Morphing into our mothers

Sometime around my 10th birthday, or maybe it was my second, my mother uttered a curse — it certainly wasn’t a compliment — that went something like this: “You’re just like your father!” I heard those words approximately 8,691 times until the day she died, and sometimes I still hear her saying them from the Great Beyond.

She sneered when she said them, often commenting on my behavior.

Maybe my dirty socks were under the bed: “You’re a slob just like your father.”

Or maybe I frittered away the money I made cutting lawns: “You’re a spendthrift just like your father.”

Or maybe I answered her back: “You’re nasty just like your father.”

All of which means to say I turned into my father even before I knew who my father was. I was guilty until proven innocent.

I thought of those accusations recently when I saw a study by Hallmark greeting cards that suggested 40% of women and 30% of men, for better or for worse, “turn into their mothers” around the age of 32.

Usually, you sense this has happened when you’re yelling at your kids for the 974th time that day, and suddenly the curses your mother once muttered come pouring out of your mouth in English, Italian and ancient Greek, which leads you to believe you may be suffering a bad case of demonic possession — but then you realize something more horrifying has occurred: You’ve morphed into your mother.

You could be nagging your daughter about coming home late, about her suggestive outfits, or about the makeup caked on her face like Betty Crocker frosting, when in a moment of self-recognition, you gasp, “OMG! I sound like Mom!”

This phenomenon manifests itself in many ways. Some mothers pass along their chronic anxiety, others their obsession with stockpiling groceries, and still others their love of soap operas or romance novels.

I know women who complain about every guy their daughters bring home — or every girl their sons date — the same way their own mothers did, even though they vowed they’d absolutely never turn into their mothers.

To tell the truth, I was like my mother by 32, which means my hair was gray, and I had developed an overwhelming addiction to Entenmann’s chocolate-covered donuts. I even resorted to using her time-honored curse on my daughters: “God is gonna punish you!” Fortunately, no one believed me because they believed that God was actually gonna punish me.

Many of us, whether we’re middle-aged or teenagers, enjoy complaining about our mothers, because Mom cut us no slack in her relentless desire to improve us and drive us nuts at the same time.

Mothers do strange things in the name of love, which is really nothing more than nagging with a purpose, so I guess we should be forgiving — or about as forgiving as they were with us.

All things considered, Mom was a good role model. As my sister Kathy confessed recently: “I turned into her long ago. I figure there are a lot worse people I could be like.”

 

Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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