It’s one of life’s biggest questions, but Kristen Corbett says the answer can be found right in the kitchen. “If you want to see if you’ve turned into your mother or not, you should look in your refrigerator,” she said. “That’s where it starts.”
In her case, the warning signs included partially consumed food and drink. “I’ll find myself having only half a glass of juice and putting the rest in the refrigerator,” said Corbett, 40, a marketing consultant from Belmont. “It used to drive me nuts when she did it, and now I am.”
She paused, and then admitted that she’s started refrigerating sugar and bread as an anti-ant move, even though she’s never had an ant problem, and has begun saving boxes, just like you-know-who.
“But I feel as long as there’s self-awareness it’s not quite as bad,” she said. “If I recognize that I’m turning into my mother, then I’m not really turning into my mother.”
Good luck with that.
With Mother’s Day upon us, and adult daughters statewide seeing two women when they look in the mirror, clinical psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler says maternally induced behavior patterns can be hard to avoid. “It’s partly genetic and partly modeling,” she explained.
“I think that every woman, whether she is conscious of it or not, deals with how much she is like her mother,” said Cohen-Sandler, author of “I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You!: A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict.”
‘If I recognize that I’m turning into my mother, then I’m not really turning into my mother.’
For Elayne Daniels, of Canton, turning into her mother means never going to bed before she’s put away the clean laundry and dishes. “She used to say, ‘I don’t want someone to have to empty my dishwasher if God forbid I die in the middle of the night,’ ” said Daniels. “Growing up, I thought she had obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
But now, as a clinical psychologist, not only does Daniels not think her mother suffers from the disorder, she admires her approach to chores. “It’s a way to get a jump on tomorrow so that everything is all set for the next day, and it’s teaching my kids about how to be prepared,” she said, no doubt having passed on the get-it-done-the-night-before gene to her teenage daughter.
Researchers have yet to determine at what age the syndrome is most likely to strike, but many women say the symptoms start a bit after they have children of their own and become more pronounced as the years pass.
In Sudbury, Anne-Marie Greenberg, a real estate agent, says that when she and her sister were growing up outside New York with a mother who micromanaged their lives, they’d regularly exchange glances and make a pledge: “I’m not going to be like her.”
As in: I’m not going to dictate how long my daughters’ hair should be. I’m not going to nag my children to go the library at lunchtime instead of the cafeteria. I’m not going to voice my opinion on which friends are appropriate.
But that was then. Now? “I find myself sharing my opinion very strongly about who my kids are friends with,” said Greenberg, a widow raising her kids as a single mother, just as her own mom did. “I thought it was awful and mean when she did it, but now I realize it’s so easy to fall in with the wrong crowd.”
“I know everything my mother did was because she wanted the best for us,” she said. “That’s how I justify it.”
Some women are happy to turn into their mothers, and others are horrified, but as Deborah Tannen, the author of “You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation,” noted, it’s rare to find a daughter who doesn’t measure herself against her mother.
“When I interview women, they always tell me ways they are the same and ways they are different,” said Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, “but what’s interesting is the comparison is always there. That’s the measuring stick. When women think what they want to be, it’s in comparison to her.”
Jessica Barsamian, the daughter of two hairdressers, says she’s delighted to see her generous and strict mother in herself — most of the time. “Growing up, she would never let us go on sleepovers or on spring break with friends,” said Barsamian, director of operations for the Belgrade Group, which owns two James Joseph salons in Back Bay and 22 other salons in the Boston area.
“At the time, especially in the teenage years, it seemed cruel,” she said. “I always felt I was missing out on something and could never understand what the big deal was. But now that I have kids, I totally see it.”
If the “I’m turning into my mother” syndrome has one rule, it might be this: The more annoying a mother’s behavior was considered in the past, the more likely it is to be adopted by the critic a few decades later.
Let’s let Emma Siemasko, 26, of Back Bay, take it from here. “When I was a little kid, my mom used to say, ‘I’m turning into my mother,’ and I’d sit in the back seat of the minivan and say, ‘I’m not going to turn into you — I’m not going to sing in the car,’ and she was like, ‘Just you wait.’ ”
The waiting is over. Now, says Siemasko, she yawns while talking, just like her mother, and repeats herself in conversation. “In some ways, turning into my mother is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She’s a loving and generous person, but at the same time, all the things I seem to have inherited are the annoying ones.”
Meanwhile, even as many women complain — in jest or for real — about turning into their mothers, re-creating her once-mocked quirks can be its own form of tribute.
Vicki Donlan grew up in a Victorian house in Newton with a mother who would kick the scatter rugs into place, rather than bending down to straighten them, a technique that baffled her as a child.
Now 62, and living in Hingham with her own rugs, Donlan, a business coach, also uses her feet rather than her hands. “Every once in a while my husband will say, ‘You’re doing that just like your mother,’ ” she said, “and it gives me such lovely memories.”Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.