Becoming Our Mothers: Is That a Bad Thing?

Peta Wall considers the concept of growing up and becoming more like our parents.

As Mother’s Day rolls around again, we’ve all had an opportunity to consider all the things our mums have done for us, and all the things we have to be thankful to them for. We’ve had the chance to do something small to thank them for that, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of us consider our parents to be genuinely good and admirable people. Of course, they have faults, like all people do, but as I’ve grown, I’ve come to realise that my parents have only ever done things with the aim of helping me. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve always been right, but it does mean that I understand a lot of their actions and behaviours more than ever.

I don’t think I’m alone in that either. Our relationships with our parents evolve as we grow, and so that’s why the idea of becoming them is so interesting to me. More specifically, when we consider all of the good qualities they have and the good they’ve done, why is it a negative or embarrassing thing to ‘become’ them?

Well, first off the bat, I would like to point the finger at societal sexism. I’m speaking a lot in terms of ‘parents’, rather than specifically mums or dads simply because there’s a lot of shared history and similarities in our behaviours with both, but society does also treat men and women differently. ‘Becoming our mothers’ is a different idea to ‘becoming our fathers’; it’s generally used more negatively, despite the fact that there really shouldn’t be a difference. So the difference must be in how society views women.

Society is overall faster to attribute negative qualities to women, and faster to forgive faults in men. If you look at the treatment of celebrities, it’s clear that men get away with more than women, often due to mistaken concepts like ‘boys will be boys’. That’s not to say that men don’t experience their fair share of discrimination (if you look at court cases and the treatment of male and female perpetrators, you’ll see that’s not true), but that women are expected to behave better, and a part of society’s expected behaviour revolves around how a woman looks.

Women are expected to look pretty, through whatever means possible. As women age, they face more negativity from society in comparison to men of the same age, and this trickles into the unfavourable stereotypes of ‘becoming our mothers’. A woman becoming her mother is generally linked to the ‘bad’ qualities of their mother including perceptions of their looks, whereas a man becoming his father is seen to gain the ‘good’ qualities like being strong and confident.

Artwork by Maddie Gibbard.

Society is slowly improving; sexism is less prevalent these days, but still very much existent. Women are no longer required to be housewives, but there is still an assumption that they will be mothers, and that identity will be tied more strongly to them than fatherhood to men. Perhaps that’s also why ‘becoming our mothers’ is a more common idea than the male equivalent – there is a stronger correlation between women and motherhood because of society’s expectations of the female role.

I’m not saying I’m identical to my parents, but I am saying that I’ve noticed some growing similarities. My mum has always worried about being late for things, which my dad and I used to always ridiculed, but now I’m the one who shows up 10 minutes early to everything these days. It no longer makes sense to me to risk being late if I have the option to simply be a little more organised and be early, so I’ve already subconsciously picked up that idea from her! On the other hand, my dad has always been a very charismatic person, and his manner with people is something I try more consciously to imitate (although if he’s reading this, I take it all back).

As to the reason why we become our parents at all; well, that’s primarily down to familiarity and socialisation. Our parents are our first role models, and we learn patterns of behaviour from them. In an unfamiliar situation, we are likely to default to acting in a way that mimics our parents, and it takes a conscious effort to act differently. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that we are also socialised by wider society, and our peers around us, so however similar we may act to our parents, we will also always have differences in values and in our innate personalities.

So is becoming our mothers a bad thing? I would argue not, and if you have a different idea, take a moment to consider how society influences your opinion, then find yourself one beneficial characteristic you’d like to have from your mother. We may not want to admit that our parents did (at least some things) right, but don’t dismiss the benefits of picking up qualities from your parents too soon.

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