Turning Into Your Parents

Rebroadcast From January 22, 2013

The real parent trap. “I’m turning into my parents.”

Family photo (Flickr/Michael Hanscom)

Family photo (Flickr/Michael Hanscom)

We set out to be our own people. Our own men. Our own women. With our own ways and voices and views. And then there comes a moment – maybe quickly, maybe in middle age, maybe late – when we turn around and think “I have become my parents.”

My father. My mother. In a tone of voice, or a turn of phrase. A way of buttering toast. Or of seeing the world. Or of treating the world. We may welcome it. We may abhor it. It’s hard to dodge it.

This hour, On Point: becoming our parents.

— Tom Ashbrook


James Wood, literary critic, essayist and novelist. Staff writer at the New Yorker magazine, where his new essay is “Becoming Them: Our Parents, Our Selves.” Professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University.

Vanessa Jackson, licensed clinical social worker.

From Tom’s Reading List

Psychology Today — “Once it was a girl’s dream to be just like her mom. Now it’s more like every woman’s nightmare. Yet it happens to us all. Like Eliza we hear our mother’s words leaving our own mouths, or we look in a mirror and catch a glimpse of a familiar expression – not our own – and, as we get older, we see surprising reflections of our mother stare back at us every time we wash our face or brush our teeth”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — “‘If you guys don’t turn off that television, I’m going to throw it out of the window,’ I told my children. With great flourish, I unplugged the cable wires and waved them around as if the TV-tossing was imminent. ‘This thing is turning your brain into vegetables!’ Right then, it hit me: I had turned into my parents. Throughout my childhood, I had heard them threaten all sorts of damage to the TV set.”

Daily Mail — “Maybe it’s because my wife is pregnant with our first child. Maybe it’s because a nursery has been built in what used to be the attic and I’ve started thinking about schools.  Or ­possibly it’s because in sympathy with my wife’s expansion over the past few months, I have swelled to 13st and taken to wearing V-neck jumpers over a shirt and tie. But whatever it is, the moment has finally come when I have started turning into my father.”


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