Since becoming a mother, I have started to notice things about myself that remind me of someone. I just can’t quite put my finger on who it is…
The constant worry about the attire and temperature of everyone around me. The need to tidy away my husband’s belongings the moment he sets them down. And an inability to wear anything other than flat, “sensible” shoes.
Oh, that’s who. It’s happening. At the ripe old age of 31, I am morphing into my mother.
Is it inevitable?
Do all women start to resemble their mother in some way? If not physically, then in their mannerisms, turn of phrase and attitude? And why are so many of us horrified by it?
Do We Start To Imitate Our Mothers As We Get Older?
For years, people have told me, “you look just like your mom.” And that has never bothered me. My mom looks great!
But since becoming a mother, my husband has started to drop in the odd “you sound just like your mom”.
And that does bother me, as I know it bothers my mom when I tell her she sounds like her mother.
Why is it that so many women dread turning into their mom? (…more on this later.)
I have to admit, I have started to notice it myself.
I notice it in the way I obsess over travel arrangements; My mom likes to get to train stations 45 minutes before the train leaves, something I always used to mock her for.
But lo and behold, I start to get sweaty palms if I’m not there in “good time” for a train or a flight.
I have inherited my mother’s obsession with clothing and being prepared for every possible weather eventuality. I fill handbags with umbrellas, hats, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, and jackets. Just in case.
(In our defense, we are from England where it is not uncommon to experience all four seasons in one afternoon.)
I have friends who have reported feeling the same way.
One told me she caught herself obsessively wiping down kitchen surfaces and realized she had picked up this habit from her own mom.
Another said, just like her mother, she has started constantly worrying about having her handbag stolen or her house being broken into, something she never used to think about until turning thirty.
My friend Abby succinctly summarized this phenomenon: “Sometimes when I speak, my mother comes out.”
According to a poll by a British bingo website, many women turn into their mothers between the ages of 30-35.
The company commissioned the poll after research found that 80% of bingo players picked up the hobby from their mothers, grandmothers or other female relatives.
Of the 1,000 women questioned, 27% said they felt as though 31 was the age it began. They noted taking up the same hobbies, using the same phrases and enjoying the same TV shows as their mom.
Are We Unconsciously Turning Into Our Mothers?
But how much of this is conscious and deliberate? And how much of it happens without us really realizing it?
Family therapist Dr. Heather Macletchie Ehinger explains that because we are “biologically predisposed” to turn into our mother, it tends to happen of its own accord.
She even noticed telling her daughter to “be a good girl” on her way out of the house in exactly the same way her mother did to her when she was a child.
“I was horrified! I quickly corrected myself and said: ‘Never mind! I didn’t mean it!’”
She explained why this happened: “Most of our lives are unconscious. And much of our behavior is very unconscious.”
The traits and habits that we pick up from our mother are, therefore, according to Dr. Ehinger, “an unconscious absorption of stimuli” around us when we were young.
Psychologist and author Dr. Joshua Coleman agrees. He told me: “We are unconsciously influenced by our childhoods.”
I asked him what the difference is between mimicking our parents and morphing into them.
“Mimicking is conscious. Morphing is unconscious. We tend to consciously take the good and unconsciously take the bad.”
Morphing into our parents could be more appropriate to describe how we begin to resemble them physically.
According to research by the Lomoa Linda University in California, women physically “age” in the same way as their mother. Wrinkles appear in the same places and the likeness starts to become more obvious.
Apparently, the process starts in our thirties. Great!
But the focus of this article is how we start to imitate our mother’s behavior and mannerisms.
Dr. Ehinger explains her take on whether it happens consciously or unconsciously:
“Mimicking is copy-catting. It’s not really morphing into someone. It’s more like a computer program, we are programmed (like software) based on our family dynamics, so I think the difference is that in one case you are just copying the behavior and on a deeper level, we are expressing our experience as we interpreted it.”
However, Dr. Coleman suggests that the fact that we notice ourselves turning into our mothers as we get older has everything to do with age and genetics.
He explained to me: “Genetics have a larger impact over time. We don’t reach our full genetic expression until we are 65 and the influences we are exposed to throughout our lifetimes are less relevant than our individual genetics.”
Which basically means, no matter what you do, you will start to look and act like your parents because of your DNA. Go figure.
How Our Childhood Impacts How We Become Our Mothers
As I mentioned above, the process of turning into our mother starts early. We just don’t know it.
We start to pick up our mother’s habits, tastes, and opinions at a very young age. As babies and toddlers, copying the people around us (predominantly our mothers) is how we learn. They smile at us, we smile back.
According to psychotherapist Diane Barth, “we are programmed to develop through interactions with others. This is why early parental behavior has such an impact on our psyches.”
And there is no greater love than between an infant and its mother.
Dr. Susan Jones is a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University. She wrote in the same article, “culturally normative behavior” and practical skills that children pick up by watching and copying their parents stay with them as they grow older.
However, as we are exposed to more role-models throughout our lives — friends, teachers, colleagues, and partners — we are able to form a more individual personality and a clearer sense of self. The ‘teachings’ of our parents can get buried for many years.
So why do they show themselves as we get older?
Well, these traits often reveal themselves later in life as our circumstances begin to mirror those of our parents.
When we were unruly teenagers and care-free twenty-somethings, it was hard to relate to the lives of our fuddy-duddy parents.
But once we become adults and reach the age that our parents were when they had us — with responsibilities, a career, and a mortgage — we are more likely to understand their point of view.
Equally, the data that we collected in our brains when we were infants, becomes more relevant again.
According to neuroscientists, when we find ourselves in familiar situations, the very neurons in our brain ‘remember’ old pathways. These cells in our brain seek well-trodden paths because it is easier.
The internal programming that happens when we are infants, learning from our parents and siblings, is like the software on a computer. It is ingrained in our brains.
So in certain scenarios such as interactions with family or finding yourself in a situation that you remember as a child yourself, the neurons in our brain quickly find these old paths and we slip back into familiar behavior.
This is why it is hard for many of us to change our behavior.
This is why families tend to mimic each other’s body language or style of speech when they are together.
It’s also why you might find yourself uttering a phrase as an adult that you had not heard since you were a child, like Dr. Ehinger’s “be a good girl.”
Author Hara Estroff Morano describes this brilliantly as the ‘Thanksgiving Effect’. She writes:
“The imprint of the early family environment tends to run deep because it is a habitual way of thinking about self and others. The ‘Thanksgiving Effect’ is the tendency of fully functional adults to find themselves drawn, often against their own will, into long-abandoned childhood roles at family gatherings.”
However, undoubtedly the most obvious catalyst for this transformation into our mothers is when we become mothers ourselves.
Does Becoming A Mom Make You Turn Into Your Own Mom?
Many women describe feeling closer to their mother and experiencing newfound respect for them once they have children themselves.
Particularly once they realize just how awful childbirth can be and how hard looking after a baby is.
According to this story, women are most likely to start adopting the same behavior and interests as their mothers in the first few years after becoming a mom.
Dr. Ehinger told me that becoming a parent matures us in a very profound way. This maturity is what reminds us of our own parents.
She said: “It usually starts happening when we have children. As we mature through parenting we start noticing the similarities to our mother.”
She added that before we have children, we tend not to be able to relate to our parents in the same way. But once we become parents ourselves, “we have similar life experiences, like how we nurture or how we cook or discipline or love.”
Clinical psychologist Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore explains that we become aware of our similarities to our mothers due to a combination of our upbringing and becoming a parent later in life. She told me:
“We all grow up with the belief that whatever we’ve experienced in our home is typical or normal. We’ve had a lot of experience hearing certain phrases or doing things a certain way.
For instance, I fold my towels the ‘right’ way which is the way my mother folded her towels. What happens as we get older is we get into roles that we saw our mothers playing as we were growing up.
We have children and we interact with them in a similar way to how our moms did with us. We find ourselves doing things or saying things that we remember our moms doing.”
But What if Your Childhood Memories Of Mom Weren’t So Good?
Sadly, for the women who experienced a less than happy childhood, becoming a mother can unearth complicated feelings about their own mom that may have been kept hidden for many years.
Dr. Ehinger explained to me: “Children can trigger a traumatic time if your own childhood was traumatic. When your child reaches the age at which you suffered abuse, it can trigger those emotions.”
She elaborates that when we are children, we don’t know if our parent’s behavior is right or wrong because it is the only behavior we know. So we absorb it with no resistance. “Children don’t notice when things are bad. They think it is normal.”
Dr. Ehinger has patients who have unexpectedly struck their child in the heat of the moment and suddenly remember being hit as a child themselves. She explains:
“As they grow up, in those formative years, children mimic those around them. They learn what love feels like. If love feels abusive, you get used to it.
If a parent is emotionally neglectful, a child grows up not feeling comfortable with touching and intimacy, even though they crave it. They will repeat similar patterns as they become parents themselves, even if they don’t like it.”
It is only later in our lives that we have the mental capacity to decide whether we want to mimic the behavior of those around us or not.
Do Men Start To Turn Into Their Fathers As They Get Older?
And what about men? Do men turn into their fathers in the same way that women turn into their mothers?
My husband is certainly starting to show some tell-tale signs…like needing three square meals a day or he turns into some sort of grizzly bear coming out of hibernation.
According to his research that was confirmed to us by his publicist, of the men who were questioned:
- 32% said it was becoming a father that made them aware of the metamorphosis into their own dad
- 27% believed it was down to physical signs of aging like developing a double chin and
- 15% said they noticed it because they have to turn the lights off in an empty room.
Women’s Health Interactive’s own Chris Fernandez explains how he has noticed himself picking up his dad’s habits. He, just like his dad, keeps old napkins:
“I keep old napkins and use them multiple times like my dad used to do. It makes me think about him in a good way.”
According to Dr. Ehinger, it does happen to men, but men tend not to notice or not to mind in the same way that women do.
She explained to me: “Men don’t study their behavior in the way that women do. Women are very judgmental. But with men, there is not so much self-analysis. Men do morph into their fathers but they don’t realize it or care!”
Another explanation for why it is more apparent in women is the unique bond between mother and daughter, which often can represent itself in having very similar brains.
Dr. Coleman explained to me: “Research shows that the mother-daughter connection is the strongest bond in the family dynamic. Stronger than mother to son, father to son and father to daughter. This is because of the way female brains process empathy.”
It is, therefore, more likely for moms and daughters to understand one another, and influence and be influenced by one another, which makes the similarities between them more pronounced.
Why Do We Dread Turning Into Our Mothers?
So why do the “you sound just like your mom” comments bother me?
Why do so many of us react in horror when we realize we are ‘becoming’ our mom?
A friend of mine said: “I hate when I do things my mother always used to do. I have started being obsessive about switching off lights other people leave on and getting really angsty if people don’t immediately put plates away after using them. Both used to drive me mad when I was a child.”
Another said when I asked her if she thought she was starting to resemble her mom in some way, “God, I hope not.”
And even my own mom, when I commented that she sounded like my Nana, said: “Isn’t it depressing. You think you’re going to be different from your parents. But you’re not.”
One theory for why so many of us are horrified to find ourselves resembling our mothers is not so much that we are similar to them but that we feel old.
We suddenly have to face up to the fact that we are middle-aged. That we need to wear comfortable shoes and would rather watch Pride and Prejudice than go clubbing.
Or is that just me?
Another theory is that, despite all our life-experiences, all the people we’ve met, all the lessons we’ve learned, we have ended up just like our parents anyway.
And that can be really depressing!
Dr. Kennedy-Moore told me:
“One of the jobs of growing up is to become our own person, to achieve separation and individuation. Some women find a loss of a sense of identity if they’re doing everything just the way that mom did.
And sometimes we don’t like the way that our moms did it or it doesn’t fit our values or who we want to be or how we want our lives to be.”
Dr. Ehinger explains that the mother-daughter relationship is complicated: “We may love our mothers but there are qualities about them that we wouldn’t want to have. We wouldn’t want to do it the way they did it.”
She elaborates: “It’s most troubling to women who do NOT want to be like their mothers or had traumatizing childhoods or toxic relationships to their mother. If you do not like your mother and then find you are behaving and speaking like your mother, it can be very upsetting.”
So what can be done if we find ourselves feeling anxious as we notice this happening?
Dr. Kennedy-Moore explains that we can do something about it if we want to.
She told me: “We have a choice about whether we go along with our knee-jerk. We can make deliberate decisions and think carefully about where we started and where we want to go with how we respond to certain situations. And consciously make choices to respond in different ways to our parents.”
And Dr. Ehinger agrees that you change your ways but it takes determination: “You have to fight something that is unconsciously different.”
Dr. Dan Siegel, author of “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation”, writes that many people who suffered abuse or trauma in their past obviously don’t like to think about it because it is painful and therefore it is never addressed.
It is no surprise when this behavior resurfaces because no conscious effort has been made to change it.
In this article, Dr. Siegel suggests: “The key to liberating yourself from the legacy of the past is by making sense of how the past has impacted you.”
And crucially, it is never too late to address your past.
Dr. Siegel describes in his book how he met a 92-year-old who had never acknowledged that the coldness of his parents towards him as a child deeply impacted his ability to connect emotionally.
Once he faced up to the facts about his past and spoke about how his disjointed relationship with his parents made him feel, the transformation in his behavior was remarkable.
So much so that his wife asked Dr. Siegel if he had given her husband a brain transplant!
Therefore, although morphing into your mother is biologically likely, if you address the traits that you don’t like and consciously change your behavior, it is possible to react to situations differently.
You do have a choice.
And for many women who admire and respect their mothers, imitating them later in life is not such a bad thing.
A friend of mine who has always had a great relationship with her mom said: “I love my mom. I don’t mind that I have started dressing like her and acting like her. I actually think it’s sweet.”
And Dr. De Silva professes: “We all turn into our parents at some point in our lives and that is something to be celebrated. They are the most wonderful people in the world.”
So if you find yourself getting out your knitting needles while demanding that your partner use a coaster, would that be such a terrible thing?
Let’s face it, we are approaching middle-age and maybe we should just embrace it.
It is a fact of life that we will start to resemble our parents as we age, both physically and in terms of our mannerisms and behavior.
For most of us, it starts to become obvious once our circumstances resemble those of our parents.
Whether that is becoming parents ourselves or simply maturing with age, before long you will be the age your parents were when they had you.
Many women find themselves adopting the same interests and attitudes as their mom or even uttering phrases that they hadn’t heard since they were children.
Although many of us react in horror when we discover this happening is it really such a bad thing?
It might be alarming when we start acting like old women but maybe we need to accept that we’re aging and stop pretending otherwise.
And for those of us who find the metamorphosis into our mothers deeply troubling because of a traumatic childhood or a difficult relationship with her, remember you are not a clone of your mother.
You are your own person. You can choose to learn from your childhood and react to situations in your own way, no matter how deeply it is ingrained in your internal software.
You just need to do your very own ‘control, alt, delete’.
Do you feel as though you are turning into your mother? Have you found yourself saying things you haven’t heard since you were a child?
Or perhaps you see your mom looking back at you in the mirror?
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