07/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Have I Become My Worst Parent After All?

Are we are all in danger of ending up like our worst parent?

Have you ever looked into your own inner mirror and thought: Mirror, mirror on the wall, have I become my parent after all?

Many of us experience the weird bounce-back: you know, growing up and vowing to be the opposite of your parents, but then as parents ourselves, shocked to hear ourselves saying the (scolding/guilt-inducing/manipulative/critical) words to our precious children that made us cringe as children.

When I was a mere teen, my father said to me, 'Amy, it is a cliché, obviously; but still, remember, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.' My father didn't often spout clichés, but still I rejected it. And yet, I've thought of it through the years. But my ruminations have included a revision: that the falling apple has types; not Fuji or Granny, red or green, but rather unenlightened or therapy-resistant, grown-up or stuck in childhood issues. And what I have observed is that the 'stuck in childhood' brands of apples fall close to the sour apple parent.

Now, of course, no one is perfect, and there are no perfect parents. We're all two-way street personalities, fusions of two parents. And I'm not sure if everyone has a seeming 'less than' parent. But, in my own sampling of friends, etc., it seems to be the case. Often, these are the parents who try to control, the ones we rebel against. But then, we find ourselves being sucked back in once we become parents. Why?

Maybe as the adolescent rebellion fades, the parental responsibility also rises. We are parents now; our role models were our parents. Some of what affected us most as children may not have been positive, but it stuck. And so, it feels like 'home'. We regurgitate it naturally/automatically. It is a part we have been taught in our formative years to play.

The question is: why take on the more toxic (or glass full way of saying it: 'less unconditionally loving and accepting') parent personality? Maybe because they were the ones that breached boundaries, that got into our systems more deeply. Maybe they were the ones that we didn't want to dwell on because it was risky. They ruled, and we followed. But then, decades later, a strong and seemingly different personality emerges out of nowhere--like a recurrent virus to invade your personality.

This theory of becoming like one's more invasive parent is something I came up with after observing some celebrities who suddenly shape-shifted into different personalities. I tracked these morphs back to one of their parents. But I have also seen this in boyfriends/spouses of friends, who suddenly turn into other people--but really have regressed into the less accepting parent. So---is there an emotional vaccine for this parental personality-snatcher? Can we not keep biting into and replanting the rotten part of the apple? Well, it's all a matter of degree. But maybe, we can see the chaos piece of the parenting we experienced as something we don't necessarily need to become.

It is not our destiny. We do not need to be Oedipus, running from his fate with his parents so hard he smacked into it.

We can look in our internal mirror and think: Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am becoming myself after all.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.