“How do I keep myself from becoming my mom? She’s great and I love her, but there are a lot of things about her that I don’t want to emulate but have noticed are traits we share (like our temper).”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy do I have a lot of feelings on this one, Anonymous.
First and foremost: you cannot become your mom because you are you. That is an indisputable fact of existence. You have lived your own life, and that life came with a mom, sure, but it also came with some friends and maybe a cousin or two and probably a favorite pair of sneakers and a memory of that one time your neighbor fell off their bike and broke their arm (making you suddenly a bit more hesitant about riding your own bike) and a pet snake and a weird trundle-bed and so, so many other things that make you your very own person. So, by the rule of physics and science-stuff alone I hereby declare: you cannot become your mom.
DISCLAIMER: If you are in the movie Freaky Friday the above does not apply and becomes much more complicated.
That all said, I understand what you are asking, and I understand what is making you feel all of that please-don’t-let-me-be-my-mom panic. I have a mom, too. My mom also has a temper. As a matter of fact, when I was much younger my mom’s temper was so bad that it scared the ever-living-shit out of me. Sometimes with no warning at all my mom would see that I had left a dish out or messed up the couch-pillows, and she would snap. Her face would get all red and she would scream and scream. Sometimes she would even throw things (hair brushes were a favorite). It was a really hard time in my life, in her life, and in our family’s life.
In later years, my mom went to therapy to work on the things that were making her so angry, and she was able to be a much calmer, more patient, and more balanced person and parent. Which was great… except for the fact that I had been around that temper in my most formative years, and it had an ever-lasting effect on me (both in the form of my own temper, and in my persistent fear that I would turn into my mother.) I’ve had moments, even within the last year alone, where something makes me angry and I act out. Last year I threw a whole bowl of oatmeal on the floor because I was so mad about some thing that I can’t even remember now. My first thought after marveling at the weird slurpy-crunch noise that the oatmeal-bowl made upon crashing was, “What am I doing. I am her. I am my mom.”
So, let me tell you how I handle my feelings, my fears, and the oatmeal.
First: I recognize that awareness of my feelings, and the support and understanding of those around me, is key. The biggest thing that my mom didn’t have (and maybe your mom still doesn’t) was an awareness of how her feelings were affecting her actions. No one had ever told her how to decipher those angry, upset feelings and connect them to her actions. No one – until much later in her life – had told her that she could seek help, and speak to other people about those feelings. Without awareness and without the ability to seek help, her temper got the best of her. You, Anonymous, are already far ahead, because you recognize the behavior patterns in your mom, and you can see how those same behavior patterns may be present within yourself. That awareness alone can help enormously.
Second: The temper itself isn’t the problem, it’s what you do with it. For the longest time, I thought that going to therapy (which I did for years, and still do!) would mean that suddenly I wouldn’t have any of the feelings I didn’t want to have. I thought I would become super zen and just glide through life once I could figure out and fix all that ailed me. Turns out, that isn’t how it works!!! What happens instead is that I still have lots and lots of my feelings, but now I know what they are. If my wife snaps at me about something and I feel that fire rising in my middle, I know to connect the dots. I better understand the many-layered process that is happening to make me angry (and that it isn’t just about my wife), and I know that if I take a moment to myself before responding, I will be able to calm down. It doesn’t work every time, but it does work most times. If I understand the feelings, they become much easier to manage.
Third: In addition to her temper, my mom also gave me strength. My mom is strong-headed; she fights hard for what she wants, and for what she believes to be right in this world. Oftentimes in the past, what she believed to be right directly conflicted with what I believed to be right… and you can only imagine that clash of strong-willed Russos. Recently, though, as I’ve learned more and more about feminism and gender, I came to realize how so much of my mom’s fight was rooted in a world that had told her, consistently, that her feelings were dramatic, invalid, and just plain silly. I realized that my mom was a badass feminist even if she had never tried the word on for size. I realized that so many of the fighting qualities that make it possible for me to fight back against so many people who tell me that I am less-than, that I don’t matter, that my feelings are trivial… they also came from her. In the moments when I feel most fearful about “becoming my mom,” I remember that I have small pieces of who she is woven within the fabric of who I am. That comes with some that are harder to hold, and some that I would never, ever let go.