Every family will have traits that have come down from generation to generation. These may be physical i.e. colour of hair or eyes; emotional i.e. anger; spiritual e.g. living as a Christian, Jew, Muslin.
A trait in my family that came down to me was working hard and not being ‘lazy’. Both grandmothers, and my mother, modeled to me that women had to work hard, be there for the men when they came home from work with food on the table etc., and to be self-sacrificing i.e. to put other people’s desires above their own.
Now, this is not all bad. However, in my situation the good of these things were outweighed by the bad. It led to my grandmother and mother not being able to set healthy boundaries or being able to say ‘No’. People expected, and so they complied.
Often, my mother’s wishes were ignored. I remember one year she did not want to go on a church holiday, but my dad over-rode her request. It was a holiday that she hated, and my dad realised he had made a mistake. They didn’t go on one again.
How did this affect me? Well, I looked like my mother, sounded like my mother and so, to many people, I should perform like my mother. I complied. As a child growing up, you don’t always realise what is going on and so I thought that this was the only way to behave. I worked hard. I said ‘Yes’ without thinking about whether I could do what was required, or whether I wanted to do it.
The result: people would say “You are like your mother.”
As a teenager, I heard this said about me so often that I came to resent it. At that age I was learning who I was as an individual, yet I was confused because I was ‘like my mother.’ So was I my mother, or was I me? I could not tell. I pushed back and so rejected many aspects of my mother. I thought I was rejecting what I perceived to be unhealthy, but I also kicked out the good stuff too.
It took me a long time to learn that not everything my mother did, or how she lived, was bad. Only now, six years after her death, am I coming to realise that there were good traits in her, and in our family line, that I had rejected.
I am currently living in Canada. On a recent trip back home to the UK, I began to be feel differently about ‘you are like your mother.’ My dad is still alive, living in the family home alone. He is healthy and very able. However, there are little things that he doesn’t do so well, like cleaning. I spent some of my time cleaning cupboards and work surfaces. It was as I was doing this that my dad said “You are like your mother.” This time, it was not a curse to me. I could receive it as a compliment, as a blessing to me. I could distinguish between the healthy and the unhealthy and I was ready to accept the good of my female family trait. I am still me, and I am happy to accept that this includes the good from my mum.
It’s a journey, one which I will have to walk for the rest of my life.
What generational traits are you aware of in your family?
Do you see these as good and healthy, or unhealthy and destructive?