Mom Advice: The Best and the Worst
Great and not-so-great advice from their mothers: Anna Quindlen, Alec Baldwin, Sissy Spacek, Nicholas Sparks, Garry Marshall, and more.
“You did it—deal with it, learn from it.”
“Sometimes, I thought Mom was being unfeeling. But in her own way, she was holding me tighter than I could understand—she was teaching me the lesson I needed.”
“Find the humor in anything.”
“Playwright Bertolt Brecht, known for The Threepenny Opera, once said, ‘From the start is has been the theatre’s business to entertain people… it needs no other passport than fun.’ My mother would have agreed. She didn’t know Brecht, but she always said the goal should be to entertain people, and make them laugh hard.”
“She showed me that in every little occurrence, there was a story, a funny story. One with love and humanity, that could change the moment or even your life for the better.”—Steve Guttenberg, whose book, The Guttenberg Bible: A Memoir, is out this month.
“It’s your life, plus social commentary.”
“My mom had a wonderful way of helping you grow up and realize that your life is going to be what you make it. She had this circular way of making sure you took responsibility for your decisions and the person you would become.”
“I want you to be able to dine with the president.”
“Mother would set the table properly for every meal and instruct us on the correct use of silverware, which seemed kind of useless to me. ‘Why do we have to learn stupid manners?’”
“If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”
“My mother’s best advice was also her worst: ‘If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all’—advice closely linked to her perennial goodbye, ‘You be sweet, now,’ administered with a bright red lipstick kiss on my forehead as I went out the door.”
“If you aren’t happy at home, you aren’t happy anywhere.”—Angie Harmon, star of TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles.
“Find a man who can dance and makes you laugh.”
“My mother was a reserved and gentle person who I suspect was a little disconcerted by my fractious character. Perhaps that’s why most of her advice revolved around who I would marry and under what circumstances.”
“Men just do that.”
“The refrain could refer to a wandering eye (her brother ran off with his secretary) or too much bravado (the time my stepfather won big in a poker game and came home to throw all the cash into the air for us, his kids, to claim as it fluttered to the ground). It could refer to an emotional stiffness or a love of pranks. It could refer even to a sentimental gesture: the time my stepfather sent my mother gardening seeds in the mail with a note reading, ‘I’m still thinking about you.’ It was March; he’d died in November.”
“Never tell a man you don’t like his gift.”
“It was the best advice. It was the worst advice. My mother gave it using her favorite method, The Cautionary Tale: ‘On our first anniversary, I couldn’t wait to see what your father was giving me. I imagined the long flat box meant a necklace.
Pearls perhaps. But when I opened it, there they were—sock stretchers, two wooden paddles the shape of a foot so his socks would dry without shrinking.’”
“Never look a gift mattress in the nose.”
“My mother often gave bad advice but not in the sense that she would recommend a course of action that would prove ill advised. It was bad advice because it was hard to know what she meant—she was prone to malapropisms.”
“Who’s going to remember 100 years from now?”
“She said it a lot, often accompanied by a world-weary shake of the head. I was a bit of a perfectionist, not an easy child. So when I went overboard, my mother would throw me the lifeline of pulling back, getting a grip, gaining perspective.”
The Worst Advice:
Queens are people too! Marie Antoinette’s mother offers a grab bag of bad advice that includes: Don’t think for yourself, obey commands, and always ask for more advice:
“Have no curiosity—this is a fault which I fear greatly for you; avoid familiarity with your inferiors. Ask Monsieur and Madame de Noailles [the first lady of honor], and even exact of them … advice as to what … you should do … Do not be ashamed of asking advice of anyone, and do nothing
on your own responsibility …”—Empress Maria Theresa. (Source: Great Men and Famous Women, Vol. 6, edited by Charles F. Horne, FQ Books)
“Drink diet soda every day for 65 years. Preferably Tab.”—Alec Baldwin, star of NBC’s 30 Rock.