IN PRAISE OF MOTH­ERS Mum knows best

Be­ing kind to oth­ers, dress­ing ap­pro­pri­ately and mak­ing a mean béchamel sauce – Dolly Alder­ton, aged 29-and-a-half, cel­e­brates what she’s learnt from her mum

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Have you ever won­dered what you’ve passed on to your kids? I can tell you: a lot. You may not re­alise it, but it’s a cer­tainty that at some time or an­other your son or daugh­ter has given your opin­ion on some­thing, which they’ve def­i­nitely passed off as their own. There were prob­a­bly gaps in the ed­u­ca­tion; things we’ve had to learn on our own. But there are lessons you taught us – first as you sooth­ingly stroked our hair, or told us off – that we will al­ways hold close.

‘Don’t wear a low-cut top and a short skirt,’ my mum al­ways said. ‘One is fine, but never both. A high-necked T-shirt or polo­neck with a mini works, or trousers with cleav­age. That’s the rule.’

De­spite my ado­les­cent fond­ness for dar­ing, low neck­lines and risqué high hems, I have fi­nally learnt that this re­ally is the rule. And just like all ad­vice par­ents give, it was an up­dated ver­sion of some­thing her mother had in­stilled in her. ‘The shorter the skirt, the lower the heel,’ she was al­ways told. I’m sure I’ll re­con­fig­ure and up­date the modesty rule if I ever have a daugh­ter of my own.

My mother told me not to get so drunk that I have a hang­over: ‘One glass of wa­ter

She taught me to stand my ground,

to earn and de­mand re­spect, time and space. But she also urged me to make that ground the high one

for ev­ery glass of wine,’ she said (I once, as a surly teenager, fool­ishly pointed out that this stops you from get­ting drunk, which is surely the whole point of hav­ing a glass of wine in the first place). How­ever, if I did, by chance, end up with a hang­over, then Mex­i­can eggs are the trick. Two eggs, cracked into a pan of chopped toma­toes, gar­lic and hot sauce cleans up your foggy head like noth­ing else.

My mum taught me how to make a béchamel sauce as I stood by her on a chair at the kitchen counter. She told me that a dash of Worces­ter­shire sauce livens it up, that a touch of mus­tard in egg may­on­naise makes it ex­tra de­li­cious and vine­gar keeps meringues cloud-like on the in­side and crisp on the out­side. She taught me how to cook roast chicken, baked pota­toes, Vic­to­ria sponge and Delia’s all-but­ter short­bread.

She told me that if a stranger opens out their hand and asks for help, you help. Al­ways. If you have your two last pounds on earth left in your purse – you give one to the per­son in need. If some­one looks lonely at a party, you go and talk to them. I watched her show such com­pas­sion as I grew up – whether it was invit­ing the lonely, el­derly woman in Sains­bury’s to come home with us, or al­ways feed­ing the one-eyed cat who roamed round our gar­den. ‘You’ll learn, feel and re­ceive noth­ing in this life if you can’t be kind’ – that’s what my mother taught me.

And, an­noy­ingly, you have to be kind even when you don’t re­ally feel like it. I’ll never for­get the mo­ment I was asked to slow dance for the first time, at my 13th birth­day party, by a boy I liked so much I didn’t know how to han­dle it. ‘NO,’ I said, out of sheer em­bar­rass­ment. ‘I DON’T WANT TO DANCE WITH YOU.’ The DJ was in­structed by my mum to press pause on Westlife’s Fly­ing With­out Wings and she marched over.

‘Do you have any idea how much courage it would have taken this young man to come over here and ask you to dance?’ she asked me, as both the boy and I stared at the floor. ‘You NEVER em­bar­rass a boy like that again.’ The mu­sic restarted and I danced with him.

She taught me to stand my ground, to earn and de­mand re­spect, time and space. But she also urged me to make that ground the high one. Turn the other cheek, treat anger with seren­ity, if some­one’s be­ing need­lessly mean to you, they’re most likely very un­happy. I was told to try to un­der­stand where some­one is com­ing from, to put my­self in their shoes. That’s one les­son that I’m so glad she taught me; and one I’m still learn­ing aged 29.

But there are also things I had to learn on my own. She never taught me how to do my own wash­ing, for ex­am­ple. My mum and dad were from the ‘life is go­ing to be hard for our kids the minute they leave home, so let’s make ev­ery­thing as comfy as pos­si­ble for them un­til then’ school of par­ent­ing. This, in the­ory, is a fan­tas­ti­cally priv­i­leged con­text from which to en­ter the rav­en­ous, blood-thirsty jaws of The Real World, but it also meant I didn’t do my own laun­dry un­til I was 24. Or load a dish­washer. Or drive (I still don’t, and hope one day my par­ents will move closer to me so that The Alder­ton Gold Stan­dard Chauf­feur Ser­vice that I be­came so ac­cus­tomed to in my teens will re­sume).

She also, mad­den­ingly, never taught me to be on time. My mum was al­ways late, and I fol­lowed by ex­am­ple. And just as I de­spaired as I sat on the bench wait­ing for my mum’s car to fi­nally pull up at the end of the school day, my friends now do the same as I keep them wait­ing out­side cin­e­mas, at bars and at restau­rant ta­bles. I learnt to al­ways carry a book with me to kill time while I waited for my mum, and now all my loved ones have had to fol­low suit.

But the im­por­tance of kind­ness is the thing I have al­ways car­ried with me; of han­dling the hearts and pride and hopes of other peo­ple with sen­si­tiv­ity and care. The one thing a par­ent can’t teach their child is how im­por­tant it is to be kind to your­self; to show pa­tience, sup­port and un­der­stand­ing of your own flaws, foibles, quirks and mis­takes. I imag­ine this must be one of the most frus­trat­ing parts of be­ing a par­ent – to know that no mat­ter how much abun­dant love and end­less lifts and loads of laun­dry you pro­vide, ul­ti­mately only your child can find a sense of self-ac­cep­tance. Thank­fully, in the end, I learnt to do that, too.

While I am ap­pre­cia­tive of the wis­dom my mum passed on, which I try to ap­ply to my ev­ery­day life, it is, for some rea­son, the thing I for­get to thank her for when I ring or go home for the week­end. So, for the ben­e­fit of my­self – and also on be­half of a lot of other women and their re­spec­tive moth­ers – I want to say thank you for ev­ery­thing you taught me. You re­mem­bered all the im­por­tant stuff.

Ev­ery­thing I Know About Love by Dolly Alder­ton (Pen­guin) is out now

Snap: Dolly and her mum en­joy­ing some photo-booth bond­ing

We may have handed down these pre­cious lessons, but what about the more prac­ti­cal point­ers? GH in­ves­ti­gates a gen­er­a­tion’s lost skills on page 52.

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