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Are you your mother?

By Dalene Rowley

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Recently I read a couple of hysterical posts about things our parents fed us when we were children. You can read them here and here.

The food flashbacks triggered by both posts reminded me of many a time I sat alone at the dinner table–hours after everyone else had gone off to play–trying to gag down a serving of cold liver and onions, because I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I had cleaned my plate. The clean-plate rule is one of the parenting tricks I abandoned when I became a mother. But I find it interesting that one of my siblings–who surely hated that rule as much as I did when we were children–has established a similar rule for her own children.

While I was raised in a good home and with good parents, I realize much of my parenting style is actually a reaction (and probably to a fault) against the parenting I didn’t appreciate or agree with when I was a child. I’ve made such a deliberate effort, sometimes I even worry that if I try so hard to not be my mother (whom I love, but with whom I sometimes disagree), and my kids try equally as hard to not be their mother, am I just raising kids who will, in the end, become my mother?

Q: How did you arrive at your parenting style? Are you your mother? Are you working hard to not be your mother? How does your husband (or his mother) factor into the mix? Or do you have some really fabulous parenting handbook I failed to pick up when they were handing them out at the hospital along with the free formula, Desitin samples and disposable diapers?

About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

30 thoughts on “Are you your mother?”

  1. I look like my mother and I speak like my mother ("Hurry quick like a bunny rabbit!")and for the most part, I think I parent like my mother. There are a few things I'm trying really hard to change, like really listening and validating my children's feelings and not dismissing them. But my mom was fabulous (despite my crazy teen years) and she's still one of my favorite people. My husband's mother is vastly different, though, so it's been interesting to parent with him and figure out a way that works for the both of us.

  2. My husband and I both have "clean plate" memories, and they aren't good. We both have adopted the "working hard not to be your mother" philosophy.

    I hear my mother escape my mouth, though. I cringe a little and hope it doesn't happen again.

  3. I think we either repeat the mistakes of our parents, or we make all new mistakes while trying to rebel against our parents. Either way, we're a bunch of parenting losers, and it's really a miracle of the Lord that any of us has any functioning mental health at all.

  4. When faced with a difficult parenting situation, I think of what my parents would have done and then make every attempt to NOT do it their way. I love "Your Child's Self Esteem" and "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk". Even in my 13 month old baby, the techniques in these books have produced good results.

  5. Weird food memories popped into my head: I remember coming home from school to cold oatmeal because I refused to eat it for breakfast. We got a box of sugared cereal on our birthdays. Now I buy Reeses puffs and Cap'n Crunch and all my kids like are grape nuts and oatmeal. Go figure.
    We also had to clean our plates, which probably started me on the road to overeating. I do not make my kids clean their plates. There may be starving kids in China, but come on, how am I supposed to get my leftovers there?!
    Most of my parenting has been trying to NOT do what my parents did. Not that I think they did a bad job…well, sometimes…but I guess I just have a different style. My biggest bug-a-boo (wo, did I really just use my moms word?) was that I felt my parents just didn't know me. Or my friends. That has been the most important thing to me. My kids may think I'm nosy, but I know what they are doing. And who they're with. And we talk. A lot. About absolutely everything. My parents were of the "don't talk about it" generation. I want my kids to feel like they can say anything and I won't respond weird.
    My dad was very, VERY strict and I was seriously intimidated by him. I was sneaky and probably a little difficult as a teen and young adult. I would kill my kids if they did some of the dumb things I did growing up. Maybe that's what has made me decide I need to nourish a different relationship with my kids than I had with my parents. Interesting that now I think my parents are awesome. They were just doing what they thought was right. Do any of us really know what we're doing???

  6. I've thought about this too. It seems like things skip generations just like you describe. A lot of moms I knew growing up worked and were feminists, to some degree. Now I see their daughters romanticizing their grandmas and wearing aprons and making everything from scratch. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with my own daughters.

  7. I could write a book about this issue, since I'm currently at a stage where I feel very conflicted about my parenting, that received while growing up and what I'm trying to do now. My parents were good people and I love them for many things, but there were also many things that happened to me as a child that left me emotionally scarred. I'm trying hard to remedy those things with my kids. Like someone mentioned earlier, I'm really trying to validate my kids' feelings and listen to them. Really get to know them and accept and love them for who they are. It's especially difficult to do that when no one ever validated you and I have to consciously fight not to project my needs and insecurities onto my kids. I really liked "How to talk so kids will listen and listen so they will talk" and I just read another good one called "Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles". It focuses a lot on getting past an adversarial relationship with your kids and moving on to working together. Also, as I have gotten to know my mother better I've come to understand her issues and how her life affected her in negative ways.

  8. I love the line "I’ve made such a deliberate effort, sometimes I even worry that if I try so hard to not be my mother (whom I love, but with whom I sometimes disagree), and my kids try equally as hard to not be their mother, am I just raising kids who will, in the end, become my mother?"
    My maternal grandmother was a slob. My mom…a neat freak. Guess where I tend.
    The best thing I got from my parents was a clear sense of what the boundaries are, and consistency. While they were not perfect, but are getting closer every year as they help me in raising my children, they had a clear sense of why consistency across the board matters. My husband's parents didn't provide that, and still struggle with it. When I need him to go talk to our children about expectations/rules/boundaries, he is very willing because he knows it needs to be there and what can happen when it doesn't.

  9. My mother has a narcissitic personality disorder. Growing up, I was constantly blamed for her problems and, to some extent by my father, still am. She frequently threatened suicide if she didn't get her way. My feelings were never validated or taken into consideration. It was all about her and how we were supposed to keep her happy so she wouldn't be depressed. I tried to talk to her about what might have happened to her in her life but she was not willing to reveal much. When I became a mother, I really had to start from scratch. There was a huge learning curve and I made numerous mistakes. I learned to model behavior demonstrated by the emotionally healthy females in my life, my grandmothers, aunts, etc. The Gospel literally saved me as I searched, pondered, and prayed for answers on how to be the best parent I could be. Not long ago a friend sent me "Mother-Daugther Wisdom." I'm still reading and learning.

  10. Two recommendations from my dear Segullah ladies, and I've gone off and ordered “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so they will talk”. I'll let you know if everything here at our house becomes full of meaningful listening.

    Thanks gang!

  11. Lori – My mother had borderline personality disorder and my father (I believe) has narcissistic personality disorder. It is SO HARD to be a good parent when you NEVER had good parenting. I grew up feeling that there was no room for me in my family and that my parents only loved me when I was really really good and even then…

    I'm grateful for my in-laws who were good parents – not perfect – but pretty good. I try to find my own parenting answers through reading, prayer and the good example that the in-laws set.

  12. I am trying to not be my parents, too. It seems like I do empathy, validation and acceptance better, but I'm sure I've got some blind spots. Teaching personal responsibility is something I worry about, as my parents didn't teach that and I don't think I'm great at it now.

    I taught parenting skills as a therapist, but I have always said it will be different for me when the rubber meets the road. Teaching in a sterile office is so much different from practicing in the heat of the moment.

    I like Dr. Sears' attachment approach, though I'm not strict about it and have to read more. I also like Love & Logic. I learned a lot through work and schooling. I am very grateful for my husband's siblings' good examples. We learn a lot just by watching them.

    I know none of us will come away unscathed. I hope I don't do too much damage! Whatever wounds I cause, the atonement and knowing some great therapists will both come in really handy.

  13. Foxy J's comment resonates with me on so many levels.

    One of the most painful experiences I have had as a mother is to have my teenage daughter accuse me of the very things that wounded me as a child and which I have worked very hard not to do. It made my efforts seem kind of futile–like the reality doesn't matter if someone's perception is going to be skewed.

    I also love Wendy's comment. I had always thought of the atonement more in terms of deliberate sin. Then I read a talk–perhaps it was by Sister Holland–that explained how we can pray for the blessings of the atonement to heal our families from the pain we cause them inadvertently. Aside from protection over my teenage drivers (and anyone in a two-mile radius), I don't know that there is anything I've prayed for more fervently.

  14. Thanks for the link Dalene. I feel like I can't really answer this without hurting my mom's feelings. I read a lot of parenting books, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how I'm parenting, in an effort to make sure that my kids feel loved and wanted.

  15. I would love to parent like my mom parented me (although admittedly I was the caboose and she parented me MUCH differently than my oldest brother). But, I can't. I can't do it the same as her because I haven't learned what she learned in parenting my older siblings. I haven't figured out for myself what's 'important' and what's not.

    I think parenting is a process of becoming and not of being. I see myself make the exact same mistakes that my mom made with her oldest. And I see myself learning from them with my other son. But, I think focusing on outcomes is completely pointless when you're talking about parenting. My only goal from parenting is to become better, even as painfully slow as I'm progressing right now.

    And I think one problem with all of the very useful and enlightening books on parenting is this focus on being and not becoming. I make a point of reading as much as I can about parenting and then routinely throwing it out the window and preferring to parent with my gut. Frankly, no parenting book can tell you what 'works.' They are guides and that's it (and I'm not saying we should quit reading, I think parenting books can help us be more self-aware and provide great ideas). But, as can happen with anything, I've taken the parenting books too far…and forgotten about the unique people I'm trying to bring up.

  16. My mother is perfect. In the eyes of her six grown children. We all adore her.

    However, I am not so lucky. I was not blessed with her calm temperment. (This is a gross understatement.) So, I get sad that I cannot be like her in every way.

    She is a nurse. I faint at the sight of blood. She is slow to anger. I have a hard time controling fiery redhead impulses. She simply ignores the less important things in life. I get tangled in the details.

    Like Wendy, I too have taught parenting approaches in a therapist's office. (Ironic and annoying, because I just became a parent two months ago. It's strange to me that my clients never asked me if I was a parent before accepting my advice.) I also love Dr Sears and Love and Logic.

    Learning and teaching basic skills is one thing. Applying them is another.

    As I evolve as a mother, I hope that some of my mother's habits "just slip out."

    I'm counting on it.

  17. Maralise, I agree with your thoughts. I probably have a larger collection of parenting books on my shelf than my town's library, and right now I am not following any of them. I do have one favorite, one that perfectly explains how I want to be. But I just can't seem to "get there". (It's called Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky Bailey, just in case anyone is curious.)

    In the past few years, I feel like my parenting style has been completely knocked down, and I'm having to rebuild it all over again. I'm actually becoming more like my mother. I always thought my parents were great parents, but as I started reading lots of books prior to the arrival of my first child, I became intoxicated by new ideas and eager to take on the world and do it all "My Way". I became heavily involved in attachment parenting philosophies. I still love many of those ideas and try to base my general style on them, but I've also learned that no one philosophy has all the answers. While there are still things that were acceptable in my mother's generation (such as spanking) that I refuse to do, over time I think I'm becoming somewhat more "authoritative". I think my mom, who is a master at not giving advice and letting us learn on our own, is sitting back and smiling. I'm making different mistakes than my mom made, but I'm learning from them, and I have a feeling that by time I have my youngest children, I will be very similar to how my mom was as she parented her youngest children.

    Parenting is all about trial and error. Even when I find ideas that I think are wonderful, my ability to live up to them completely gets in the way. I have been SO humbled! I think that's what the Lord has wanted, so that I would turn to Him more and learn to follow His counsel.

  18. Oh my gosh, I could've totally written this! My take on the food thing? They have to try a bite of everything on their plate. Their dad is incredibly picky and I figure, if he could eat, it can't be that bad. I thought my parents were pretty good at the time, I could see where they were coming from, but now I realize a lot of the stuff they did caused some bad effects. We don't spank our children. My husband came from an abusive household and he never thinks that laying on the hands is okay. We also don't have a dictatorship, if we have a rule and the girls can argue sensibly and rationally about why we should change it, we will. My siblings think I am just like my mom because I read and am a SAHM and other things, but I am so not her.

  19. So here's the thing: For those of us who are saying we work hard to make sure our kids feel loved and wanted (and I'm going to add "understood" to the list). What if our parents worked equally as hard to make sure we felt like that too?

    But for whatever reason we didn't.

    And what if no matter our efforts to give that to our kids, some of them don't perceive how loved, wanted and understood they really are?

    That's the dilemma I find myself in with one of my teenagers right now and it is both humbling and discouraging.

  20. One more thing. Whenever I catch myself wanting to ask my kids some of the really tough questions–

    Why don't you accept all the sacrifices I make for you?

    Why don't you appreciate a fraction of what I do for you?

    Why can't you see and accept how loved you are?

    –I'm pretty humbled by the fact that my heavenly parents are probably tired of asking me those very same questions.

  21. When my grandmother was a young woman, her father put her on a train from Salt Lake City to Boston, Massachusetts so she could be educated at Radcliffe College, an elite woman's school in Cambridge. This was a time when most people in Utah did not send their kids back East to be educated, much less send their DAUGHTERS. She knew the sacrifice her parents were making, and said to her father, "How can I ever repay you for this?"

    "You can't" he told her. "The only thing you can do is make sure you give your daughters the same opportunity."

    I've thought about that statement a lot since becoming a mother. How can my children repay me for everything I do for them?

    Bottom line, they can't. Just like I can't repay all the things my mother has done for me. Parenting is the ultimate pay it forward system. Hopefully, you are paying good things forward as well as some of the not so good things.

    Oh, and just to wrap up the story, yes, my grandmother did have 2 daughters. One of them graduated from Wellsley College in Massachusetts–the other went to Boston University. When I myself was accepted to Boston University, 50 some-odd years later, I had trouble deciding between BYU and BU. My father informed me of this little known Boston family tradition, and said that he would love to see me follow in his mother's footsteps (literally!). When your father tells you something like that, well, things get pretty simple pretty quickly!

  22. I love that book, Justine. the authors have another one called "Siblings Without Rivalry" that is even better.

    I try really hard not to be my mother. I some areas she did a much better job than I do, and I am coming to appreciate those more as I get older, but overall I have very different values, and that informs most of what I (try to) do.

    My husband doesn't react as much to the negative things in his background. He just says things like "we don't move that much" (3 times in 3 years seems like alot to me) because his family was even more nomadic. Sometimes I want to say "That is not a normal baseline!" but for him it is, and he is at peace with it.

  23. Many years ago, I worked for child welfare–before I had children of my own. I knew that even though I didn't have children yet, I knew that my parents would have done such and such in "x" situation, and that was immensely helpful–I used that as a guide, along with all the book learnin' I'd had in college/grad school.
    Now, as a therapist working with teenagers, even though I don't have teenagers yet, I do think about what worked well or not so well with my parents.
    For Heather–I constantly struggle with how to 'pay my parents back' for all they do for me and my family. And then I think…do I really expect my children to pay me back? Nah…but I do hope they'll take good care of me when I'm an old lady. I definitely plan on caring for my parents when the time comes.

  24. I think parenting is a process of becoming and not of being.

    Love this. But I'm not sure that I agree that all books out there focus on being and not becoming. I have a handful of books that I feel have helped me understand the principle of agency in powerful ways, and I feel it helping me open my heart more to the Spirit and to change.

    I think that as much as we should try to avoid bad patterns, etc., the gospel really is our best guide. RE-acting to parents' patterns only risks creating more patterns and risks throwing us off. Act and not being acted upon and all of that….

    That said, it never ceases to amaze me that God would leave this work to such imperfect people. No matter how hard we try, we will goof. Repeatedly. And probably seriously in some ways. The atonement is for parents in a big, big way, and for all the fallout from our imperfections which will be there no matter what. I am working hard to really trust in that so that when my kids get to the point when they can really see how imperfect I am that I will be able to point them to the Lord and let them know that my imperfections are part of their journey, all in God's knowledge and wisdom, and that He can help them overcome the effects of all imperfection in their lives and help them become and be better than we were.

  25. I always thought I was exactly like my Dad. Recently, as the mother of three children, two of them daughters I have discovered I am a lot like my Mom. I fight some of the same parenting battles she did and sometimes I discover her way truly was better. Sometimes I discover that my children and my personality require a different solution. There are a few ways in which I am proud to be like my mother or at least hope to be like her. My mother always encouraged us to follow our dreams, even if they were not the same dreams she had. She always accepted us for ourselves. I really want to give my children that same level of acceptance.

    I do catch myself saying things my mother said like "Guess what?" the child says what. I reply "I love you." I sing the same lullaby to my son that my Mom sang to me. Yet, my daughters get completely different lullabies. My mom calls me one of "her people." I proudly call my children "my people." Sometimes I update it a little to "my posse." There is something so satisfying about passing these gifts of mothering from one generation to the next.

    Are there times I refuse to be like my mother. Absolutely. But honestly there are times I wish I could be more like her.

    On the other hand, I often feel like I am walking around in my mother-in-law shoes. Responding to situations the way she does or would. I am married to her son who is sooo much like his Dad it is often just wierd. I am proud to be like her also. I think we should learn the lessons we need from the strong women in are life and ignore the traits that just don't work for us.

  26. I do not have a good relationship with my mother. We just don't get along. She has a very negative outlook on life, and sadly is just depressing to talk to.

    But, this post has made me think. I aspire to parent like her. She was a wonderfully free-spirited mother. We finger-painted with chocolate cake mix. We built tunnels and caves out of overturned sofas. There was one rule – and only one. No water fights in the house. There were always piles – literally piles – of neighborhood bikes outside our house, because our house was the fun house and my mother was famous in the neighborhood for letting us do stuff.

    She was very non-expressive, though, and the one thing I make sure I do different is tell my kids how much I love them, every day, several times a day.

    Maybe I am not like my mother. In the time it has taken me to type this, my kids have pulled the sofa apart and I need to go make them put it back together…

    Thanks for giving me a positive way of thinking about my mother this morning!

  27. Weird food memories….I was probably 4 when I took a ton of green olives, thinking they were grapes. I sat at that kitchen table for HOURS, because I wouldn't eat them. Still can't eat olives to this day, after that incident.

    Do I parent like my parents? Sometimes, I think. But both dh and I are trying desperately to eliminate many of the parenting mistakes our parents made….and it's HARD sometimes. It almost like it's the only thing we know, so we don't know any better way to react. But, we're always trying new things, so that we won't resort to our parent's bad parenting habits. This past year has been pretty intense, and I'm so thankful we've been able to eliminate some bad parenting.

  28. Yes, I am a reactionary. My mother was negligent at best so it is my full intent to be conscientious and careful with my step-daughters and future children. I also take queue from other moms whom I disagree with; overbearing, overprotective, overstimulating. And of course, take heed from those with whom I do agree and blend it all into something of my own making. My husband and I do tend to disagree because his mother did everything for him and thus he really doesn't see the need for children to have chores and age-appropriate responsibilities. And he too, is reacting to his father who was abusive at best so my husband has become very, very permissive. It's a fine balance to be made but all in all I think we do well. The thing that makes it good for us, I think, is that we talk about it. It's a frequent topic of discussion between us so we're constantly weighing and comparing and judging what's best for our girls in the moment and in the long run. We also make the concerted effort to listen to one another, even when we disagree, so that we both can contribute and step back when needed. It's a difficult thing, though, parenting.


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