Kids Aren't Mirror Images of Parents

Hey Parent: Are you an overachiever? Type A? A perfectionist? Or maybe you are a devout person of faith, committed to your religious beliefs and practicing at the highest level of commitment every day. Maybe you are a sports fanatic, or a ballerina, or a cross fit competitor, and after years of sifting through the options in your life, you have discovered the most fulfilling, most absolutely perfect life to lead. That’s wonderful, congratulations! Knowing with certainty who you are and what you want out of life can leave you wanting exactly those things for your children. If you’re the type of parent who has successfully figured it out in life, and you managed to build a life you find to be amazing, you may risk expecting your child to follow in your footsteps. After all, you found the answers. Why does he need to keep searching?

It may be tempting to imagine your child growing up as a little miniature version of you or your spouse, sharing all your preferences and beliefs, especially if your life is terrific, but your kids will not turn out just like you. Kids don’t turn out as replicas of their parents.


Genetic recombination at work.

For one, genetics dictate that all those dominant and recessive traits of each of two parents combine in distinctive ways, making every child a unique snowflake.Look at even very large families and you’ll see that no two are just alike. Physical appearance, personality, vocation, all of these vary widely within families. The number of genetic possibilities is endless, and yet none of them will be perfectly like one of the two parents. But even if your child were your exact genetic copy, your child would not turn out to be exactly like you, or anyone.


Environment accounts for surprisingly more than half.

Environmental differences go a long way toward shaping preferences, beliefs, and personalities. Maybe being a ballerina isn’t as exciting when someone in the family has already taken that role. It might seem more fun to take on an unknown challenge, or to avoid competing with an expert adult family member as a novice child.

Family roles can contribute to preference, identity, and personality. The child of two scientists might prefer to study creative writing. The child of an educator might drop out of college. Sometimes there is no room to be just like you; you have already filled up that space!


Enjoy discovering new traits and interests in your kids.

Each child will be his or her own person, with a startlingly new blend of familiar and unfamiliar qualities. Get to know your child’s personality. Watch her unfold. Be astonished by her loathing of physical exertion, coming from a family of athletes. Maybe she needed to explore the chance to be different and saw an opportunity.

And while it might sound fun to have your son watch football on Sunday, or compete against you in an auto racing game, he might prefer a game of tag or a book about Greek mythology. He might take no interest in your favorite activity, because he may be a very different type of person than you.


Just let go of the fantasy 

Over and over, throughout, parents must let go of the desire for our children to be just like us. Their physical appearance, temperament, interests, and yes, even their beliefs are ultimately their own. We go along for the journey, but don’t get to steer them toward the life we chose for them, at least not much.

It doesn’t matter when parents adjust this particular expectation, but earlier makes life easier. It’s truly never too late. Most teens and young adults will happily demonstrate time and again how different they are than their parents, until we parents finally get the message.

Posted on November 30, 2015 .