When I Look at My Daughter, I See My Past and Future
A mom's reflections on their similarities and differences
(This article was originally published on The Fine Line.)
My older daughter looks a lot like me. From the moment she was born, the resemblance was clear. Now that she is in her 20s, it’s even more apparent. We are the same height and have the same hair color. We share almond-shaped dark brown eyes, high cheekbones and a heart-shaped face.
Very often when people see us together they say, “Wow, you guys really look alike!” and my daughter will roll her eyes. She is not a fan of hearing how similar we look. I don’t blame her — after all, no young woman wants to be told she looks like someone more than twice her age — but I take the comparison as a compliment.
I’m 50 years old, and I don’t mind being compared to someone in her 20s, especially someone as beautiful as my daughter.
Sometimes I can’t believe that I have a daughter in her 20s. I don’t feel that old, and in my mind, I don’t look that old. But when I really see my reflection in a mirror, I realize I don’t look like my daughter at all.
On my face, I see age spots from too much time in the sun as a kid. I see dark circles and bags under my eyes, the result of sleepless nights nursing babies, calming nightmares and waiting up for teens who stayed out past curfew. Wrinkles, laugh lines and worry lines create a map on my face of the journey I have been on for the last five decades. The hair color that my daughter and I share is one that I visit the salon every four weeks to achieve. Yes, I can go back to being a “natural” brunette, but grays pop up quickly to remind me that I cannot really go back in time.
Going Back in Time
Oh, to go back in time!
I would rock the body I had instead of maligning it like I did. I’d wear bikinis and miniskirts! I’d appreciate my metabolism and eat more pizza. I’d wash my face diligently before bed, apply sunscreen daily and wear my retainer every night so my teeth didn’t shift.
I wonder if my daughter is prettier than I was at her age or if I just didn’t appreciate how good I looked back then. When I was in my 20s I was self-conscious. I pined to be thinner and 3 inches taller. I wanted bigger breasts and tamer hair. I hope that I kept those insecurities under wraps and didn’t pass them on to my daughter in our shared DNA. But I wonder when I expressed dissatisfaction with my appearance if it translates to her? After all, if I didn’t seem content with the way I looked, did that undermine her confidence in our shared looks as she got older?
Ironically, I didn’t start to feel really good in my skin until it started to sag. I appreciate my body now more than I ever did before. It’s not perfect, but it’s healthy — and I do what I can to keep it that way. I realize that frizzy hair can be straightened with a flat iron and short girls can wear higher heels. Even though I gained weight as I got older, I also gained confidence. I may be less attractive on the outside by certain measures, but I like myself better on the inside.
Two Separate People
I think the hardest part of having a mini-me is remembering that just because we look alike, does not mean we think alike.
Her eyes may be the same shape as mine, but she sees the world differently than I do. There are moments when I look at her and see a “do over” for myself — a chance to get some things right. I overidentify because she looks like me and she is a part of me.
I remember my mother feeling the same way I do now and having to tell her, “This is my life, not yours,” many times. I guess mothers can’t help but want better for their daughters, even if what they had themselves was pretty good.
I realize that my time as a 20-year-old has long passed. My daughter not only looks like an adult, she is one — free to choose her own path and make her own choices and her own mistakes. No matter how much she looks like me, we are two separate people. We may wear the same shoes, but I can’t walk in her footsteps. I need to look at her and see who she is now: not my little girl or my semi-twin, and not a younger version of myself. She is my all-grown-up daughter, and I need to see that.
I need to look at myself and realize that my own journey is far from over. Sure, my teens and young adulthood has passed, but there is an exciting new chapter awaiting me. And I choose to happily embrace my older, wiser, more confident self.
After all, I will never be any younger than I am today.