What Your Mother Should Have Told You

Image via Penguin Books

When we become mothers we think about what we will tell our children – and what we won't.

Margaux Bergen was having a rough few months when she faced these questions head-on. In the span of a few months she was newly divorced with three children, was dealing with her alcoholic father's death, and her son was diagnosed with a learning disorder.

One night, Bergen pulled out a pen and started to write an open letter to her oldest daughter, Charlotte, who had just turned nine. The letter was an outlet for Bergen's middle-of-the-night laments: “Why the f*** didn't my mother tell me that, teach me that, warn me about that then?” Bergen spent the next 14 years writing NAVIGATING LIFE: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me, part memoir and part advice — in which she shares her own lessons learned in hopes that her trials and errors might benefit her daughter.

Bergen's new book, which will be released August 2nd, contains all of the advice she thinks her daughter should have that her mother never gave her.

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Image via Flickr/ donnierayjones

Bergen's advice might benefit any of us who are navigating life and raising kids. The unflinchingly honest and open advice she shares with her daughter serves as a guide for what children need to hear from their mothers as they grow and begin to navigate life independently.

A loving young couple out on date at a restaurant
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Sometimes you will have to force yourself to leave friends who make you feel incompetent or are negligent, who have asked too much or taken more than you can keep giving.

There are forgettable and unforgettable lovers, but every one of them will teach you a lesson. Eventually, you will learn what feels right for you: whether you can negotiate the emotional complexity of giving up your body and not your soul; whether you can separate respect and love; whether you can learn self-restraint and recognize who to resist and why.


The complications of love will emerge over time. But the risk of heartbreak will always be worth the daily glory of understanding and being understood.

Love means not being too invested in outcomes. You have a serious claim on the other but a casual hold. Let go. Let it be what it will be: for better or worse.

Being in love is simply not enough justification for acting contrary to your own values and beliefs. When things are heavy with pain and free of joy, ask yourself: how does this situation serve me? In the end, I let your father go to live his life, and the world did not spin madly on its axis.

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Remember that parents are grownups only because children expect them to be.

There are certain truths a mother should teach her children: how to recognize when one's efforts might exceed one's talents, that one's intentions may not live up to reality, and that there are maternal limits and yet enough love to go around.

Keep in mind that being a parent requires a constant negotiation between having authority over your children and letting go of it. But we do not own our children; our needs are not their needs.

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It's essential to nourish a part of yourself that will make you mentally and physically resilient to the lows you'll inevitably experience in life. Surrender to the fact that as easily as you might be able to experience pleasure and joy, you are just as easily disposed to feelings of hatred, fear, and anxiety. Take your monsters out and let them walk around.

Be aware. It's the daily practice of meaningful existence.

Money is the source of great freedom and also intense discomfort. It bestows a fleeting prestige and has the power to bind you. Create a budget. They are a guide, a determinant, and a predictor. They are a defense and an excuse. Structured the right way, they are freedom from worry.

Harness your indulgences. Understand your desires and satisfy them. But also know your triggers. Pain is inevitable. Some people will both smother and amplify it with drink, food, sex, and drugs.

As you age and leave your youth, strength, and beauty behind, replace it with wisdom and laughter.

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Image via iStock


You will have a menu of options that may include two, three, or four careers and new ways to engage with others and earn a living. So in school, don't just focus on what you are good at; try to build a wide base of knowledge and skills that can have broad application.


Choose your boss wisely. The best boss will point you to a new way of thinking, and is able to trust others because she trusts herself. And never be afraid to ask questions.

Don't be an asshole to your colleagues. Find a tribe of soul mates at work, but don't flaunt your bond. It helps to have people to laugh with over daily fears, budget cuts, and deadlines.

If and when you are fired, it will affect every aspect of your personal and home life. Remember that it isn't personal. And treat the new job hunt like a full-time job.

Don't cling to a job that is destroying your spirit and health. Sometimes, even when the timing is bad, you need to jump.

Successful people seem to come fully formed, but this is misleading. They fight, they fail, they sweat, they pray, they doubt, they persist, and they always work their ass off. Every successful person I've met has developed consistent habits and routines. You should do the same.

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While there are things we all wish our mother had told us, perhaps Bergen's advice will give us a glimpse into what our mothers were really thinking.

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What Your Mother Should Have Told You

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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