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What Mothers Teach Their Daughters

Posted May 05 2009 5:56pm

This Mother’s Day,  I’m acutely aware of the lessons my mother taught me. Some are from her good example, her “momisms” she passed on through wit and wisdom, and at times, she taught me best by being a living example of how to do things differently.

What Mothers Teach Their Daughters:

What it means to be a woman.

Whether our mothers neglected themselves physically or emotionally, or taught us self-love and nurturing by example, or by neglect. Everything from body image to daily habits to whether we believe we’re prone to depression can be traced back to our mothers. It’s not that they were screaming, “Believe everything I say.” It’s more the power of a whisper.

How we view men.

Whether we like it or not, our mother’s voices linger in our heads and we base subconscious decisions on the words and actions, particularly when it comes to how we view our fathers (”He’s such a moron!” or “Your father is a good, good man”). Separating our experiences from theirs can be a challenge. Just because our mothers were “unlucky at love,” doesn’t mean we will be–or vice versa.

How we view women.

Did your mother have good friendships? Did she surround herself with a circle of estrogen? Did she have a best friend–or was it all catty, gossipy, destructive relationships that subliminally taught you that women couldn’t be trusted? When you have a problem, do you have a friend to call to work through your issues–whether big or small–whether it’s whining about your cramps or getting fired? Our mothers influence how we perceive women–as friend or foe.

Our own perceptions of our ability to mother.

Deep down, we believe things about ourselves–that we’re a good driver, or not–that we’ll be able to hold our tempers and be naturally attentive, easily confident moms, or if we’ll be the nervous, flighty kind. Most of us have this quiet, ongoing dialogue running in our heads that tell us about ourselves. It takes keen observance to hear these looping taped messages, and it takes diligence to analyze them and decide what messages to keep–and what to shred.

After years of being told what to do, we rebel either inwardly or for some, outwardly. This is necessary. We need to begin to think for ourselves, act for ourselves, and the best way to do that is by getting angry, beligerent, and yell, “I don’t see it your way, Mom.” That’s our first tiny root that sprouts to form our independent lives . It takes this jet fuel of anger, rebellion, or “I’m not you, Mother,” to begin to push away from the only home we’ve ever known. To make our own homes. Our own lives.

It’s not all bad news. Our mother’s effect is powerful–and can be our ally.

For most of us, we eventually make peace with our mothers. We have to. Why? Because it’s also a way to make peace with ourselves. The sound of their voice, the cadence in their speech, their smell, their thoughts on everything from religion to nail polish give us something to ponder.

Are we like them? In some ways. But one of the greatest lessons we learn is that the friction between mothers and daughters is in many ways, a good thing. We get to decide everyday–do we agree or disagree, do accept their teachings or forge a different path.

For me, my mother taught me that a strong woman is to be respected.

She taught me that adoring your husband and thinking he’s strong and handsome makes you look good. After all, you picked him out.

She taught me that humor can redeem a difficult person. She taught me that families take care of each other.

She taught me that standing up for myself was the only way I could be around her.

She taught me that dressing for one position higher than I currently am causes people to treat you differently.

She taught me that Southern food is in my opinion, about the best cuisine on the face of the earth.

She taught me that girlfriends can really make difference when you hit a bad patch.

She taught me that saying good things about your children makes you almost believe it’s all true. 

She taught me that caregiving is full circle, and yes, it’ll just about break you, you’ll learn more about yourself than you care to ponder.

She taught me that having a good attitude is about the only thing you can control.

She taught me that love is complex and you’d be surprised what all you can forgive–but in the end–redemption is sweet. 

What did your mom teach you?

~ Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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