Parenthood: power of genes & ignorance
FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — JULY 3, 2013 —
I was talking to a friend the other day about how he wished he had been a better parent.
“What are you talking about?” I asked him in disbelief. “You are one of the best parents I know.”
“But my kids have had more than their fair share of problems as they have gotten older,” explained my friend, “and I just feel like I should have done a better job of preparing them for life. Sometimes it seems like their personalities have gotten them into all kinds of trouble that could have been easily avoided if they just weren’t who they are, if you know what I mean. And maybe if I had been a little more forceful when they were young about dealing with some of their less than attractive personality traits – you know, like stubbornness, or being too judgmental, or failing to see the humor in things – they wouldn’t have had to learn so many lessons the hard way.”
“You know,” I said, “I think most of us parents think we have a whole lot more to do with how our children turn out than we actually do, especially when it comes to their personalities.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think back to when your kids were really young,” I said. “Now if they were like mine, then they were already pretty much who they were going to be at a very early age. For instance, one of my kids never went to sleep at the proper time when he was a baby, and he still stays up half the night; another was very quiet and shy, and still is; another loved to eat and still drools over a really good meal, while one had to be almost force-fed when he was young and still plays around with his food instead of eating it. And when it comes to their personalities, it seems to me like they were all pretty much set in stone at a very early age. The ones that were better at sharing, or being sweet and loveable, or even at cleaning up their rooms, still are, while the ones who drove me nuts still do.”
“Why do you think that is?” asked my friend with interest.
“Well, I think parents really underestimate the power of the genes that are handed down to our kids, and I’m not just talking about the ones we give them. For instance, my oldest son reminds me much more of my father than he does of me, both in his personality and the way he looks. And my youngest son is a lot like my father-in-law, so I think the genes our kids get often skip generations, sometimes maybe even many generations, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if some of my kids’ personality traits go all the way back to some guy named Fisher on the Mayflower.”
“But even if genes do play a major role in who our kids turn out to be, you must have had a few basic principles that you used as guideposts when you were raising your kids?”
“Oh sure, I had lots of those.”
“Like what for instance?”
“Well, if I remember right, parental ignorance was pretty high up on that list. Believe me, if I had known about all the stuff my kids were up to when they were young, I would have probably had a stroke. Mercifully, most of them were pretty good at keeping me in the dark, and like they say, ignorance really is bliss. Plus if the truth be known, my kids more or less raised me and made me into the grown up you see today, not the other way around.”
“So, you had a pretty much `hands off policy’ when it came to parenting?”
“Well, my kids probably wouldn’t say that, since they swear I was always on their case, but when they were young, I barely had the time to keep up with every aspect of my life, much less my children’s. Plus kids really need their own space, and parents are always forgetting that. So I really have come to believe that we adults need to sit back and take parenting a lot less seriously than we do. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t create the most loving, safe and kid-friendly environment possible for our children, but at the same time, we can’t be putting all of our eggs into our kids’ baskets.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that we all only get one life to live and we need to be out there doing it, not living our lives through our children, or putting all of our self-worth into how they turn out. The reality is that in addition to enriching our lives, our children will break our hearts now and then, and we need to understand that’s just part of the agreement you’re signing onto when you decide to be a parent. Plus what most kids end up doing anyway is forgiving us for our parenting mistakes once they have kids of their own and realize just what a hard and often thankless job it is. So if I were you, I wouldn’t be spending too much time thinking you should have been a better parent. I mean, it’s already bad enough that all of us parents get to worry about our kids pretty much non-stop until the day we die!”
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