keep me steered in the right direction. She has the best faith compass of anyone I know.

In my own humble rambling way, I hope that you feel that you can share a cup of coffee with my mom, laugh over some silly stories, and inspire each other to keep going. My mom’s the best at all of it!

Happy birthday Mommee!

Happy Birthday, Mom! To My Mom on Her Birthday - Real Simple Mama

I hope that sharing this letter has helped you get some ideas about possibly writing to your loved ones! I also wrote one for my son when he turned three, and for my daughter on her first birthday. I think it’s really important to write to your kids, which you can read about here.