Like many daughters, I have felt the familiar anxiety that I am destined to become my mother when I hear my mother's unique brand of criticism, that I so hated hearing when I was a girl, come out of my mouth. As a teenager, I vowed that I wouldn't be like her. I didn't want to inherit her way of finding fault or being critical of other people. So, in those moments when I hear her words come out of my mouth, I worry that I am powerless against my destiny to become my mother.
Jessica Machado writes about this hot topic in her recent article in VICE Magazine "Are we destined to become our mothers? A scientific investigation." And after years of listening to mothers and daughters talk about this issue, I have learned that the answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes, we are destined to become our mothers, and no, it is not inevitable. It makes sense that after spending our formative years surrounded by the way our mother does things, some of her unique behaviors and idiosyncrasies will rub off on us. We will pick up her mannerisms, her phrases and her particular ways of reacting to things. And more importantly, we will inherit some of what our mother feels about herself and what she thinks is possible for her as a woman. The reality about these inherited beliefs is that some will be full of strength and promise, and others will be negative and self-limiting. And the good news is that repeating negative, self-limiting beliefs is not inevitable if we understand who our mother is and why she believes what she believes.
When I map a woman's mother-daughter history, I see the beliefs and behaviors she has inherited from her mother. I see how history repeats itself between her and her mother, and between her mother and her grandmother, despite the changes feminism has brought to their lives. I see how low self-esteem, depression, disordered eating and violent relationships are sometimes repeated generation after generation because the underlying emotional reasons for these problems aren't investigated or understood.
As Jessica Machado writes in her article, it is the less obvious behaviors that daughters inherit that are important to investigate and understand. For example; why do we feel anxious in the same way our mother does, and why do we put up with the same emotionally neglectful relationships that our mother has? Lily Myers reiterates this mother-daughter inheritance in her YouTube poem, "Shrinking Women", sharing that as her mother's daughter, she inherited her mother's emotional deprivation and her mother's silent accommodation.
This is the stuff between mothers and daughters that demands attention. It is the emotional entitlement to speak and be heard that our mother either owned or didn't own that daughters inherit from their mothers without realizing it. And since many of our mothers come from generations where women's feelings, emotional needs and desires were not inquired after or acknowledged, this is a huge issue for daughters today.
The key to changing this legacy is to understand why our mother learned to accommodate, why she learned to be emotionally silent and why she finds it hard to ask for what she needs. We need to understand what our mother didn't feel entitled to say, what emotional support she didn't get and the limitations she learned to accept, and how this affected her. We need to look back at our mother's life so that we can go forward in our own life aware of what is emotionally missing in our inheritance. And we need to go back and celebrate our mother's courage and strength, knowing that we have inherited this as well.