Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mommy Mimicry

Like it or not, every woman has inherited behaviors from her mother. These learned actions or characteristics are either intentionally taught or unconsciously passed to children through every day modeling. Most women leave childhood with characteristics, values, behaviors, and beliefs learned from their mother- even the things that annoyed them when they were young. Sometimes we are aware of these things, as they have been deliberately ingrained in us by oft taught lessons. However, many of our personal quirks, habits, gestures, and behaviors are those picked up unintentionally by observing our mothers.

I learned many things from my mother- both through her teaching and modeling. Through the intentional lessons I learned, annoyingly, how to be a “lady”. This meant that I learned to be respectful to the people around me, especially my superiors, manners, grooming habits, and that you must wear panty hose in the winter months…I had a hard time with this one growing up and often presently ignore. My mother taught me how to clean the house, how to fold laundry, how to balance a checkbook, and how to mix a good drink J. Both verbally and through modeling, my mother taught me to value hard work, to be strong yet kind, to be a “glass half full” kind of gal, the value of education, and the importance of family. These behaviors, beliefs, and values were all intentionally taught with the goal of making me a “good” person. My conservative, sometimes strict, upbringing helped shape me into the strong-willed, optimistic, successful person I am today. Thank you mom, for these valuable lessons!

On a less sappy note, I also inadvertently picked up a few of my mom’s quirks, much to my chagrin. Apparently, I have replicated her laugh- very loud, very distinct. Another habit I picked up from my mother is her raised eyebrow. It seems that involuntarily, our eyes squint or widen (depending on the situation) and rise in anger, annoyance, or skepticism. Perhaps the most embarrassing behavior I involuntarily mimic is the habit of repeating myself, something she unintentionally learned from her father. This is a very annoying tendency of the people on my mother’s side of the family, one that worsens as we age.

As Macie’s mother, I plan to teach and model many of the same values, behaviors, and beliefs that I learned from my mother. I want Macie to learn to be respectful, strong, and hard working. I want to teach her how to maintain a positive outlook, to be a person who always looks on the bright side. I hope to teach Macie how to be a kind, generous, thoughtful, empathic human being who values family and friendships. I will teach Macie how to clean, cook, manage her money, make plans and set goals. Macie will learn the importance of appearance and personal fitness, as it determines how people view you, but also that intelligence and kindness are much more important than physical appearance. Obviously, there are more lessons that Macie will learn while she is in my care- hopefully more positive than negative.

Although my “laundry list” of things I plan to teach Macie is very long and thought out, I had not considered all the behaviors and habits that Macie will inadvertently learn through observation. It has recently come to my attention that Macie has already started mimicking my actions. The two most entertaining are those that I initially had no idea she learned from me. The first is Macie’s slight Southern drawl, which I blogged about a few months ago. Since Macie started talking, I have been baffled by this lilt and confused about where she may have picked it up. In class a few weeks ago one of my peers pointed out that I have a slight Southern accent in the way I pronounce a few words, especially those with the letters “o” and “u”- apparently I draw out these vowels. In that moment I realized that Macie must have learned this speech pattern from me, which is why she pronounces “dog” slowly so that it sounds like “doawg”. Light bulb! The second noteworthy behavior Macie has picked up from me is the “what” gesture. Also noted in a previous blog, Macie often goes on long, soapbox, rants and uses her hands to further her point. For months she has been doing the “what” gesture (arms in the “v” shape out the side, with wrists bent backward and palms facing upward) to converse. This has been endlessly amusing for me to observe, but I had no idea where she picked up this gesture. At work the other day I had apparently done the “what” gesture and a co-worker noted that I frequently employ this action in conversation. Another light bulb went off. Macie obviously learned this behavior from her mother.

It seems that Macie has become a human mirror of sorts. Through mimicking observed behaviors, Macie has made me very aware of the actions that I am inadvertently teaching her. What’s frightening is that Macie is imitating behaviors that I was unconsciously employing. Parenting has been a very enlightening experience. You learn a lot about yourself in the process- your strengths and weaknesses, your capacity for love, beliefs and values, commitment, etc. Most surprising have been the things I have learned about myself that I never knew. 


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