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Mom's visit

Just like my mother: a rare photo of my mother, me and my oldest son, 1996

“You’re just like your mother!” Those words and that fear have been engrained in my mind and my psyche throughout my adulthood. They were like a blemish on my face that screamed for attention every time I got a glance of myself in the mirror. Not literally, but that’s how often the message surfaced.

I didn’t want to be anything like my mother! That comparison brought too much embarrassment, too much shame. After all, she was mentally ill.

My fears started as a teen. Whether you’re an adult (who once was a teen) or the parent of a teen, you know the feelings of embarrassment that can arise. As teens start to separate from their parents, test their independence, and explore who they are, they veer away from parental input and advice. They don’t want to be seen with their parents. And they certainly don’t want public displays of affection!

A recent episode of “The Goldbergs” addressed this very uncomfortable situation in a comical manner. Beverly, the mother in this sitcom family, which takes place in the 1980s, is always intervening—or interfering—in her teenage children’s lives. It is humorous and most often embarrassing— as you can see in this short, video scene: Beverly Catches Erica Hanging with the Cool Mom.

Fast forward to the present day and age of social media where the tables have turned. I’m now the parent of 17 and 21 year-old sons. Is it cool to be friends with your children on Facebook? And if you are friends, is it OK to ‘like’ or comment on their posts?

In my family, there is an unwritten rule: no tagging and no comments. Uploading photos are a rare treat for me. In other families, I’ve seen how they bring the good-hearted ribbing and familial connection that they share at home into the online community. I do respect the boundaries established in my family on social media interaction, although it does take some fun out of the experience.

I’ve come to realize that any embarrassment that my sons may feel due to my maternal behavior is normal. I don’t want to project the embarrassment I felt related to my mother’s behavior onto them or fuel the voice inside my head that says, “You’re just like your mother!”

However, my embarrassment with my mother was more than the normal parent/child phase of growth and maturing. My embarrassment and shame was rooted in private and public displays of her mental illness. I witnessed some pretty erratic and unhealthy behaviors from my mother during my teenage years. At times they can still haunt me.

As I wrote in “Walking my Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, I experienced huge identity revelations and healing with the passing of my mother in 2011. What I realized then and continue to see in new ways since her passing, is that I am just like my mother. I’ve had to separate the good traits from the bad ones. And I’ve learned to embrace those parts of me where she made a positive influence.

Four years later, I can proudly say, “It’s OK to be like my mother.”

Have you been embarrassed by your parents? Have you ever embarrassed your kids? Where are you on the spectrum of becoming just like your mother? We’d love to hear a little of your story in the comments below.

~Ardis A. Nelson