The 3 Most Precious Life Skills (From My Mentally Unbreakable Mom)

A life of constant fighting shaped her resilient personality.

middle aged woman with greying hair and a strong stance AnnaNahabed | Canva

Choosing a role model is like buying a house. Pick the wrong one and your life may be harder.

It took me years to understand why my mother has always come out of hopeless situations as a winner. Being mentally unbreakable is the best way to describe her.

Mom was 20 when I was born in 1986. People had kids at a young age in the USSR. We had few financial worries. Everyone was equally poor. We were “taken care of” by the state — until we weren’t.


The crap hit the fan in the 1990s when food vanished from supermarkets. Want tangerines for the New Year? Queue for three hours. You may still not get them. The image of the tiny white fridge with two sausages in it is etched in my brain. But kids take hardships for granted. I didn’t know an empty fridge wasn’t “OK.” My mom did. She was divorced and focused on survival. All the while fighting her mental trauma.

Her parents hitting each other shaped her childhood memories. Having a drunk father at home five times a week does little to help raise mentally healthy kids. No surprise my mom’s brother was an alcoholic too. Uncle Vova was a good person, I remember him. He loved kids and was generous to them. Especially when he was drunk. I always had candy and a few rubles in my pocket after meeting him. But his addiction killed him faster than Neo dodging bullets. Uncle Vova was found dead at 37 with elevated alcohol levels in his bloodstream. Fell asleep and never woke up. At least he didn’t suffer.




When my mother buried him, it was time to focus on me. She wanted me to have a better life. Alcohol wasn’t part of it. Now I understand why she was always angry when I showed up drunk at home in my adolescence. That was a challenging time for us both but I became a good boy again at 17.

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Mom has a Ph.D. in chemistry and knows that a good life begins with education. She sent me to a high school where university professors taught physics and math, which money but she was happy to pay for what promised me a bright future. Seven physics and ten math lessons a week for two years left their mark. The school was freakin’ good.


You don’t plan a better life, you live it here and now. We were living in a one-bedroom apartment until I was 13. Then Mom made some serious money and we moved to a two-bedroom unit. It felt awesome to have my room. I hadn’t asked for it because I couldn’t ask what I didn’t know. But I felt like a homeowner once I could set rules in my twelve square meters.

We moved to a three-bedroom apartment when I was 18. My grandmother was getting sick in another town. Moving her to our apartment became my mother’s priority. But my grandma refused to live in the city. Too large, too scary.

Things went sour for my granny five years later. That phone call from my mom’s former classmate where she said my grandmother was pounding on her apartment door with a stool to “chase the Devil away”. Granny was with us a week later, even though she was half-present. She was peaceful at first. But we had to call two male nurses to put her into an asylum for the mentally ill. I’ll spare you the details.

Amazingly, a three-month therapy put her back in shape. Never underestimate medication for widening brain arteries. Granny began to recognize us. We could talk to her. She became an active family member again who could follow a conversation. And she moved back in with my mother (I’d already moved abroad).


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I couldn’t project what that success would do to my mother. She needed intellectual stimulation in the middle of the family drama so she wrote another dissertation and grew into a professor of chemistry.

You need health, relationships, and money for a good life. My mother is comfortable. She just crossed retirement age but doesn’t even think of giving up work. I’m proud she’s active mentally and physically.

Mom’s always managed to save money. I couldn’t convince her to invest it but that’s fine. She can’t forget the financial crisis in the 1990s and doesn’t believe in financial markets. It’s like giving up control over her money. She keeps her rubles in a savings account with decent interest. I don’t have to worry about her.


This life story isn’t unique. Tons of people have struggled to put food on the table, take care of their relatives, and educate their kids. But. You’ve won if you can do these things.

I’m the proof my mom has won. My life has been a walk in the park compared to hers. I’ve worked hard since my early 20s but it was my mother who set me on the path toward comfort. Very few of my former classmates have the same quality of life. Much of it comes from what we receive from our parents.

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My mother is mentally unbreakable. I asked her recently what she did to create this life for us. She said: “I’ve always resisted circumstances, Denis.” This means:

  • Fight for a better life every day
  • Do what’s necessary, not what you feel like doing
  • Be disciplined enough to sacrifice small gains in favor of big wins

That’s what my mom was doing until her 50s. She’s more than set for life now. You notice her sense of fulfillment when you talk to her. She’s positive, polite, and grateful. She treats everyone with kindness and respect. What can be better than knowing you did your best for your family and won?

My enormous respect for my mother came in my 20s. I began to understand all she’d sacrificed for me and other family members. Unconditional love is helping others without expecting anything in return. Love made my mother follow her long-term goals whatever crap life was throwing at her. That’s what the mentally unbreakable do.

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Denis Gorbunov is a writer in the self-improvement and personal finance space. He's had articles featured on Medium.