My Mother’s Advice for Living, Loving and Leading through Crisis

By Frederick Riley

The other day I was on a daily check-in call with my mother, reminding her to stay in as much as possible and a little parenting my parent.  The conversation shifted and I began to complain about being locked in my condo in DC alone, how I had gone through everything in my Netflix queue and how I was in desperate need of a visit to a barber.

My mom, who often reminds me that our roles have not shifted, she is indeed my parent, and that I’ve not always had a privileged life, then went on to say, “Well, son, I’ll tell you, life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” – which is a line from the Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son.” She went on to remind me of my childhood and some stories of hers and how life for some has and will always be a crisis and how you learn to manage.

Here are some of the ways she taught me to live, love and lead during a crisis.

  1. Sharing & Caring: We hear stories of people stockpiling tissue and paper towels.  My mother reminded me that she and her sisters would often share food stamps and food from already near bare freezers and pantries.  She reminded me that she often worried how she and my siblings would eat, but those acts of kindness and solidarity made her feel as if she’d accomplished something and it gave her value in very trying times.
  2. Perspective: As a kid my mother would remind us that, even though we had some hardships, it was indeed worse for other people. I grew up in Saginaw, MI and experienced food insecurities, evictions and much more, but there were still those amongst us with bigger problems. She reminded me that others are experiencing COVID-19 different from me and I should be thankful for the luxuries that I have, instead of worrying about those I don’t have.
  3. Find the Lesson: I was reminded that for every great finish line crossed, there was a race that had to be run. There are societal, individual and personal lessons that we must all grapple with during this time. Spend some time going inward, finding opportunity to grow and come out better because of this time.  Rainbows only come after rainfall.
  4. Faith: As a kid growing up you could often find me in church throughout the week. It was a way of life and a sense of security in a life that often felt insecure.  Although I rarely participate in organized religion as an adult, I firmly believe in a higher power as the guiding force in my life and the lives of others. Whatever your faith or non-faith, spending time quietly connecting with god or the universe can ground you at a time when life’s foundation feels rocked by the force of an earthquake.
  5. Family: My childhood, although marred with crisis, was filled with much love and family.  I don’t remember a time during my childhood that wasn’t filled with Sunday dinners spent with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who became family. Family was how we made it through. We pooled resources, shared emotional strength and showered love abundantly. Although physical distance is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19, phones and videocalls allow us to strengthen the relationships that our busy and selfish lives allowed to wane. 
Frederick Riley with his mother, Ruth Riley, and his nephew, Christian Pruitt

Crisis affects each of us differently. There are tons of stories of human kindness and selflessness, but also those of selfishness.  We need to decide how we want to come out on the other side of COVID-19. Over the next few weeks, I will find ways to share and care, think about the perspectives and plights of others, search for lessons of growth, strengthen relationships with family and friends, and dig deeper into my faith.

We will all come out of this differently and changed. Let’s figure out how we can come out on the other side of COVID-19 better because of it.

Frederick Riley is executive director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project.


  • Amit Dutta
    Posted April 7, 2020 8:41 pm

    This is a beautiful story of a mother impacting the world my imparting in her child the wisdom and life lesson that only a mother can. Fred I understand a little better now where you have inculcated your passion and values in life. Thank you for sharing this bright little piece of your life with us in these times of uncertainty. Hope we all learn from your mother’s lessons and be better citizens of this world.

    • Helen Stucky-Weaver
      Posted April 8, 2020 8:35 am

      Thanks for sharing.

      Our God is surely weaving our global, blended family!. Let’s host a virtual global family reunion.

      i want to meet your team ASAP to optimize our wellness Weavers “STAR power” of Collective Skills, Time & Talents, Affirmative Action Attitudes, & Resources. (Including our Zoom Pro (we call our “Green STAR Ship Enterprise”). Fun improves function..

    • Frederick Riley
      Posted April 13, 2020 11:08 am

      AD: Thank you for the kind words. I am only trying to share or pay forward the great lessons that I have been through and still learning as I “weave” through this journey of life. Sending you and your “growing” family good vibes!

  • Rebecca C. Kelley
    Posted April 13, 2020 10:31 am

    As a connector, I’m moved by your candor and encouragement. Not everyone opens up during these times, so very much appreciate your willingness to do so. Counting out Green Stamps, couponing, walking to and from the grocery with a wagon to make the return easier, and planning expenditures carefully — these lessons from my own childhood are returning to me during these times. While I’m cautious about encouraging reflection and gaining lessons learned at this point of the pandemic, for my own mental health, it’s been helpful. Thank your mom for sharing her wisdom with us all through you. Someone recently shared that our kids are a parent’s greatest achievement. I’m sure your mom is beaming with pride about you are living and leading. Be well, my friend.

    • Frederick Riley
      Posted April 13, 2020 11:13 am

      RCK: Thank you for the kind words. I am so glad that my words could inspire an Inspirer! I will share your words with my mom who is CONVINCED that she is going to become a celebrity now. Wishing you and yours all the best!

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