Breaking the Cycle – 30 Years Apart

I’ve always been close with my mom. She stayed home to raise me and my brother and even homeschooled us for a bit, so we had a lot of quality time with her. She and I are a lot alike, for better or for worse. Where my brother is more talkative and outgoing, my mom and I are introverted, reserved, and cautious. What’s taken me a long time to realize is that I don’t know which of those traits are authentically mine and which are hers that I unconsciously adopted.

Our parents have a huge influence over us. They are our earliest examples of the world, and their choices leave deep impacts on us during our formative years. It’s probably near impossible not to pick up their opinions, quirks, traits, etc. and take them on as our own initially. But then, hopefully at some point along the way as we age, we branch out and form our own opinions, make our own choices, and realize there’s an infinite number of different ways to do things and live in the world.

For me, this branching out didn’t really start until college when I left my hometown bubble. (In reality I just traded one bubble for another as I left my conservative, religious upbringing for my conservative, religious college…but hey, at least it was a different bubble.) I still remember certain moments of breaking out of the black and white into the grey and even though they were typically small things, it was always the same moment of “wait what? People do xyz differently?”

For example, driving with my parents has always been incredibly stressful. They’ve gotten better over the years, but at a pretty early age I learned that the best course of action as a passenger during these trips was to put in headphones for the duration of the drive. I’m a pretty sensitive person, so the secondhand stress on those car rides was real. Like, by the time we reached our destination I think we all needed a drink. So, at some point, riding as a passenger with other families or friends was a moment of “wait…no one seems stressed here. That’s an option??” I’ve dealt with driving anxiety on and off over the years and to be honest I don’t know yet whether it’s something I actually “have” or is a falsely inherited issue that can be “cured” at some point.

In the same manner, my mom, and my family in general, are all pretty private people so in turn, I tend to be too. None of them are flashy or particularly bold, so neither was I. But somewhere in my late 20s I started to step back more and question a lot of these things. It feels almost as though I have a giant box of traits, opinions, ideas, preferences, etc. that I’m currently sorting through like a box of old clothes, trying to decide what still fits, what kind of fits but isn’t my style anymore, and what should probably just be thrown out because it would be offensive to donate to someone else. What I’m realizing is that more and more things are ending up in the “this isn’t even mine” pile, which honestly feels amazing. It’s incredibly freeing to say goodbye to those pairs of jeans that have just never quite fit you, instead of continuing to hang on to them for years, thinking that they “should” fit.

What I’m incredibly grateful for is that right now, my mom and I are in similar places in our quests for self-discovery. The things I’m finally starting to own instead of just question at 30 are a lot of the things she’s also starting to own at 64. And let me tell you, that’s been incredibly motivating and inspiring. Like I said, my mom has always been more private, cautious, and reserved. These are not inherently negative things but having them modeled for me from such a young age led me to be these things too and they don’t really serve me. Well, it turns out they don’t serve her either and in the past five or six years she’s been pushing back against her own limitations and breaking out of them. Just in the last year alone she flew on an airplane for the first time in 20 years, took horseback riding lessons, ran her first half-marathon, and legally changed her name since it never suited her. Can we just have a moment of appreciation for that? That’s a lot! It’s also been very encouraging, and we’ve had some wonderful conversations about enough being enough and finally wanting to live more authentically. We’re able to talk about the anger and hurt that build up after not using your voice and the strong desire to advocate for your inner child and help heal them.

I’ll admit that amidst the admiration are moments of frustration as well, though. Moments of what if she had done this sooner? – a sentiment she gets hung up on too sometimes. But my impatience there is mostly selfish, led by wondering, what might be different for me if you could have modeled these things when I was growing up? Would I have started my authentic journey sooner?  While a valid wonder to recognize, it’s also not helpful to dwell on. The important thing is that we are doing the work now, both of us. And thank God it is happening now, not later or never.

Last summer, she and I went to see the Barbie movie together when it came out. Towards the end, there’s the scene where Barbie is talking to her creator, Ruth, who tells her, “We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come.” *Cue the waterworks* To me, this sentiment means that a good mother doesn’t try to control her child. She guides them along the way, but ultimately lets them live their own lives, make their own choices, and choose their own path. She and I had a great conversation after the movie about how grateful we are that we can talk about things like cycle breaking together and how it’s kind of cool that we’re on similar journeys, despite being in such different phases of life.

While I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on sorting through that big box of old clothing, I’m incredibly lucky and thankful that if I look over next to me, my mom is there with me, sorting through her own box and inspiring me to keep going. I picture holding up an old shirt and saying, “This is yours; do you want it back?” and her laughing and saying, “Absolutely not.” And in the moments of frustration where I wish she started sooner so I could have started sooner, I stop and look at the stats. Generational cycles aren’t broken overnight. If my mom’s mom is doing some inner work now towards the end of her life, my mom is doing this work twenty years earlier in her 60s, and I’m doing it thirty years earlier in my 30s, the numbers are going in the right direction. I have hope and pride that if and when I have my own kids someday, they will be even better off for the work my mom and I are doing and will have access to more tools even earlier.

I recently saw a reel on Instagram where a woman asked Dr. Gabor Maté, an expert on trauma and childhood, about her hesitations about becoming a mother for fear of transmitting more trauma on to any future children. His response was, “What would it have meant for you if your mother asked the same question before you were born?” She replied, “Not being scared to exist in my household.” He said, “Yes, it would have meant everything. You have already given that gift to your unborn children.” This is what I hope for with my own hypothetical future children. They will surely grow up with insecurities and shortcomings as well, but hopefully they will have tools at an earlier age to address them in healthier ways and understand them better. I know I will still make mistakes, but they will be different mistakes. I’m glad that my mom is doing the hard things and I strive to keep doing the same so that one day, if I have my own children, I can be a strong example for them like my mom is for me now and foster an open, communicative environment with them.

by mariabeben

Maria Beben is a writer, cat mom, and multi-passionate wanderer. Her creativity is inspired by small and understatedly beautiful moments like the way raindrops look on leaves, the way the first sip of coffee tastes, and how the right song at the right time can turn you inside out and knock you over backwards. Her favorite animal is a brontosaurus, and her favorite color is sunset. Maria's work has appeared in the Pennsylvania Bards Anthology and the Avalon Anthology. In 2021 she published her first book of poetry, A Trail of Lost Buttons.

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