After you take the milk carton from the kitchen table to the refrigerator, you place it promptly in the front left hand corner of the top shelf. You cut your kids' peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into little triangles and then you neatly trim the crusts. You write copious lists to make sure your to-do list is promptly etched in your mind. Something here seems vaguely familiar. You sense it in your gut. You recognize it. There's no denying it now. Where did you learn this from? Your mother, of course."Unless you had a horrible mother who was a non-parent, your mother is your teacher, your parenting skills instructor," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It (McGraw-Hill). "It is the rare woman who can reject all her mother's input, modeling and parenting style when she herself becomes a mother."Though many of us say "we're turning into our mothers" like it's a disease, doing so can actually give you insight into a part of her you've never before appreciated. In fact, says Dr. Newman, the complexity of the mother-daughter bond and things for which you may have harbored resentment may be simplified in those moments of mom-like personality modeling. It may finally become crystal clear, for instance, that some of your mother's interactions (or non-interactions!) had to do with her life at different points, like struggling to support the family.Kristen Kirk, a working mom, agrees. "My mom had no hobbies that I could learn from like painting or sewing and I couldn't understand why she didn't play games with me. Now I understand: she was too tired." This realization came to Kristen after working eight hours, driving her kids to three activities, making dinner and then — right before putting the kids to bed after a day that seemed like a week — supervising homework. She explains, "I was tired and just wanted to lie on the couch and watch TV. I expected my kids to entertain themselves just like my mom used to after spending all day doing the same things I do now. I'm so glad I had this epiphany and can better appreciate her."
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