Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm like my mother

One of my clearest thoughts from when I was a child was "I never want to be like my mother". For the most part that's still true. My mother isn't a bad person, per se, she just isn't the kind of person I want to be.

Some of the ways I differ from my mother:
  1. I love my daughter unconditionally. It doesn't matter what she does, I'll never tell her she's not good enough to be loved. Everything she does brings something to my life, even if it's surprise that she'd do such a thing! Mostly, she's a joy to be with.
  2. I'm happy when my daughter's happy. It doesn't matter if she's not living her life the way I anticipated. It's her life and her decisions are right for her. She's a fine, trustworthy, hard-working person and I'm proud of her just the way she is. When she speaks to her sister without telling me I'm happy that they're friends. I don't complain that she hadn't let me know of the contact beforehand.
  3. I own my own emotional state. I never blame anyone if I'm having a bad day. I'm cranky for a reason and it's not because someone else is in my life, it's because of decisions I've made that haven't worked the way I wanted them to (or I simply haven't had enough sleep).
  4. I own my own financial state. If I've made bad financial decisions, they've been my decisions. If they've been based on advice from someone else it was still my decision to follow that advice. If I lend money I make sure people understand that it must be paid back. I there isn't that clear understanding, I don't expect to see the money again. I don't lend money I can't afford to lose.

I know those four comments probably make my mother sound like the harridan from hell. Sometimes she is, but mostly she's just a person who doesn't know herself very well, who has never taken responsibility for her own life and, now, never will. She's simply who she is, the good and the bad.

My brother-in-law celebrated his 60th birthday last weekend. Family and friends gathered on a paddle boat (the paddle is fake but the boat looks good) for dinner and conversation. We sailed down the river and back for three hours. It was a good night. It was that night I discovered that, even with all my efforts to NOT be like my mother, I am.

On the dock before boarding, someone nearby sniffled. My mother rummaged in her cavernous handbag and came up with a clean tissue to hand over. Later that evening, during dessert she dove into her handbag again and handed over a 'wet ones' (pre-moistened towelette) for someone to wipe their fingers. At the same time someone dropped their spoon. My daughter, not prepared to wait for anything in life, even waiters, rummaged in her handbag (larger than my mother's) and came up with a zip-lock plastic bag containing cutlery. She handed over a clean spoon. At my table some guests were discussing contacting each other. I rummaged in my (equally large) handbag and came up with pen and paper.

We each have a different focus in life: my mother is focused on keeping people clean, my daughter is focused on comfort (she keeps moisturisers and anything that will make the consumption of food easier), I'm focused on communication (I keep all sorts of stationery items in my bag including a stapler and staple remover). But in our own ways, we're similar.

So, after more than twenty years of making conscious decisions to be the kind of person I want to be and not the person I was brought up to be, I find I've missed a bit. It's not such a bad thing actually. It does give a sense of continuity. I got all the important things right. This little thing that shows connection can stay.


Greg said...

I am a New York Times bestselling author working on a new book about mother-daughter relationships and thought you might want to contribute. Please visit my page for details about submitting stories for Mom's Little Angel.

Gregory E. Lang
Author of “Daddy’s Little Girl,” “Why a Daughter Needs a Dad,” “Why a Daughter Needs a Mom” and more.

glediar said...

Hi Greg, nice to meet you. Your project sounds fascinating.

I have dozens of stories of my daughter growing up and how we interacted. For a long time it was just the two of us so we had lots of opportunities to build something special.

I'd love to contribute but have a few questions so I'll contact you privately with those after I check out your website and submission requirements.

Jim Harris said...

Is it so strange that we're like our parents? I mean the whole genetic thing. When I was a kid I decided I didn't want to be like my parents. I became a vegetarian to prove I could be different. I became an atheist. I took up radical political ideas. My parents were alcoholics, so I took up smoking grass (although I later realized I was just copying their impulse for escaping with drugs - so I gave up all drugs).

I don't think I'm like my mother psychologically. I'm not sure about my father because he died when I was 19. However, I am getting their diseases and physical ailments. No escaping genetics.

I often hear women say they don't want to be like their mother, so I assume there's a very weird dynamic going on with mothers and daughters. There's an excellent book on this called You're Wearing That by Deborah Tannen. You should read it.

Tannen collects recorded conversations between mothers and daughters and then analyzes them and draws conclusions. It's really fascinating. I read it thinking it would be a great resource for developing female characters for fiction.


Denise Rossetti said...

The really scary thing is when you hear your mother's voice come out of your mouth - especially when you speak to your children.

It always pulled me up short and though I have a great relationship with my Mum, I try really, really hard not to do it.

glediar said...

Welcome Denise. Good to hear from you.

I know what you mean about hearing your mother through your voice. I have that same problem sometimes but I'm more interested when I hear my mother through my daughter's voice.

It's really funny to listen to a 24 year old saying word-for-word what my 79 year old mother often says. Incongruous to say the least.

glediar said...

You're right Jim. You can't escape genetics. You can minimise the effects at bit though, I think.

My family has diabetes - on both my mother's side and my father's side - so it's a serious concern for me. I try to eat a healthy and balanced diet - that's not all that difficult. My problem is the exercise. All the things I'm really interested in doing require me to be sitting still.

I try to walk regularly but I can't just 'go for a walk'. I have to accomplish something along the way. So I walk with my daughter to spend time with her. I walk to the shops and back. I walk up stairs rather than take the lift. I deliberately park a distance away from uni so I have to walk to get there. It's still not enough but it's the best I can do with everything else I want to fit in at the moment.

I do try to make the most of what I have - every minute of the day, but, like you, I keep dreaming of the perfect retirement when I'll be able to do all the things I really want to do.