I can’t tell you how hard it was to write that title. Growing up, I think most of us have said at one time or another, “I hope I’m never like my (insert parent here).” We all want to be different from our parents, but yet, we end up being like them, or doing things that they did that we didn’t like or even hated. Being like my mother was the last thing I ever wanted to be.
Over the past 1-1/2 years, while doing growth work, I learned that we carry our childhood experiences with our parents — with us everywhere. As someone who has tried to suppress these experiences for a lifetime, I should’ve known this. Those experiences are part of us…good or bad, and we bring them into our personal and professional relationships. Those experiences are buried deep inside, and we react, depending on the situation, and how present we are to what is happening around us. Sometimes, the reaction is not good.
Why is that? As an example, for me, when I don’t think I’m being heard or I feel pushed aside or left out, I may become commanding, loud, and/or strident. These were traits belonging to my mother. Frankly, it’s horrifying. And I don’t always catch myself doing it. It’s when someone else brings it to my attention that I just want to crawl under the desk and hide.
I’ve spent my entire life trying not to be like my mother. I thought I was doing a pretty damn good job of it until last year. Imagine my shock when the very thing I prided myself on doing was the exact opposite of what I actually did. Envision having a conversation with someone you trust beyond words describing a scenario, and then telling you that “you’re acting like your mother,” and not in a good way. Shock, embarrassment, and all those related feelings don’t quite cover it. It was eye-opening. It revealed a lot about me — not all of it nice.
Coming from my POV, my mother was not a nice person. I remember her as being loud, angry, violent, and on many occasions cruel. These traits (except the violence and cruelty) are ones that I find myself letting loose when my sense of self-worth/value (i.e. my perception of not being good enough) is threatened, or when something said to me lands in a place from my childhood that was not good. I may get snippy, I may raise my voice, or make the other person wrong. Just some of the things I remember my mother doing when I was growing up.
In my lifetime attempt to not be like her, I tried to be the exact opposite (in some ways). I deprived myself of so many things and opportunities because I didn’t want to “be like her.” The irony of this does not escape me.
Here’s the thing. I know I can’t change what I experienced when I was a child growing up. I also know I can’t change who my mother was or who I was during those years. The only thing I can do is change how I am by accepting that these behaviors don’t serve me. How I react to things now is on me. I need to stay present and speak up when things land in a spot that hurts, and not pretend it doesn’t matter, and then stew about it and be angry for days. I need to take responsibility when my words or the tone of my voice don’t match my actions. I need to be the grown-up — not the child, and not my mother. It’s a process — a peeling back of layers (think onion), seeing what’s there, and working on it. Sometimes in the process, I peel back the brown outside layer. Other times, I get close to the core, and sometimes, I’m right back to that brown outside layer. It’s hard — oftentimes painful, but I’m a work in progress…
Photo credit: MOMA.org