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How "I Can't" Never Did Anything, My Mother's Answer For My Will To Give Up

Updated on August 2, 2010

Determination Is Developed Throughout Childhood

Mom is Proud To Hold A Large Salmon Caught From Lake Michigan
Mom is Proud To Hold A Large Salmon Caught From Lake Michigan

Traits That Are Shaped And Molded By Our Childhood Conditioning

Do you believe in being conditioned through childhood, tell about your experiences growing up, also what trait(s) in...

This subject is one that I ponder mentally on a regular basis. I think my intrigue with it lies in the fact that I am one of four children. We are each roughly a year apart in age. The curiosity for me is how we four could be raised by the same two people and be so much alike and at the same time, so very, very different. I do believe that we are conditioned by our childhood and that much of our adult self, is formed from positive and negative influences as we mature into adults. The one thing I feel that has impacted me the most is how my Mother would react when I had given up as a child and declared," I can't" on any given subject.

The first time I remember Mom telling me, "I can't never did anything", was when she was trying to make me learn to brush the tangles out of my own hair. I was the oldest of three girls and we were trying to get dressed up for some special occasion. My hair was stick straight and beyond shoulder length. The tangles across my collar area were a huge ball of matted mess. Mom must have been pressed for time on this occasion and told me that I was old enough to brush my own hair out. I gave it a typical quick over, carefully avoiding the wad I could not see and, did not want to pull at, that lay on the back of my neck. It seemed hopeless and it hurt to try to work the tangles free. When Mom asked if I had gotten the tangles smooth I said "I can't".

That was my first mistake. My Mother very harshly announced to me that "I can't would never do anything". Now at the time this statement only served to confuse me and her rapidly growing frustration with me and my hair were only confounding the situation. I was soon to learn just how important it was to put out my very best effort even if it was not the best in show. I was expected to try, and to always try my best. Actually I started to cry.

Things were getting pretty complicated and it seemed hopeless to me as I could not understand why she was so upset. I did not have a clue about what she had meant by this statement that seemed to be a conflict in itself. I cried harder when she tried to explain, as she roughly and hurriedly brushed away at those tangles. She was unusually annoyed. I was hurt, both emotionally and physically and, it all felt to be, a big mess, equal to the tangles in my hair. Now Mom was always gentle and kind and I just did not understand why my tangles had upset her so. She was going on and on about giving up and not trying and, why?, I thought, as I cried away my own confusion and pain.

Soon after, Mom took the time to try to explain to me how I was giving up when I stated that I could not achieve whatever I was attempting. Saying "I can't" was a self defeating statement and one that was not allowed in my upbringing. The long term impact has been one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. My Mother would fly into anger at the sound of those two simple words, "I can't". I am hear to tell you that it seemed a long hard lesson and took me a while to grasp a true understanding,of such a simple statement. I made the mistake of stating "I can't" on other occasions and my Mother's response was always the same.

Why Are You So Independent?

Mom often asks me why I am stubborn and independent and I have to laugh. My answer is always the same. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Mother, I say,"I am what you worked so hard to make me be".

Mom loves it when we go fishing. She always seems in awe of those big fish. I hear in her big smile, "that's my girl". Thanks Mom.

My Conditioner and Best Friend

At 81 She Still Tells Me What I Should Do
At 81 She Still Tells Me What I Should Do


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    • ReuVera profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      My mother at hers 81 is still telling me what to do! Not that I listen any more as I used to.....

      And oh, you are so right- we are molded in our childhood. Everything starts in childhood and this period has a tremendously important impact on what will grow up from us.

    • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from NW Indiana


      Thank you for sharing your story. I remember THE LOOK, actually Mom still flashes it from time to time but mostly she just shakes her head. I think I amaze her more now, it use to be I worried her, Ha. Thanks again.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      When I was a kid, if I ever got a cut on my foot or on my hand, my mom would make me soak it in hot, hot, HOT water with Epsom Salts for an hour a night for week. That shit would sting like the dickens! She never made me do this when I got cuts on my arms or legs…only when they were on my feet or hands. She would insist that if I didn’t do this, my “wound” would get a red ring around it. I was told that this red ring would become a red line that would follow a vein back to my heart and if I didn’t stop the progress of this red line…if that red line succeeded in making it all the way to my heart, my heart would EXPLODE!!! Man, I hated the Epsom Salts.In a separate issue, I was warned about the possibility of getting rabies if I were to ever touch any kind of dead animal. And, if I got rabies, the ONLY way to cure it would to get 15 shots RIGHT IN THE BELLY BUTTON with a needle that was about the width of a pencil. That put the fear of God into me. I absolutely HATE any kind of contact with my belly button. Even watching those Pillsbury commercials, I would cringe when one of the commercial people poked the Doughboy in his belly. Just the thought of someone jabbing a spear into my belly button was enough to ensure I didn’t touch anything that was dead.And I needed to be aware of my surroundings when I was playing, because if I were to ever step on a rusty nail or anything like that, not only would I get the Epsom Salt treatment…I could also get lockjaw and end up starving to death. Along with these medical catastrophe warnings that were designed to modify my behavior through fear, there were always the things that “couldn’t be done.” Did your parents ever tell you that you couldn’t do something…for no other reason than it simply couldn’t be done? I’m not talking about things that had a consequence, such as “You can’t drink a gallon of Drano expect to live to tell about it.” That makes perfect sense. I’m talking more about things that are supposed to be “impossible.”I know I didn’t explain that very well, so I’m just going to have to use an example. Let’s choose…oh, I don’t know…going to a wedding. I would want to wear gym shoes. My mom would say, “You can’t wear gym shoes to the wedding.”“Why not?”“You just can’t.”Now, it’s important for you to realize that she was NOT telling me this in a “I’m-not-permitting-you” way. This had all the definite inflection and tone of a “It’s-a-matter-of-fact-and-I-can’t-believe-you-would-ever-think-such-a-thing-was-possible.” Kinda like “You can’t teleport to Rome……teleportation doesn’t exist.”When I was younger (like 8 or 9), I just accepted it. “Oh, you can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding? Ok, then.” It really confused me when, at the wedding, I saw plenty of people in jeans and gym shoes. They still looked nice, with a collard shirt and all, but they weren’t in dress shoes or slacks.When I got older, I started asking her questions.“You can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding.”“What do you mean I can’t? What will happen?”“You just can’t do it.” Again, it was with the tone of something like, “You can’t teleport.”“Why not? Will my feet melt off my body? Is there some sort of force field keeping out those people who wear gym shoes? Why can’t I?”

      “You just can’t.”Eventually, I learned that this type of thing meant, “It’s just not right or socially acceptable. I don’t agree with it. Although people do it, I would prefer that you, my son, did not,” although I don’t understand why she never just came right out and said this.I briefly doubted my epiphany on this matter once when, amid my mom’s declarations of “You can’t do that,” I went outside in winter without a coat. The look on her face seemed to say, “What…what is this magic that allows you to do this?” That really threw me for a loop for quite a while but, as I got older still, I figured out that look was her realizing that I was taking control of my own life and testing boundaries. When I remember that look today, I see it as her realization that she was not going to protect me forever and I would make mistakes in my life that she was going to be powerless to prevent.

    • trish1048 profile image


      10 years ago

      A wonderful story!  That is some fish your Mom is holding!  Yikes!

      This hub has given me a new way to try to get my 7 yr old granddaughter to stop saying I can't.  I find she gets easily frustrated so I hope this will help.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from NW Indiana

      rmr, Thank you for sharing your experience growing up. I happen to have my Mother in the room when I read your comment and I want to extend very sincere appreciation for the look I got to see on her face as she read your response. .....PRICELESS.

    • bluewings profile image


      11 years ago from Milkyway

      Great lesson.Thanks!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      11 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      A wonderful tribute to your mother!

      Your hub and Fran's comment brought back memories of being a child with long hair, before "Tame" rinse was invented. Oh the pain of getting those snarls out of long wet hair. I wonder how many guys can identify with that?

      BTW, my mother still tells me what I should do. And I have to admit, she is usually right.

      Nice hub!

    • rmr profile image


      11 years ago from Livonia, MI

      Great hub! These are principles that I have had to discover on my own. I was raised by a man who always said "Don't try to fix things, You'll just make it worse!". Once I was on my own (read flat broke), I came to realize that if it's already broken, I can't make it much worse. I soon figured out that "I can't" not only accomplishes nothing, it can also cost you money that you don't have!

      Instead of saying "I can't", you should say "I can at least try". Using this logic, I have discovered a whole world of jobs and hobbies, as well as saving thousands of dollars on home and auto repairs.

      I'm glad you had such a wise mother to lead you to this knowledge early in life. I believe this line of thinking displays strength of character.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      11 years ago from Around the USA

      Wise woman.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      C.S. Alexis..........this is a wonderful story! I love it! Great pix of your mom......she is a doll......and she raised you into the creative, talented person you are! You are lucky! Keep on writing these stories, they are great and I am enjoying them immensely!

    • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from NW Indiana

      This Hub Made mt Mother real happy.She said that is exactly how she remembered it to be.Thanks for reading !

    • Fran Horvath profile image

      Fran Horvath 

      11 years ago from Universal

      Oh my gosh, reading your article just brought back my first memory of telling God I would never ask for anything ever again if only he would get that knot out of my hair.

      Great article.

    • glassvisage profile image


      11 years ago from Northern California

      How great to relate this to your mother... thanks so much~ :)

    • plz begentle profile image

      plz begentle 

      11 years ago from Texas

      LOL Great story of conditions. I too have a similar story. Though my mother was not their. I remember my first menustral cycle. I avoided telling my dad because I figured it was an inapproprate topic and timing. I fixed the problem by stuffing it with toliet paper. I was conditioned to find MY OWN solution. Now as a adult I love to be left to my thoughts and be alone... Some may say careless, but I say careful.



    • In The Doghouse profile image

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California

      I remember my mother who was a kindergarten teacher sharing a wonderful story with us called, "I Can't Said the Ant." This story gave us a child's understanding of this concept. To this day, I still shudder at the words, "I can't." If you think you can do it, you can! Great HUB.

    • C.S.Alexis profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from NW Indiana

      I did something wrong and this hub did not come up as the answer to a request I was trying to post. Anyway it is my answer and I apologize for the confusion.



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