An Overlooked Female Mentor – My Mom

This post is dedicated to my Mom. She probably won’t read it, because I don’t think she knows this blog exists, but regardless.

You see, my mom and I do not have a traditional mother-daughter relationship. Until fairly recently I didn’t appreciate her very much. We’ve never been super close: my father gave me the sex  talk. Mom was out of town when I got my period for the first time, so the only advice I received on that note was from my grandmother, and all she said was to wash the undies in cold water. I taught myself to shave. For a long time, the things that I didn’t learn from my mom, that I felt I should have, stopped me from seeing the things I that had learned from her–things that affect me a lot more than having had to teach myself how to keep my legs hair-free.

There are two things in particular in which my mother excels. She is meticulously organized and she is extremely good with money. This past weekend, for example, I was visiting my parents and one of the evenings I arrived home after visiting with a friend to find my parents sitting on the couch. Mom had the big calendar she keeps on the fridge in her lap and she was making my father go over his vacation schedule and syncing their calendars. This obsession with dates and keeping information up-to-date is something I learned from her. While attending undergraduate school full-time, taking graduate classes and working three part-time jobs I maintained two calendars–a wall calendar and a personal date book, that was on me at all times–and updated the two almost nightly. Without these meticulously kept organization systems, there is no way I would have been able to pursue so many different interests at the same time and juggle my schedule efficiently.

My mom also does taxes for most of our family, manages my father and her accounts, handles my grandmothers accounts and taught me almost everything I know about budgeting and prioritizing my spending. She taught me how to balance a checkbook and is already reminding me on a regular basis that I need to start planning for retirement.

While I may not have learned many of the typical mother-daughter lessons from my mom, what I did learn has been infinitely more valuable and has played a much larger part in defining who I am.

You may ask, what does this have to do with being mentored? A lot. You see, often we overlook the mentors we do have because they don’t fit the criteria we may expect. But our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and teachers can all also serve as mentors. Wikipedia says a mentor is “a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person.” It describes a mentor-relationship as the pairing of a newcomer or less experiences person with a more experienced person, who advises and serves as an example.

I’ve been listening to Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, in which he talks about nurturing relationships (I’ll discuss the book further in upcoming posts). One of the important points I took away from this book is the importance of recognizing those who have helped us attain our goals and learn important lessons.

I’ve seen a lot of posts (like this great one from Speak Softly and Carry a Red Pen) and comments lately on how rare women-to-women mentoring seems to be. Many people seem to think women just become cold and defensive once they attain positions of power; I however think there are two other issues at play. First, I think when women offer advice it tends to be in a less formal atmosphere, so we’re less likely to recognize it, like with me and my mom. Second, and perhaps the cause of my prior point, is that I think women are less likely to recognize their own success; therefore they feel less qualified to give advice and tend to give it less authoritatively. That leads to fewer women feeling they have something to offer younger women. This feeling that we haven’t “earned it” has been credited with the reason women are less likely to ask for a raise, or negotiate a salary. Men are more comfortable with their own achievements, making them more comfortable offering advice and arguing for better pay. This feeling of not-having-earned-it, may also stop women from asking other women to be mentors. We don’t want to be a “bother.”

That said, another less I’ve taken from Never Eat Alone is this: It never hurts to ask. After all, what’s the worse that can happen? They can say no, and then you’re no worse off than you were previously.

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