Are You Becoming Your Parents?

I catch myself doing it every night. I cannot walk upstairs to bed until I’ve done it. 

I walk around our lounge, front room, dining room, and kitchen, and I tidy up, straighten up and generally sort out everything in sight. Now, this sounds as though I have six children, five dogs, and a semi-housetrained miniature pig. In reality, we are two adults who spend most of the day in their home offices, and two geriatric pets who sleep 21 hours a day. But tidy, I must! 

 I am physically incapable of going to bed if there are stray newspapers or un-plumped sofa pillows strewn around. If there is a teaspoon in the sink or a random book on the stairs, I have to deal with them before I can head up to the bedroom.

As I fuss around, I know it is nuts. No one is coming in halfway through the night to spring a surprise inspection on me, and yet I cannot just walk away. Usually, it is no more than sofa pillow plumping and putting reading glasses back where they belong, but I am driven to act out this nightly routine. Once or twice, I’ve tested myself; I’ve walked away from unfolded wooly throws, stepped back from the crossword puzzle book and pen, and set off upstairs with the same determination people harness when faced with Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

My mother, Alice May, and me. Pompei, Italy 1977.

Once, I actually got all the way to jumping into bed, teeth brushed, face cream on—but then that magnetic pull. Back down I went to tidy. So why is this so deeply ingrained? I blame my mum! 

I never understood why my mother insisted on leaving the living rooms perfectly in order before she finally turned off the lights. And yet here we are. 

This started me questioning whether we are all destined to become our parents? In so many ways, I am my dad’s daughter, and I see in myself—especially as I get older–countless traits I saw in him. But my mum and I are very different people, and yet the overlaps abound.

Studies show that the first behaviors we witness are those of our parents. These deeply ingrained memories remain locked within us, usually to emerge as we mature. It raises the question: If I’m imitating my mother’s nightly tidy-up routine, was she copying what her mother did, and was my grandmother simply following on from what her mother did? It’s like those Babushka dolls!

But does this mean we are destined to become our parents?

Studies show we can fall into one of two categories: copying our parents or consciously creating an original version. As with almost everything, I think the reality lies somewhere in-between. 

Either way, how we view a parent’s behaviors will change as we grow up. As a young child, I loved that my mother was deeply involved in our lives and interested in everything we did. She devoted most of her time, making sure we were loved, cared for, protected, guided, and supported. But once I became a teenager, it didn’t seem as charming. 

The keyword is ‘teenager;’ the age at which we try to separate from our parents and forge our own identity. We all remember that moment when your dad’s hilarious jokes became painfully corny, or your mother’s habit of not knocking on your bedroom door made you steam. This is usually the same time most of us silently vow that we will never, ever do that to our kids.

We stick with our vow, content in the knowledge we will never be like our parents, until years later, we shockingly find ourselves saying, take a sweater, it may get cold when it’s a bright summer’s day. So, what changed? We became parents.

With Andrew and Alice. Amalfi, Italy, 2018.

With the arrival of offspring, those long-forgotten neural pathways that became overgrown during our pre-parenting years are suddenly blasted open as we find ourselves living out the first roles we were ever exposed to. Before teachers, friends, coaches, or even siblings, we learned behaviors from our parents. But now, we are the parents and those old patterns—wonderful or annoying—lurk  like shadows ready to slip inside us.

But do not despair. We can intentionally choose to create our own version of a parent. No matter our age or the ages of our children, we can still cherry-pick the qualities we loved in our parents, while side-stepping those we felt didn’t work. 

Now, every night, as I walk my well-trodden path, I think of my mom, and I choose to continue this behavior. Why? Because certain of our parent’s behaviors start to make good sense as we age. Who doesn’t like to start their every day in a well ordered, neat, and tidy home?

Finally, dear friends, this will be my last weekly Blog for a month or so. I have another writing project that needs my attention. It’s been 40 great Blogs, and I promise I’ll be back.

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