Why Mum told me life boils down to potatoes

Lucy Gichuhi salutes the strong women who raised her to lead

No matter which nation or culture we came from, there is something special about all mothers. Many mothers are biological; some adoptive. Others are social mothers. The vital role of a mother is undeniable. The story of my mother is the story of many mothers.

As long as I can remember, Mum was our primary carer. She was a teen-mum when I was born, and I cannot imagine how overwhelming this must have been for her.

Mum taught us to care for and respect each other.

Mum walked many miles to fetch drinking water for the family among all the activities of daily living in Kenya. She had no nannies or house-help; it was all up to her. Every year, mum had a newborn baby. She was always pregnant or nursing a young one. I was 10 years old when my seventh sibling, a sister, was born. This makes me marvel at the strength of a mother. A mother of three daughters myself, I cannot even remotely imagine how my mother managed.

Mum taught us manners, caring for others, balancing our emotions and the value of hard work. Chores such as sweeping the dirt floor of our house, caring for younger siblings, milking cows, or fetching water from the river, were to be done cheerfully and meticulously.

Mum taught us to care for and respect each other. She had no favourites; all of us were equal in her eyes.

Mum also taught us financial discipline using the “Potato Principle.” When we worked in the garden, the potato crop was divided into three portions:

  1. One third was used to produce more potatoes.
  2. One third was dedicated for sale.
  3. One third was used to eat.

This principle was used to live for the present, make money, and move forward for the future by always protecting a portion. She also ensured I opened my first bank account.

Mum made sure we picked good friends. She carefully guided me in creating a social life of dignity and integrity. Mum ensured we were politically aware, even though most women had to do as they were told by the men in their lives.

Throughout my schooling, I experienced Mum nurture us, help with homework, run the farm, and train her growing family to positively contribute to society. Mum was a teacher, counsellor and provider. These were all part of her DNA. Motherhood is a training ground for personal and public leadership, even if we don’t realise it yet. Her final piece of advice, just before she died in 2013, was, “Vote more women into politics; that’s the only way you can change the world.” This was when none of her daughters were in politics.

Mum and Grandma taught me my deep-rooted beliefs. They taught me forgiveness.

Growing up, I learnt the story of the other mother in my life – Grandma. She, too, nurtured my developing leadership skills. Grandmothers, like mothers, do the same work – only with the benefit of hindsight. She brought food, love and laughter that only a grandmother can. Many times, in the small house she shared with her goats, she told us how women shape the community by caring for their families and raising their children to be all they can be.

Mum and Grandma taught me I had the strength to do anything I wanted. My dignity as a woman and a mother is worth fighting for. Integrity, hard work and respect for others pave the way to be all that one was created to be. Mum and Grandma taught me my deep-rooted beliefs. They taught me forgiveness. Grandma died having never talked about her own painful past or explaining how she came to be divorced. In a culture where polygamy and other women-degrading practices were practised, she taught us to remove ourselves from danger if need be.

In her home, she told us wonderful stories and I fondly remember much laughter. She taught us discipline.

That’s what mothers do; they are leaders in their homes, business, community or politics. Leadership is deeply embedded in all mothers. My heart goes out to the mothers who are overwhelmed and struggling in one way or another. Hang in there; a new dawn is rising.

As a mother of three daughters, I realised I was raising leaders for their homes, business, community and nation. They would learn by watching what I did. I am the person to teach them how to be the best leaders who will contribute positively to our society.

You see, girls can only learn some things from watching the women in their lives. Grandma taught me that negative emotions such as anger, frustration and bitterness make you lose all your viable options. Teaching and modelling for our children is a mother’s noblest task. A mother’s integral responsibility is to mentor and develop the next generation of leaders.

Lucy Gichuhi is a Liberal senator for South Australia.

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