I believe, for better or worse, we all have internalized our parents. For the record, for me it is definitely a “for better” situation. (Just thought I should put that out there . . . you know LEAD with it.)
Throughout my growing up years many people have compared me to my mother. We sound something alike. We act something alike though she is extremely extroverted compared to intensely introverted me. (I do a good job of acting like an extrovert when I need to—just in case you were wondering.) We even look quite a bit alike. In fact one time I discovered a picture of my mother in her 20’s and my first thought was, “When was this taken? I don’t remember ever having a dress like that!” Of course I don’t remember it, I wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye at that point. Occasionally I’ll meet someone who tells me my father’s genes are much more dominant. It’s a rare occasion, but it happens.
Following my mom’s footsteps into education gave me copious opportunities to not only learn from her but to be even more like her. In fact, during my first year of teaching we had adjoining classrooms–with thin walls. So thin that my 7th grade English class (the class who had been her 6th grade everything class the previous year) occasionally would put away their grammar books and pull out their math or science books because Mom told her class to do that. My conversation with the class would go something like this . . .
Me: What are you doing?!
7th grader: Getting out my math book like you said to.
Me: I did not. Why in the world would I tell you to get out a math book? I don’t do math!!!
7th grader: But you said!
Well, you get the idea. That’s how much we can sound alike. We confuse tweens. In person.
As I moved away from the classroom with the paper thin walls to Africa where the walls were concrete but the windows were always open, I sounded nothing like whoever was teaching science next door. The voice alike confusions ceased. I didn’t cease becoming more like my mother though.
More than once words automatically flew from my mouth that were hers. A time or two I had to admit, “That was my mother speaking, not me. Well, not entirely me.”
My father’s words didn’t fly from my lips too often. Generally his favorite expletive from my youth is what escapes my lips when I “channel” him. “Judas Priest!” has been known to slip out of my mind and into sound waves. And like my dad, when frustration mounts, I’ll put Judas Priest on a pony. Why he gets a pony ride when things are bad? I don’t know. He just does.
The other day things changed. Instead of my internal mother shining through, my internalized father made an appearance. A younger coworker was in my office telling me some of the pressures she was facing. I listened and then said, “You know, you can say, ‘No.’ You know that, right?” This was followed a few times with phrases like, “Tell them, ‘No!'” “You could always say, ‘No’.” And there I was becoming my father!
For years, my father would get on the phone and make me practice saying, “NO”. For years it didn’t seem to have too much effect, but it seems to have taken root. I see it’s evidence in the conversation with my co-worker. I saw it two weeks ago when a colleague asked me to make a phone call and I declined. (The roots are shallow because I later tried to rescind my refusal, but he wouldn’t let me.) I see it when I choose exercise over a lazy evening. I see it when I acknowledge my waning emotional reserves and insist on some time by myself. I’m still growing in this.
I could list other ways I am becoming like them—and ways I want to continue to become like them. They are kind, generous, hospitable, self-sacrificing, funny, commited to learning, God fearing, faithful, concerned, and just all around amazingly wonderful. It is a privilege to carry their voices around inside me as I forge my own path in their footsteps. If you ever have the chance to get to know them, do it. You won’t be sorry.
How have you internalized your parents?
photo courtesy of Mom’s camera