WHAT THE PARENTING BOOKS DON'T TELL YOU: Becoming Your Mother (Sort Of)
I once thought I would eventually turn into my mother, but now I’m not so sure. I’m 37 years old, and even though I just bought a pair of shoes specifically for doing Zumba (not sorry!), I have yet to succumb to three trappings of middle age that I thought were inevitable: being baffled by young people and their rap music, not caring about pop culture, and forgetting what it’s like to be 20 years old.
No, I will not turn into my mother. After all, I’m not a sitcom character -- I’m a complicated person with my own quirks and abilities and feelings. I did not turn 35 and instantly begin watching the Lifetime Channel (it took “Flowers in the Attic” to get me to do that). These are silly, limiting stereotypes. I’ve even joked about this myself, with my newfound love of Ann Taylor. (And look, if I really had turned into my mom I’d be shopping at Talbots.)
I did inherit my mother’s temper, and a tendency to clean the kitchen and bang cupboard doors around for like 30 minutes when I’m really angry. If you ask my ex-husband, Seth, and my soon-to-be-husband, Jeff, they will both call it “angry cleaning.” I know it’s not one of my best traits. And I know exactly where I get it.
But aside from that, I would say I'm a different parent than my mother was. I do not find myself saying things she said to me, like, “It’s my way or the highway.” What I do have is a greater understanding of how she must have felt as a low-income, single mother who was working and going to school while raising a sometimes-belligerent daughter. No wonder she came into my room with a trash bag and threw all of my belongings in it when I refused to clean my room. No wonder she got so upset when I refused to wear the outfits she bought for me.
No wonder she lost her patience with me. When I think about my childhood, I remember my mom being mostly exasperated with me -- and now I know it was with good reason. I argued. I refused to clean my room. I didn’t like her cooking. And I did all this to a mom who was just barely holding it all together. Now that I’m a parent, I can tell you, that shit is exhausting even under the best of circumstances.
I’m fortunate to not be a single parent. I have a great co-parent (Seth) and a great partner (Jeff), to help relieve the day-to-day stress of parenting. Being a parent can be hard work, and I cannot imagine doing it alone.
Even with all this support, though, sometimes I find myself feeling a little on edge. Oliver is a wonderful, energetic, silly boy with a weird sense of humor and an inability to sit still for more than 10 minutes. He wants to go! Do! Be! These are great qualities in a human being, but not so great when you take these qualities to somewhere super boring, like the grocery store.
And I feel ashamed when I lose my patience. After all, I am not my mother. I am not worrying about having enough money to buy groceries this week. If Oliver wears out a pair of pants, I can buy him a new pair. If I’m sick, there are other adults who can take care of my son while I get some rest.
And because I’m not my mother, and I will never turn into my mother, with her circumstances and limitations, I can practice being more patient. I can take a break if I need it.
I do know the reason parents use the “starving children in Africa” line when their kids won’t eat their dinner (all that wasted food is just maddening!). I understand the frustration of a lost jacket. And just now, I told Oliver to stop running in the house and sliding on the floor in his socks. (He’s gonna crack his head open one of these days!)
I’ve become a mother, sure, but I don’t think I’ll ever become my mother -- I have it much easier than that.
Do you buy into this “we all turn into our mothers” thing? Do you find yourself saying and doing things that your mother said and did while you were growing up? Is this phenomenon a part of aging, or is this specific to having kids?
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.