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the Mother's Daughter

guest post, by White Rabbits.

I am a 36 yr old housewife.
My youngest sister is 13 and lives at my parents home.
The other day she and I were looking at pictures and at one point Sis said “you are a lot like Mom.” “Mmm” said I (not sure how I felt about that statement).  Then Sis tossed her head and said “I’m like Dad.”

That little convo yanked something inside of me.  See, I had wanted to be like Dad too.  Growing up. there was no question which parent I wanted to emulate.  Dad was frequently on business trips, traveling, out in the world, experiencing life while Mom was home and overwhelmingly close-meshed in the gritty details of our lives (most frequently in the form of constant nagging about picking up our rooms or doing schoolwork.)   A nightly dinnertime routine was Mom asking Dad “What’s happening in the World today?” I am sure Mom was just trying to help us be informed.  But the bottom line that came through loud and clear: it’s Dad, not Mom, who knows what’s happening in the world.  (A point re-enforced every election season when Dad gave Mom meticulous lists of who and what to vote for.  When, as an agsty new feminist, I confronted her about this, she sighed and said “he is so much more informed and well read than I, and has so much more time to search out the facts…” ) Dad ran marathons and played tennis.  Mom was too consumed by the endless routine of housework, cooking, cleaning, homeschooling eight kids, etc to have much in the way of extracurricular activities.   (Btw, have you read Linda’s recent post on hologram women? Yep.)  Dad was lean and healthy.  Mom was not overweight but her lifestyle had taken it’s toll (Dad would frequently tease her about the extra padding on her bottom.)

Yes.  I wanted to be like Dad.  Not Mom.

But my sister is right; I am very much like Mom.  Not so much stuff from the aforementioned list  (I am well traveled, building my own business, continuing my education, a triathlete, and as informed as DH on current events/issues).  But every time I open my mouth I hear my mom’s voice, her manner of speech, her familiar phrases, come out.  We have very similar personalities and inclinations, and similar ways of interacting with other people.  Her and I have gone in different directions, but with so much of the raw underlying stuff the same.  Sometimes it scares me.   I am trying to embrace this.  To honor those similarities.  There is so much that is good and strong and worthy that I inherited from my mother,  I struggle against the aversion toward her that was embedded in us.  All the condescending little things  Dad would say (in a loving way, of course) about her forgetful-ness, her careless-ness, implications of a simple mind, how “she means well, but…“, (and all the mild complaints about her cooking too).  These take their toll.  They leave their mark.  “I’m not like Mom, not like Mom” (desperately wanting Dad’s approval, to be LIKE HIM.)  I am trying to string those little aversions out, tease them from the mess of a patriarchal tradition that so benignly belittled her.  Tease those things out of my OWN heart.  Learn to appreciate all the good things that I am that I got from her.

Meanwhile,  I see the same story playing out in my younger sibling still at home. “I’m like Dad.”  Another daughter who doesn’t want to be like Mom.

mothers and dauthers

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21 Responses

  1. KyneWynn says:

    Thank you for sharing this — I think many women have some of that sort of struggle within ourselves; why is it our mothers though? I, too, find myself wanting distance from some of the things my mother did, and yet I hear my children tell me, “You are just like your mom.” Interesting.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Wow. There is so much in this post I understand and identify with that it actually made my stomach hurt.

    I just found the blogs of a college friend who was on the fast track to an amazing career in law. She’s brilliant and ambitious, and very impressive to everyone she meets. But, it’s her husband who has the amazing career in law and she has a blog on meal planning, a family binder, and a fabulously decorated baby shower.
    It made me sad. But, then maybe it shouldn’t. Perhaps she’s using her talents toward things that she loves and feels completely fulfilled.

    But her kids are going to want to grow up to be like their dad.

    Ok, I’m depressed now. I’ll come back later. . .

  3. Two of Three says:

    This hits close to home for many of us. Although I made a point not to be like either of my parents (dad was a tyrant, mom was a door mat), I find myself seeing my mother in the mirror more and more. Not so much on the submissive end, but taking on the traditional role of SAHM. But my question has always been “If I don’t do it, then who will?” Give my kids enriching experiences? Keep a house that I like living in? Record our memories? Mend clothes? Take a job that allows me to be home after school? I don’t enjoy all of these things, but they must be done. If I don’t, who will? My DH? No, not interested in clean bathrooms or meals that include vegetables. I care, so I do it.

    The thought that keeps coming back to me is that if the feminist movement is really going to thrive and traditional stereotypes broken, men are going to have to get on board at some point. I know some of you have found lovely ,feminist husbands, or at least tolerant ones, but the general population out there needs re-educationing. Sorry for getting up on the soap box. Just read Dance of the Dissident Daughter by S.M. Kidd and my blood is racing!

  4. Alisa says:

    I also relate completely to this post. I wanted to be like my dad. I got a master’s degree to be like him. I became a technical writer on his suggestion. I am a corporate manager like him. I like debating ideas like him.

    My mom encouraged me in this. She told me that unlike her, I am smart like my dad. It really pains me to think that this is what my mom thinks of herself. The thing is that in the last 5 weeks since having a baby, I’ve seen my mom’s talents shine. She’s showed her experience, intuition, and love toward my son and in support of me in this new role. She really is the expert, and when it comes to parenting, I now very much want to be like my mom.

  5. peg says:

    how insiteful. and right on. how often do we see this. At what point is a marriage truly a partneship where each partner brings value and it is recognized by the other and those around us.

  6. jks says:

    This post is so sad. It underscores the fact that women are not appreciated enough for traditional “women’s roles.” That is why I am a feminist. My mother was a SAHM but she was so intelligent and it showed and she was respected by her husband and (most of) her children.
    What we model to our children IS important. What we think is right and important shows through.
    And if we don’t respect our mothers and find ways to admire them, we perpetuate the problem.
    I wish you could tell your dad that you admire so many things about him but he has hurt you and your ability to love being a woman because of his inability to show your mother the respect she deserved.
    I admit I do try to moniter how our children see me and their father. Is one parent coming off as the “toughie”? Is one parent coming off as the one who always gets upset or always ruins the family outing? Is one parent being the fun one and one the homework/chores? Is one parent critical and the other one overpraising? I try to make adjustments to keep things balanced. I also try to listen to how we speak to each other and decide what our children would guess about our relationship based on that. I can therefore change how much I “stick up for myself” or “stop insisting I’m right” based on how the balance is tilted.

  7. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Interesting stuff. I spent so much of my life trying to be like my mom and unlike my dad. With hindsight, I realize now that I became someone who has things in common with both of them. And I am okay with that.

  8. Hazel Motes says:

    I relate to this in I feel like I am both like my mom and dad, but I mostly just notice the annoying or negative things I have in common with them. The thing is always comes down to, though, is that whatever their downfalls are and whatever their mistakes, I really just love them.

  9. Janice says:

    This post is fascinating to me. So many women here want to be like their Fathers instead of their Mothers. And the truth is, their Fathers were A-holes to their Mothers. Is that what you really want to be like?

    Regardless of how ‘Sucessful’ and ‘In the world’ your father is, it doesn’t compensate for what a jerk he is, like the original posters father sounds like.

  10. EM says:

    I don’t want to be like my parents. My father was a tyrant and my mother submissive. I fight hard not to be like them and for the most part I’ve succeeded – at least that’s what my children tell me.

  11. Caroline says:

    White Rabbits,
    This is powerful. What a sad testament to the way women and women’s tasks are subtly demeaned. I think that one of the saddest parts to me is how your own mother contributed to this subtle abasement.

    That said, I don’t know how to stop it from happening. I think we’re programed in this society to look up to the people with the professional jobs and the influence in the community. Mormon hierarchy tries to push back against this by glorifying the stay at home mom/wife, but that seems a bit hollow to me, considering that Mormon hierarchy is exclusively made up of those professional men.

  12. mb says:

    What I glean from this:
    Be wise and good about how you talk about your spouse to your children and how you talk to him/her. The fallout from those little comments that our society laughs off as gentle humor can derail our your children in confusing and unnecessarily anxious ways.

    Treating your spouse with respect as an equal is a profound gift to your children.

  13. Kelly Ann says:

    I have actually wanted to be more like my mom, but then again my family is quite complicated and non-traditional. But this really makes me think about the hidden heroes and what I would like to emulate from all my parents. Thank you for sharing.

  14. *Camille says:

    jks i completly agree with you.
    what we are doing is defining what we think a strong women should be and it is something that may be different for all of us…some may think that working full-time and sending thier child to daycare or having a nanny raise them is sufficient, while others believe staying at home is sufficient. but the fact of the matter is this…my mother was not perfect, nor was my father but then again…neither am i. it is a great moment in life when you are thinking of what annoys you about others and then a bulb goes off and you realize “wow! people proabably think i am annoying too.”
    but there is a little commandment i remember and it says something like this…honor thy father and thy mother.
    im hoping for a sunny, warm day to have my daughter sit down next to me or write me a letter about what she loves and appreciates about me…not a cold, sad day when one of my daughters breaks down my life and says she wants just the opposite.
    i also agree we must be the change in imperfections we saw in our parents…we all come from different circumstances. i had this discussion with my mom…she has said “i did the best i could do, i know you will do even better.”
    a wife. a mother. a labor & delivery nurse. a friend. a sister. a runner. a quilter. a listener. a lover of life.

  15. Hammie says:

    I have to say, I have only read sporadically over here at the Exponent, but you people are all wonderful.

    I love the sincere, warm, intellectual analysis you give. I hope to make more time for it.

    As to the topic at hand, my dad was a bi-polar, schizophrenic ego-freak, and my mom, while an oft-relapsing drug addict, stayed and raised us.

    I definitely want to be more like her. 🙂

  16. Anon says:

    This post was like a punch to the gut, because I identify with these same feelings so much. Growing up my dad was the one who got to do all the “cool” stuff, was well loved and respected in the community, and my mom was just…there. All I ever heard from my dad was “how much your mother has given up to be a full time mom” – but you know what? I didn’t ask her to give anything up. She dropped out of college to have kids, never had a job, spent all her time chauffeuring kids around, making our meals, etc. She was clearly unhappy much of the time. And now nearing retirement age, all of the resentment is finally coming out. If I could go back in time and ask her to stop sacrificing so much, I would, because I don’t think it did any of us any good. Mothers should not have to give up their personhood any more than fathers do.

  17. Syrena says:

    I, like you, didn’t want to be like my Mom — quiet, unassuming. I wanted to be like my Dad — quick wit, great smile, and popular with folks in town. He died when I was 20. People lined up for a block outside the funeral home, and they had to put chairs in the foyer of the Church. My Mother lived to be 85. She was so deeply loved for her kindness, her fine mind and even better heart, her gentle but ascerbic wit, that I found myself wishing I had patterned myself after her. I can only conclude, that both parents gave me something to reach for. I hope I have a little of both of them in me. I fear that I have not enough of either.
    The perspective of age tells me that children who fear they will be like the parent they least admire, should worry less about that than whether they love both enough. Parents are complex people who don’t fit in the simple roles we children ascribe to them. Unsurprisingly our relationships and feelings are complicated. As we all grow older, I think we gain a greater appreciation and acceptance of all the things are parents are — and our love for them deepens. I hope you too have that experience.

  18. gina says:

    Reading this and a good number of the quotes made me sad… There’s an overwhelming impression that we don’t actually value what “traditional women” do but rather see it as a necessary evil. What I kept asking was, “Why can’t we be both?” I aspire to being that woman who stays home, homeschools her children, creates a home her husband wants to come home to, and is the domestic maven I admire. You know what, though? I’m smart, well-read, and worthy of being respected by a young man. ALL of these traits are things that a strong woman can create and develop in, and FOR, herself!

    How are we to expect men to respect our domesticity if we don’t even respect it ourselves? 🙁

  19. Juli Kuni says:

    This was a really quality post. I would like to join you in the study of this topic. Looking forward to more quality posts from you for further discussions.

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