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When Your Daughter Looks Nothing Like You

"You look just like your mother."

I heard this sentence hundreds of times growing up. With our dark hair and eyes and olive skin, there was little doubt that I was my mother’s daughter. My mom also bore a similarly strong resemblance to her mother, who looked very much like her mother. Looking like our moms was, quite literally, stamped in our DNA.

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So when I found out that my second child was a girl, I envisioned a tiny version of myself, with big brown eyes and my skin tone. Maybe she’d even be, like I’d been, a shy, serious child with a poetic streak.

But when my midwife handed me my baby girl, still speckled with vernix, I was shocked.

It wasn’t just the surprise of having a human emerge from my vagina, which is significant. I was also stunned by her paper-pale skin, her swollen blue eyes, and the few tufts of red hair sprouting from her mostly smooth head.

She was beautiful. She was perfect. And she looked nothing like me.

As daughters, we inevitably come to a place where we need to understand that we are more than a carbon copy of our mothers.

In fact, if I hadn’t literally seen her come out of my own body, I might’ve thought there’d been a mix-up.

Four and a half years later, I’m still sometimes surprised by how different we look.

It might not seem like a big deal—after all, plenty of kids don’t look like their parents, whether they’re adopted or simply don’t take strongly after either parent. But the fact that I look like my mom has always been part of my identity. I just expected, whether or not it made any logical sense, that my daughter would follow suit, that she’d fit into the pattern, like the set of red Russian nesting dolls I had as a child.

Mother daughter dynamics are intense and often challenging. There are many ways in which I’m proud to be similar to my mom—my politics, my creativity, my 12-year-old boy sense of humor, my sailor’s mouth, the fact that I married a hazel-eyed, golf-loving middle child. But as daughters, we inevitably come to a place where we need to understand that we are more than a carbon copy of our mothers. And as mothers, we need to help our daughters differentiate themselves from us.

Perhaps the fact that my daughter looks so different from me gives us a head start.

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From the moment I found out I was pregnant with her—during a freak snowstorm on April Fool’s Day—my daughter has been brimming with surprises. From her creamy skin that requires large doses of sunscreen, to her happy-go-lucky personality and wild creativity, she is everything I didn’t know I wanted in a daughter. She is sweet and fierce, funny and warm. She grins often and loves hard.

She is uniquely, gorgeously, her own person, and the fact that she’s not a physical duplicate of me serves as a frequent visual reminder of that. Like so much of parenthood, my daughter is nothing I could’ve imagined—she’s far, far better.

Photograph by Amy Keating

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