A healthy dose of tough love changed my life

(CNN)I am reminded each year as we cycle past Christmas that socks do, indeed, count as presents.

That's because every year, as I was growing up, I got socks under the tree. And underwear. And oranges. And walnuts. And every other thing that's needed in a household with four kids.
My mom used every opportunity she could to save money, and that meant doubling up "needs" and "wants" during the holidays. Masterfully, she always made it look like the tree was flooded with gifts (especially when the oranges were wrapped separately).
It was a brilliant lesson for her children, who are now parents ourselves.
    It was a lesson born of necessity: Back in the late '60s, my mom went off to work after our family fell on some hard times. It was most unusual for a women with four children at home to work full time not too long after the June Cleaver era.
    My mum (the Canadian version of "mom") even suffered ridicule for it. But from where she was standing, there wasn't much of a choice.
    Don't get me wrong, we lived a comfortable lifestyle. But all of it was slipping away amid a pair of bankruptcies, and a dad who struggled with alcoholism.
    Summoning up what would prove to be a lifetime of formidable strength, my mum rummaged through stores for a professional wardrobe, put me into preschool and bucked the trend. She not only "went off to the office," she became a huge success and the breadwinner of the family.
    Along the way, she led my siblings and me by example. She taught us how to handle adversity and how to rise to every challenge, especially when shrinking back is your first instinct.
    She put all four of us through college -- and helped us navigate our paths through real estate, banking, finance and journalism.
    I was never blessed with an internship or mentors to help me move along my career path, but my mum has always been the first phone call in good times and the many bad.
    Her advice has always been gentle and empathetic, but ultimately it always served up a healthy dose of tough love. Her favorite expressions: "Buck up!" "Soldier on!" and "No excuses!"
    It's served us all well, and I have invoked those lessons through all the firings, failed romances, scathing social media posts and personal failings.
    It not so much that I remember all the words of counsel. Instead, I remember all of her actions, her sacrifices, her struggles, her perseverance and her grace.
    And for the most part, I often think my adversities pale in comparison.
    Mum always reminded us kids that luck would be at the crossroads of opportunity and preparation -- a simple strategic philosophy that, when articulated gracefully by one of the greatest in the greatest generation, has truly been a life-changing gift.