Thursday, February 2, 2012

Whatever I Bring to the Table vs. Whatever Terrible Things They Learn From Me

What makes us who we are?

In psychology we learn that individual human behavior is governed by a perfect cocktail of genes and environmental influences.  No one really knows the percentage of either authority; for instance, we are not precisely 25% genes-governed and 75% environment-governed, or 66% and 34%, or 5% and 95%.  For years, schools of thought have bickered over the weightier influence, and thousands of scientific studies have been conducted to find the exact proportion of “me” that is formed from how we are constructed versus the kind of house we were raised in.

It’s why I love psychology; it’s one of those things that you can study for years and years and never have any pressure to come up with a definitive answer; no one can prove why anything is, and you can ruminate on it as long as you want, and nobody cares.

It’s a community of navel-gazers.  My kind of people.

As a parent I have followed my children’s behavior for the whole of each of their lives.  Because it’s who I am, I see each and every difficult characteristic in my husband and myself reflected in them; my daughter is a people-pleaser; my son, stubborn.  I relive my tragic moments through them as they react to adversity in much the same way I did at their ages.

It’s enough to make a person want to turn in her Mom card and make a break for the nearest exit.

This parenting stuff is hard, and I am ill-equipped to deal with it on my own.

THANK GOD for girlfriends.  A fellow mom who is honest and not trying to impress you with stories about the brilliance of each event in her kids’ lives, a person who is real and shares with you how she had to have a talk with her son about the booger jar that she found in his room.  After she caught her daughter eating from it.  These are friends with whom I want to share parenting stories, and it helps.  A lot.

My kids are going through some hard times.  Kid-sized hard times, but hard times nonetheless.  They are stressed out, maxed out, strung out, and worn out.  They are not involved in ten different activities.  There are no major changes going on at home.  They are just feeling the pressures of growing older and not quite knowing how to handle things.

And I’m not quite sure how to handle things.

Which brings me to this talk about what makes us who we are.  I don’t remember having “growing pains” quite so acutely when I was younger; my parents don’t recall any definitive moments in my life where they can pinpoint when changes started happening.  Perhaps, like me, they moved through the difficult portions of my childhood with one of the many glazed expressions that I feel myself wearing on a daily basis and have forgotten the pain of parenting young-almost-old children.  Or maybe not.

Did I inherit their behavior genes, or did our family life contribute to how I turned out?  Were either of my parents the emotional nerve-endings I was when they were younger?  Did my children obtain these traits from me?  What made us this way, and for the love of everything holy and right, is there anything I can do to make life less strenuous for my kids, those pieces of my heart that I wear outside my body, those small people who when they cry and laugh cause me to want to simultaneously rejoice and rock in the corner?

There is no answer.  I know this, and so do all those psychology studies.

My kids are who they are, and I am who I am.  Who knows what wacky concoction of internal-external factors contributes to it.  Life’s messy and crazy and difficult, even for kids.  My only hope, my prayer, is that someday on this earth, my children will get through it with some success and little scarring.

Scarring that they got from me, of course.



  1. There are days after days when I swear, Katie acts just like her dad. But then she'll do something "weird" and I'll turn to Jon and be all, "Where'd she get that?" and he'll just look at me with his are you kidding face and say, "That's totally you!"

    1. Ha ha ha - It's so true! Looking at my kids is like looking into the mirror most days.

      I cannot emphasize enough the relief I feel when I hear similar experiences from other parents. I'm not kidding when I say that I see my every difficult characteristic in each of my children. It's maddening how the things that I tried to steer them away from are rooted so deeply in their psyches.