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Will You Be a Good Mother?

What do you think of the job your mom did raising you?

"The person who played the biggest part in defining 'mother' for each of us is our own mother," says psychotherapist Phyllis Ziman Tobin, Ph.D., author of Motherhood Optional: A Psychological Journey. So it's worth asking yourself: Do I want to be like her? Do I feel I ought to be like her? Did she like being a mother? Or was she ambivalent about it?

On one level, I aspired to be just like my mom. She raised five kids to happy, reasonable adulthoods. Yet much of her everyday life seemed like a drag -- all that cooking and cleaning and self-sacrificing. Her main escapes were hunching over her sewing machine or knitting, hobbies I hate. She was often cranky.

Once I started having babies, though, I discovered that sharing my mom's core values and love of family didn't doom me to living her life. I don't have to quit work or make all my kids' clothes to be a good mother just because she did.

It's logical to expect your mom's style of mothering to be a predictor of yours, but it's not practical. Whether she was loving or abusive, giving or withholding, what's important is that you understand what made her that way, says Tobin, and know that you can choose to be the same or different -- or a little of both.

Such objectivity doesn't always come easily. "But only by being as realistic about your mother as possible -- being honest about her good points and bad points, trying to understand her motives as well as her actions -- can you distinguish the ways you're like her and the ways you're not," says Tobin.

Women who admire their mothers and hope to emulate them have a handy playbook to follow. "My mom was my entire world," says Jess, a pregnant medical transcriptionist whose parents divorced when she was 2. "She was big on respect and morals but also let me be my own person. I plan to do a lot of things the same way."

On the other hand, Sandy, a pregnant teacher, intends to be more supportive and less authoritarian than her distant, critical parents. "I think it's dangerous to always be your child's buddy, but I'm going to enjoy my kid more than my mother did."