Lessons From My Mother
By: Brianna MacLean

I never knew that we were poor.

I mean, I understood that we weren’t rich, but I never realized just how poor my family was when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was older that I saw the truth that my single mother worked so hard to protect my brother and me from; that “Meat Day” was really just the one day a week we could afford to have meat for dinner or that the reason my mother’s university textbooks disappeared right before her finals season started was that she sold them to afford Christmas presents for her children.

My childhood is a testament to my mom, a woman who was determined to provide the most beautiful life for her children that she could manage, even when the harsh realities of our circumstances threatened to tear it all away. Because of her, when I look back on my childhood, it is with a genuine sense of love and gratitude.

Even on our family’s darkest days, my mother never failed to find a way to turn them into adventures full of light, joy, and fun. One of the primary ways she accomplished this was through active acts of giving. No matter how bleak our circumstances might have been at the time, my mother constantly reinforced the importance of giving back whenever and wherever we were able; For as long as I can remember, that is precisely what we have done. Whether it be delivering for Santa’s Anonymous and Meals on Wheels, even when we were receiving those same donations ourselves, or filling our local Goodwill’s, Value Village’s, and charity shops with industrial-sized bags full of unused clothes, books, and toys, we were never lacking in ways to give back. At the end of the day, it can be something as small as just volunteering a little bit of your time and energy to your community. Helping others doesn’t have to be an expensive or extravagant practice exclusive only to those with more to give; The simple art of action over inaction can make more of a difference than one might expect. 

Another important lesson from my mother was that the act of giving and volunteering was never a means to pat ourselves on the back or to receive accolades from our peers but a responsibility that we had to our fellow human beings. When it comes to helping those around you, there is no room for tit-for-tat mindsets where someone requires the promise of attention, karma, or other potential rewards to act. Rather than utilize moral bribery, my mother taught us to recognize the privilege of having the ability to help and to embrace any opportunity to improve the lives of those around us with open arms.

Everything that I am is a testament to my mother: a woman who taught me that giving back to your community is as much a language of love as a fundamental duty as a member of the human race. Because of her, I understand volunteering is a way of saying, “I have your back,” to those who need somebody in their corner in a world where individualism is loudly promoted. Because of her, I know that even the smallest act can cause the biggest ripple in someone’s life.

After all, look at the waves she made in mine.

For those looking for a way to start giving back, please visit:

Volunteer Canada
Volunteer Alberta
Goodwill Donation Centres
Value Village