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Like mother like daughter

November 10, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
It never ceases to amaze me how alike my mother and I are.

Sometimes I lose sight of that fact because Mom lives several states away and we don't get to hang out as much as I'd like. I didn't see it very clearly at all, actually, until my own daughter was born.

But spending last weekend with Mom brought our similarities into focus again. And now a third generation is in the frame.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing, you're probably wondering. Well, my daughter and I could do much worse than to emulate my mother, that's for sure. But mostly, it's just ... intriguing.

It's fun to note, for example, how Mom and I interact nearly identically with Emma. Several times over the weekend, we found ourselves responding to Emma in stereo -- same words, same pitch, same voice inflections. When I would start singing a song, Mom would join in, emphasizing certain words and phrases exactly the way I would. We would just look at each other and laugh, and Emma thought it was hilarious, too.

Mom and I have exactly the same values, which puts me at ease when Emma and I spend time with her. I'm able to let my parenting guard down a little bit, for example, because I know Mom will pick up the slack.

I also enjoy observing Mom and Emma together. Mom has been intentional about building a bond with Emma, spending time with Emma once every couple months, if not more often. As a result, Emma is very comfortable with her. (Of course, it doesn't hurt that Granny Jan sounds and acts just like Mommy!)

I also learn a lot from the way Mom interacts with Emma. We are not so similarly educated on parenting issues that I can boast to be as wonderful a parent as she. I am always learning something from her. (She is a parenting educator for a supervised visitation center and is a licensed professional counselor.) She never pushes her views on me, but leads by example, and is always ready with advice ... but only if I ask for it.

I thought I'd share some tips I have picked up recently from her:

-- When you are occupied with a conversation or other business in an enclosed public place, and your child wants to wander, that's OK; but, instead of saying "Stay where I can see you," say "Stay where you can see me." You might as well speak Greek if you use the former command; the latter is a concept they understand.

-- My mother is the queen of Distract and Re-direct. If Emma is doing something she shouldn't (and is not in immediate danger), instead of saying, "No, no, don't do that," Mom gets her attention and directs her to something that it is OK to play with or do. It is so easy as a mom of an infant/toddler/preschooler to get caught up in an endless cycle of "no-no"s! Eventually, however, the word means nothing to the child. Redirecting her achieves a desirable result, and it helps establish a positive environment rather than one steeped in negativity.

-- This is one I learned from Mom earlier in life and am so thankful for it: Let a child explore, as long as he's not in physical danger. Children learn by doing. It won't hurt them to get dirty ... or play in a warm summer rain shower ... or even open doors/cabinets in a new environment. Sometimes even allowing them to experience a slight bit of pain is the best teacher. I could say until I'm hoarse not to touch the oven door, but only until Emma touched it and felt the heat did it sink in. (By the way, it's best not to say that demeaning little phrase, "See, I told you so," in these situations, although it certainly is tempting!)

None of these things is revolutionary of course, and I'm sure I'm "preaching to the choir." But sometimes we need reminders, or different ways of looking at the same problem.

Spending time with Mom and Emma also reminds me of the one way in which the three of us are alike -- and it's not a good thing. We were at dinner Friday night at a Chinese buffet. Emma ate some chicken on a stick, some green beans and a bite or two of rice. Not bad, but you certainly couldn't say she ate with relish. That is, until dessert, a cup of soft-serve ice cream with sprinkles. She ate it like it was the last bite of food on the planet. After spooning up the last bit, she hastily tipped the cup to her mouth to get the last dribbles.

I looked at mom across the table and raised me eyebrows, a long-suffering smirk on my face.

Mom laughed out loud. "She's just like you were! And like I was!"

And unfortunately, like we still are.


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