Turning into your mother has its up and downs, namely allowing you a window into a part of her life you may have never before understood. So why do so many of us treat it like a disease?
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.”
It may be how you hug your kids or the way you worry about certain things — good or bad, sweet or quirky — mom-isms often creep in. “Becoming our mothers to a certain degree is unavoidable,” says Newman. “We’ve been programmed after years of sharing the same household and learning how our mothers act.”For Jen Singer, author of You’re a Good Mom (and your kids aren’t so bad either) and creator of MommaSaid.net, an online community for moms, displaying her mother’s behavior wasn’t only unavoidable, it was a good thing, something she welcomed. “I promised my boys I’d take them to the batting cages, but only if I could take a few swings myself.” As soon as the words came out of her mouth she knew she had turned into her mother. “When I was a kid, my mom was the one who ran Chinese fire drills at stop lights with my soccer teammates.” Jen’s mother taught her how to play miniature golf and how to take foul shots. She even let her make homemade “stews,” consisting of marshmallows, milk, cookies, Lucky Charms and anything else she could find in the pantry. “My mom was a 10-year-old trapped in a housewife’s body and now I am, too. My boys know it and love it.”
Morphing into mom
As for the doc’s advice? Dr. Newman reminds us we’re all separate and unique people and it’s important to recall this when making the effort to avoid becoming our mothers full-on. “We can reject the things we don’t like about a parent and focus on the positives,” she affirms. But if you’re like Singer and OK with morphing into your mom, well that’s just fine, too. “When my mother was over the other night, she played Wii baseball with my son, just like I’d expect her to. I’m relieved to report that she lost, because so did I.”