This is Mama’s house, and these are her teachings.
They say that life doesn’t come with a manual, but it comes with a mother. Well, in the South, our mothers might as well keep their handbooks right next to the Bible. There’s no rest for the child-rearing, after all. Our mothers gave us the tools we needed—from proper etiquette to essential cooking skills—to go forth a gracious Southern woman, and we're forever marked by that firm, yet tender teaching. (And we can imagine that was a very tasking endeavor, to say the least.) As a child, her quick glance could make us slide those elbows right off the table or extend our hand in polite introduction. Now, as an adult, these glances spur us to swipe on a little more lipstick or double-check that the silver is properly polished right before Christmas dinner. These gut reactions are engrained, no doubt; but it’s the important stuff that stuck the most. Like how Mama taught us to be accepting and kind towards others, to lend a hand to those in need, and to accomplish our goals through hard work and sheer determination. She taught us how to take care of ourselves, how to handle any situation with poise, and how to host a darn good party. When someone tells us that we get more and more like our mother with each passing day, we can’t help but grin—because what we used to think was our worst nightmare didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing at all. These quotes from our editors and our friends capture some of our Southern mamas’ best bits of advice that have guided us true. Odds are, your mama has her own versions. Here are a few lessons our mothers taught us about being a Southern woman.
On taking the high road:
"There's always going to be drama, from middle school until middle age. That's just the way it is, and you can choose to be a part of it or be above it."
On being polite:
"My mom taught us how important it was to be polite. She made me and my siblings call any adult Mr. or Mrs., even if we knew their first name and all of our friends were using first names, but it taught us the importance of respecting those around us. Now, even as an adult, my first inclination is to call someone Mr. or Mrs., unless they ask me otherwise."
On taking care of business:
"Put your big girl pants on and deal with it."
On investing in yourself:
"An education is important. Once you have it, nobody can take it away from you."
On living life to the fullest:
"My mom taught me to eat dessert first. Yes, that’s right. My mom’s philosophy has always been: 'You don’t feel well? Might as well eat a doughnut then.' She is a super fan of the iconic Gibson’s Doughnuts in my hometown of Memphis but as an adult I understand her intentions much more. It isn’t just about a love of sweets. My mom has always taught me to look for the good, even when things aren’t so great. To make sure to not miss the good stuff. She’s taught me to celebrate the sweetness of life. And yes, that generally comes in the form of a chocolate frosted old-fashioned Gibson’s doughnut."
On choosing a keeper:
"Pay attention to how he treats his Mama."
On being prepared:
"Always take a sleeve. (You know, air conditioning in the summer.)"
On keeping a balance:
"My grandmother was always the most beautiful and put-together in the room, but she also loved to have fun. Looking good never stopped her from getting down on the floor to play with her dog, swimming with her granddaughters, or riding her bike around her Florida neighborhood. I think of her whenever I swipe on lipstick before taking my son to the playground."
On acting with grace and compassion:
"My mom isn’t a Southerner by birth, but she’s definitely one at heart. She taught me how to live life compassionately and, to me, that really means spreading the warmth and graciousness of the South wherever I go."
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On setting the tone:
"My mother has always made sure to approach every situation with a wondrous sense of optimism—something I remember when I'm feeling less than cheery. From being a burst of sunshine even before her morning coffee to greeting every guest with a friendly embrace (and cool beverage!), she exudes a calming sense of warmth that I admire.
On sacrificing for the sake of beauty:
"We must suffer to be beautiful (whilst pulling my hair into a tight ponytail, or other tortuous beauty regimen)."
On using proper verbiage:
"Remember: Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow."
On always acting as if you’re at church:
"Always look your best and be on your best behavior, and be respectful of your elders."