That’s a famous line from a famous movie. It can also be used when we look in the mirror and we see our parent looking back at us. It doesn’t mean we have to look like them, but the sense that we become our parents happens to many of us.
We often become like our parents in our customs, attitudes or beliefs. They raised us, we grew up in their home, listened to their views, saw how they treated others, lived with their values, and knew their good points and failings. This does not mean we are mini versions of them, only that they are usually our greatest influences.
My sister recently mentioned one of our grandmother’s traits the other day. Grandma Zeta, who died forty years ago, had a particular personality trait, a certain resilience and strength of attitude. I had to think about it to understand what she meant, but it made sense. My sister is channeling that particular trait as she deals with some life challenges.
When I think of influences, my stepfather comes to mind. We lost him this year and the impact on us is huge. Although not related by blood, it is his personality and values that have had the biggest impact on my life. Families are blended together; blood is only one contribution from parent to child. My stepfather has been the measure that I have looked to and the example that I tried to follow. If his persona was looking back at me in the mirror, I would be happy and proud.
As my stepfather aged and was less able to lead, he was bristly at being offered help or ask him to delegate. For him it meant a loss of independence and a diminished role as leader of the family. For us, it was a way of easing his burden. We never got to work that out.
As our parents age, we take over some of the parenting roles, especially as we begin making care and financial decisions for them. We may already be parents, but reversing roles with a parent takes some special navigation. With my mother, who never lets you forget that she is in “the decider”, she will often defer for you to handle things for her, but always wants to remain in charge. It can be awkward ground, not knowing exactly what she wants, but you can rest assured she will let me know. There is satisfaction in being able to provide for her, giving back for the years that she shouldered the load.
In the mirror, the person usually looking back at me is the older version of me. An older body, but a 30 year-old spirit inside. I ran across some songs I had written in my 20s. In general, they were ambitious, naive, hopeful and bristling with something. They weren’t very good, but packed more adventure than I recall I had at that age.
Life happens and the adventure in us gets tucked away for more immediate things needing our attention. Maybe that happened with our parents too. When we came along, their adventure and hopes turned to mortgages, doctors bills, putting food on the table and keeping us out of reform school. We think of our parents as always being parents, not being kids or having dreams that didn’t include us.
Speaking of grandparents, I recall them when they were my current age. They seemed ancient. Not just old in age, but old in attitude. They were solid people but of a generation I found difficult to relate to. It was a generation gap times two. This is probably what my own grandchildren think of me.
Seeing a parental image in the mirror is not a bad thing any more than it is an age thing. Age and maturity are not synonymous. Attitude is a balance between who we are and who we want to be. It’s okay to see the parental image and to be good with what it means. Life is a journey and instead of fearing that it is toward the end, celebrate how far you’ve traveled.
If you feel the influences of others, think about the influence you have been and continue to be. Some day, the person looking at themselves and sensing the parental glow may be thinking of you, kid.