The lessons our mothers teach us

Catherine Clark and her mother
Photo by Caroline Phillips

I vividly remember riding beside my mother in our old Volvo station wagon when I was a very little girl. She was wearing navy blue Adidas sneakers, jeans, and a T-shirt, and I remember thinking she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.

At that point in my life, I was too young to realize that my mom was more than just a fairy princess in running shoes. While I understood that she had a job — she was a lawyer — I assumed that all mommies were lawyers. 

In fact, my Dad tells the story of me having a tantrum at three years old when he explained that a man who was “a lawyer like mommy” was coming for lunch. I was furious that he would tease me about something so entirely ridiculous because EVERYONE knew that only mommies could be lawyers.

Jennifer Stewart, my The Honest Talk co-founder, had a similar experience regarding her own mother. Jen’s mom was also a lawyer, who became a judge, a career she pursued while raising and parenting four children. 

But our mothers were ahead of their time, and their start in the legal profession was not simple. My mom, for instance, was one of 21 women in a class of 120, and that was three times what it had been in previous years when the former dean of the law school had refused to allow more than eight “girls” into “his” law school. 

Photo by Ted Grant

When my mom asked the next dean if she could delay writing one exam because of extreme morning sickness, she was told, “No — you can choose to be a mother, or you can choose to be a lawyer, but you can’t be both.” Mom wrote the exam.

Jen’s mother and my mother were part of a generation of women who helped define the future for other Canadian women, breaking down stereotypes about what women could be, proving that women didn’t have to apologize for wanting and having a family and career, blazing a trail for others to follow.

As Jen and I reflect on the impact of mothers this Mother’s Day weekend, we know that we would not be who we are — or doing what we are doing — without the impacts of our own moms. And dozens of our podcast guests have expressed similar sentiments.

Nationally recognized defence lawyer Marie Henein talked about the inspiration of her own mom, who was married young and never able to pursue post-secondary education. Marie’s mom was determined that her daughter would take a different path and became Marie’s staunchest champion as she pursued her own unique, bold career.

Olympian Perdita Felicien recalled her mother’s unconditional support when Perdita came home from school to announce she was competing in a sport her mother had never even heard of. And she talked about how her mother’s calm and love kept her going throughout her inspiring — and sometimes devastating — athletic career.

Former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin noted that her mother’s long-time but thwarted dream to write is what inspired her journey as a jurist and now a bestselling author.

For many of us, our moms are sources of love, confidence, and resilience, but they are also our first role models. Whether they embark on powerful professional careers outside the home or are the CEOs of their busy households — or both — our moms are the people who show us what’s possible, have the highest expectations of us, and are our loudest cheerleaders. Their example motivates many of us to confidently pursue our dreams and to dust ourselves off when things don’t go as planned, and no one is more excited for us when things go right. 

Jen and I co-founded The Honest Talk to create a community that empowers and informs women in Canada, and we have our moms — and countless other daring, committed, courageous moms across the country — to thank for it. So, Happy Mother’s Day to all who are celebrating. You are an inspiration.

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