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Resolution: “I Will Remember My Daughter is an Adult.”
By Kathy Hare

          “You’re going to poke your eye out!”

          The first time those words escaped my lips I groaned. Oh no, I sound just like my mother! And what woman wants that to happen?

          Evidently the fear of becoming like your mother is so strong among women in western cultures that psychologists actually gave the condition a name - matrophobia.

          Yet fighting our genetic make-up is probably as pointless as worrying about whether the sun will rise tomorrow. Not only do we have half of mom's genes, we also inherit 99.9 percent of our mitochondria from her.

          Mitochondria are the source of energy for our cells. In mammals, they are inherited virtually unaltered directly through the female side of the species. A child's mitochondria are the same as its mother's, and their maternal grandmother, etc. Dad contributes nada.   

          Now given these facts, why do women in western cultures spend so much time and energy trying to avoid becoming a clone of their mother?

          That's what makes it such an interesting psychological phobia. Cultural anthropologists say there is usually a rational explanation behind cultural fears. So there has to be a driving force compelling women in our culture to willingly battle against our own DNA - in the slim hope of changing our bodies or personalities for the better.

          Certainly, most of us start out loving and adoring our mothers. Flashing back to age five, I remember thinking my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. Then around age 12, I began noticing how fat she looked. And for heaven's sake, what was she thinking, embarrassing me to death in front of my friends with that 1940's hairstyle?

           So it's mom's appearance daughters dislike first. But by age 16, most of us also show disdain for her words, actions, and out-dated ideas. My fear of becoming my mother actually made me go so far as to pray I was adopted. Then I would only have to worry about all the warped ideas she planted in my brain instead of all that genetic stuff. But after hours of staring at my siblings and seeing the same shaped nose, eyes, and mouth looking back at me, I broke down in sobs. I was, after all, my mother's daughter!

          By the time we reach our late 20's, most women realize we have our mother's thighs and less than perfect hair, and there is not much we can do to change those facts. But we hold steadfast to the notion that somehow we are going to be a better parent than our mother.  Yet the struggle appears to be futile, because shortly after giving birth to our first child, most women revert to parenting behavior learned or inherited from their mother.

          So why does this condition exist?  Recently, a friend asked me if I thought she will ever have a good relationship with her teenage daughter.  My tentative answer was "Yes, but you may have to wait until she is thirty."  Then out of curiosity, I asked her if there was anything she disliked about her own mother.  Her quick reply was,   "She has never accepted the fact that I'm an adult." Her face then quickly turned to a frown, "Gee, that's what my daughter says about me."  

          My friend hit the nail on the head; this is the most common complaint I hear from women when discussing the relationship with their mother. Here's a good example of what an ongoing problem it can be. While attending a family reunion last summer, I heard my mother-in-law, age 90, tell her 66 year old daughter, “I am still your mother, and I know what is best for you.” 

          My sister-in-law's grievous offense was to eat some potato chips before lunch.

“Mother, when are you going to learn I’m adult,” my sister-in-law asked.

          Obviously, the answer is, “Never.”

          Unfortunately, because motherly behavior is encoded in our DNA, shutting it off isn’t something that happens naturally, no matter what age you or your children reach. That genetic motherly advice was designed to work in a society of extended families where grandparents, parents, and children co-exist.

          But western culture embraces a different set of standards. Above all, we value our independence. In order to gain personal independence, I think we were forced to sacrifice the extended family system. Let's face it, having the pioneering spirit often means leaving the old folks behind, whether they are back in Europe, on the east coast, or a few towns over. So we expect our children to grow up and establish nuclear families, without the need of financial or emotional support from an extended family. We raise daughters capable of doing that, but then we demand the same respect given to mothers in other cultures.

          Perhaps if we remember culture allows humans to quickly adapt to new circumstances, but changes in DNA take place more slowly, then we will at least begin to understand the ongoing battle between mothers and daughters. Although the DNA coursing through mothers' veins shouts "Give them your advice," just maybe we can learn to start treating our daughters like the adults we raised them to be.

          So this year, instead of attempting another dieting resolution, I've decided to give my daughter a break. This year, I will attempt to fight the genetic urge to give her my unsolicited advice. By age 30, she has probably heard enough of it anyway.       

          But no matter how hard I try to stick to my New Year’s resolution, I’m pretty certain my resolve will vanish as quickly as a plate of chocolate-chip cookies plopped down in front of a dieter.

          Oh well, at least this year my failure won't be due to a lack of will-power. I can blame it entirely on my DNA.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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