No we don’t just ‘turn into our mothers’.
Firstly, in response to an article I read recently, and numerous articles out there, about the inevitability of turning into our mothers, I want to acknowledge those people who, for various reasons, would find that extremely de-motivating and depressing. It simply isn’t or doesn’t need to be true. Some of these articles are just ‘click bate’, like the breastfeeding articles that come out to divide us when there is no news.
This article http://bit.ly/2y4quGX explains some science behind the inevitability of a predisposition to adopting parental traits, but by no means takes into account the neuroplasticity and adaptability of our brains. Of choice. Our brains change and learn and shed up until the day we die. We are our own people, and we have some control.
I loved my mother. It was by no means a perfect relationship. I wrote the following words around the anniversary of my mother’s death. A year ago last month. It explains some of my experience around grief and the feelings around how my mother lives on in me. I love my mother. But I also need to feel a whole me.
The grief part
My mother died just over a year ago on 6th August 2016 just before 10am. For the first time since she died, I do now find myself able to look back at an old memory, with my first reaction being just to giggle. No initial ache in my stomach, just a smile. And then maybe an ache after. This is progress.
I also started dreaming about her a month ago. Which means that the initial physical shock has passed and I’m beginning a period of acceptance and thankfulness. I think. (Emotion can come in waves and without plan or warning).
Her death wasn’t sudden, but it felt it. And not having someone in your life that was very much there day to day is a shock. However long it takes.
It’s hard. No matter how difficult a relationship with a parent can be, or how close, or how absent, there is what I can only describe as a totally physical animal reaction to loosing your mother. An invisible chord of threads, embedded like the suction of a plunger, are plucked off her and then have to imbed themselves within you somehow. All you want is to curl up and be a child again, while also needing to grow that adult part within you. And you need time.
This is what is making me an adult. Not turning 18, 26, getting married or even having children. The final truth that makes me whole.
So why do I think we don’t turn into our mothers?
Well, for a start, my mother was entirely self assured. Never once in her life doubted the existence of a Christian God, and didn’t believe feminism was an issue at all. For anyone who knows me, I can stop writing now. Utterly floored by making decisions, I have had periods of deep self doubt. I am a sure fire feminist. I think she was so seemingly self assured that my mother didn’t really understand the need for feminism. She never thought it was an issue because it wasn’t in her life. And climate change; she didn’t believe in that. Part of me thinks she didn’t want to believe it. Or perhaps that her god had a grand plan. Who would, in the latter part of your life, when all you want is to know that your children and grandchildren will be fine? You want to get all your ducks in a row. I tried to impress it on her once, but actually decided that there was no point.
So am I like my mother? I hear her within me, one of those guardian parts of my brain, along with many other people I have internalised. Like my godmother, or the calling on of Gandhi when I need to be calm. It feels lovely and can be deeply helpful and practical having her there. Her classic line rings out in my brain before any interview: ‘The thing is, most people are really very stupid. They’d be lucky to have you.’ And in I go. Thanks mum.
The thing is that I am very aware of her voice within me. That is the point. I find her reminding me to brush my hair. There are anxieties that I have inherited, due to the fact that my mother lost her older brother when he was a baby. ‘Don’t have all your eggs in one basket’. Again, it’s a choice. We need to be aware of it. I take on traditions that are comforting. To have an egg for breakfast at the beginning of a ‘difficult day.’ This might include anything from a funeral or wedding to a long journey or performance. But it helps.
I am very similar in some views and interests to my mother. We both hate cats. There. I’ve said it. (looses half my followers). Because they kill 2 million birds a year and don’t even eat them. We both love birds. ADORE them. Especially listening to blackbirds at dusk and watching the blue tits who return to their nest box every year. And bossy robins. And loud sparrows that pottered in the kitchen to find crumbs. We both like to ‘feed the troops’ when people come round. We don’t see it as an opportunity to practise a great new culinary skill. We are both very sensitive to noise, know to have a tidy home for a tidy mind. We love to have a new outfit, but comfort always is key. Trainers feature heavily. We are both eccentric. Very. That’s our family really.
Education is utterly paramount, more important than any possession. Education was more important than having hot water or safe electrical wiring in the house when I was growing up. When it was eventually changed, the hot water system, fired by gas, had been illegal to install for over thirty years.
I am like my mother in many ways. Because deep down I choose to be. But I am not her. She will be a guardian or voice within me. That part will not go because I don’t want it to. These parts of her are internalising now that I am over the shock of loosing her. And I can choose not to listen. The rest is just me and my experience. Nature v nurture of course.
I would like to end by celebrating more of our difference:
- My mother turned down the opportunity to have a book published because they asked her to edit it and she thought it was perfect already and so wouldn’t. This was not a regret.
- My mother very very rarely apologised.
- She would go out to water the (Chiswick) garden naked at midnight because she was too hot.
- She could recite countless verses of memorised poetry and quotes from books, plus many excerpts from the bible.
- She considered eating ox tongue a treat.
- She triumphantly saved £30 by buying the goose on boxing day, freezing it, and serving it the following Christmas.
I will not turn into her. My mother lives a large part within me.
Photograph ‘mother and child’ by www.andredelhaye.com,