By Rebecca Webber
Updated May 01, 2014
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Illo: family portraits with mom in center
Credit: Shout

What She Loves Most About You

My mother loves when I make her laugh. I’m even more sarcastic and dry than she is, if you can believe it. Just the other day, she was very wound up about something. She wanted me to call someone for her. I said, “I would be more than happy to, but I can’t do it at this time.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I have my priorities. I’m doing my hair color, and that is significantly more important than anything else.” It made her laugh. I like knowing that I have that trait—my father was funny, and she sees his humor in me—and that it has an effect on her. Whenever my mom is upset, if I can make a joke and make her laugh, I know it’s going to be OK, and so does she.

Melissa Rivers, the daughter of Joan Rivers, is an actress, a television host, and a producer. Her series, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, airs on WE TV. She lives in Los Angeles.

That Her Marriage Isn’t Perfect

Everyone needs to know her parents’ story—not just “We met one day on the college campus,” but the ugliest parts of their relationship. My parents divorced when I was six and got back together when I was 16. My father had disappointed my mother and didn’t have her back, so she left him. But they somehow found a way to forgive each other. Knowing their struggles has helped me be more realistic about relationships. Love has been idealized; society’s expectation is that love is all you need. That’s not true. It’s love and then work. I think if you know the ugliest parts of your parents’ love, it might make you more determined to confront the ugliest parts of your own love and overcome them.

Elaine Lui is the founder of the entertainment website and the author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to Do? ($18, She lives in Toronto.

Her Achilles’ Heel

My mother’s weak spot is her grandchildren. Whenever I need to manipulate her, I bring them up and she’s like putty in my hands! I’ll offer to bring them over, for example, and get in return vacations, weeklong babysitting stints, you name it—even college tuition. I delivered the first grandchild in her life, and I’ve been using them to my advantage for 16 years. My family is very maternal. The women have all the power and decide everything, so kids are my only weapon.

Joe Bastianich, the son of the chef and author Lidia Bastianich, is a restaurateur and a judge on Fox’s MasterChef. He lives in New York City.

Her Health History

Get as much detail as possible, and write it down while memories are fresh. Family history can tell you so much about disease risk, especially for the most common things, like heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes. You should also know your mother’s pregnancy history. Families may not talk about a baby that died at birth or miscarriages, but those things could suggest a risk of birth defects or pregnancy losses for you. If your mom went into menopause early—in her mid- to late 30s—she might carry a genetic disorder. Depending on the situation, it can be easier and cheaper to test other family members if we know where to look.

Gail Herman is a medical geneticist and the president of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.

How Other People See Her

After my mom died, at the age of 97, I got more than a thousand letters from people about what she had done for them. I had known that she was an effective politician and that she helped people in need, but I hadn’t known the details until I read all those letters. We all see our moms in relation to us. Don’t assume that you know it all or that life has always been the way it is now, post-you. And don’t wait until her death to find a stash of letters. Ask! What was it like when you were growing up? What did you think your life was going to be like? Don’t underestimate your mother. She might have done extraordinary things you know nothing about.

Cokie Roberts, the daughter of Lindy Boggs, who was the first woman elected to Congress in Louisiana, is an Emmy Award–winning journalist and the author of Founding Mothers ($10, She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.