We Are Not Our Mothers, and Our Daughters Are Not Us
Even though I’m a mother, I was a daughter first. And I have two sisters. Like most women, we have often said to ourselves and each other that we were worried about becoming our mother. (Sorry, Mom.) I think it’s a natural thing that girls tend to be terrified of.
For as long as I can remember (which has to be somewhere around ten-years-old because I can’t remember much of anything before that), I’ve been told I look like my mother. I do. It’s true. And, since as a child, I most likely heard adult women lament in my presence, “I’m becoming my mother!” Most women worry about that in some form or another. I guess at some point, I started half-expecting and half-worrying that one day, I would be just like my Mom too. And that would surely be awful and terrible. Because that’s what everyone says, right?
The truth is, in many ways, I am a lot like my Mom. For example, I learned from her the value of reading, using my brain, and speaking my mind. She was/is a writer. So, I inherited that from her too. I also have a strong affection for chocolate. I also have struggled with anxiety which is an inherited trait from her side, for sure. But, in a lot of ways, we don’t see eye-to-eye at all. It’s OK though. I’m like her, but I’m not.
But, I wonder, now that I have my own daughter: What she is looking at in me, and hoping with all the energy of her soul that she does NOT become?
The Outlaw Mama wrote this post that got me thinking about all this. The way we worry constantly as women. We worry that we have to be the perfect role model of what a woman is or isn’t supposed to be to our daughters. We live in a world where women’s rights are still fought for daily, and argued about incessantly. Even in a country like ours where women have it better than so many other women in the world... it’s still a fight.
So, we worry about how our daughters will view their bodies if we eat a doughnut or exercise too much. What kind of message am I sending? We think, how will they view gender roles if I allow them to watch a princess movie, or let them be too girly? We worry that if they become obsessed with baby dolls at the age of two that they will only think that a woman’s job is to be a mother. Should we buy them a tool set too? We worry that if we yell at our husbands that they will become man-haters. We worry that every mistake we make will undoubtedly shape their future.
But, the truth is, I am not my mother. And, my daughter is not me.
I realized early on that my daughter is not that much like me. She’s so much of an introvert, she speaks softly by nature, and get this: she likes math. And, she loves skiing. She is a risk taker in a physical way, but not outspoken at all. Going to the counter of a restaurant and asking for extra napkins would be her worst nightmare. But, ski down a giant hill covered in snow on two little sticks? No problem! She is pretty much my complete opposite down to her tastes in food. Although we do share that obsession with chocolate.
I could worry that if I say, “I hate math!” in her presence that she will think it is no good, and that math is not for girls. But, I have to remember I’m my own person and so is she. It’s OK for me to hate it and for her to love it. Because we are not the same person. There doesn’t have to be an absolute in every aspect of parenting. Our actions are not always going to equate to the same outcome in our children. Good or bad.
I wonder what kind of change it would make if we start being ourselves around our daughters without worrying about ruining them. If we could say things without fear like, “I hate math! But, I’m so glad you love it. Because you aren’t the same person as me, and you will like different things than Mommy. And, that’s OK. I’m glad you love math. I just want you to do whatever makes you happy.” What message would that send to our little girls? Maybe if that had been said to me, I never would have worried about becoming my mother. I would have known early on that we were different. Separate. It would send a message of independence. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t make me any less because I hate what she loves. It just makes us different. We are not our mothers, and our daughters are not us.
Now, my sweet girl is only seven. I doubt she is even thinking about any of this. But, instead of worrying everyday how she sees the world because of my actions, I’m just going to let her see the world the way she wants to, and keep telling her that her way is the best way for her (within reason, of course). Because she is unique. Special. Different than me. I am not my mother and my daughter is not me.
In reality, she’ll probably possess some of my strengths and some of my weaknesses. Maybe one day, she’ll be able to ask for those extra napkins without fear, and maybe she’ll also inherit my horrible un-athleticism. Who knows? But, my job is to be my best me, and let her be the best her she can be.
We are examples to our daughters. There is no mistaking that. But, even though we are examples, we aren’t the only way to be. And, we have to remind ourselves, and our daughters, of that. We have to say it out loud so they know. She can become herself. She isn’t destined to be me. Instead, she can watch me, and choose for herself.