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by Abigail Van Buren

Emotional Restraint Is Passed Down In No-Nonsense Upbringing

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 41-year-old mother of three. I was raised in a good household, but we didn't have a lot of love. My folks were strict, straight to the point and good providers, but I don't remember many hugs and kisses, or moments of real expressions of emotion or intimacy between them.

Now I realize I am the same way with my kids. I'm very matter of fact, strict and too serious. I love my children more than life itself. But how do I become more loving? I don't know how to play or be silly. My hubby tells me it bothers him sometimes when he's trying to tell me how much he loves me and I make a joke or say something acerbic.

The problem is, my daughter is 9 and she is turning into me and my mother. She's not frivolous, like a little girl should be. She's serious, studious and almost cold in her assessment of everyone around her. It worries me. How do I combat this? How do I change myself so I can help change her, before it's too late? -- BAD ROLE MODEL IN MISSOURI

DEAR BAD ROLE MODEL: You have already taken the first step by recognizing the pattern that is being repeated. Another step in the right direction would be to discuss your discomfort with expressing emotion with a licensed therapist, because it has affected not only your daughter but also your relationship with your husband. While a therapist may not be able to help you "be silly," a good one can offer suggestions on how to become more playful and communicate your feelings more openly.

However, I would caution you about one thing you said in your letter. Not all 9-year-olds are "frivolous." Many of them are serious and studious and that's a plus. If she "judges" contemporaries to the point of being sarcastic or cruel, she should be corrected before she's perceived as a bully or turns herself into an outcast. I have always abided by the philosophy that if you think something nice about someone else, you should share it. You might suggest that to her.

Read more in: Family & Parenting | Mental Health