My son looks exactly like my husband, with nary a hint of me to be seen. But his personality, his mannerisms, and his way of thinking are very much like me. It’s delightful and exciting to see and hear aspects of myself in him.
Except when it’s not.
There are parts of me that I’m very happy to see in him: my curiosity, my compassion, my sense of humor. But there are other parts of me that made my life very difficult as a child (and some which continue to make my life difficult as an adult). I was afraid of trying new things; I was uncertain of how to approach an unfamiliar situation; I was easily frustrated; I took any kind of criticism as a personal attack; I didn’t like to ask for help. In short, I was a self-conscious and sensitive child. And my son is very much the same way. Already, I see him going through many of the same struggles that I did – and that I still do.
Sometimes, as a parent, it makes it easier when you can identify with the difficulties your child is going through. When I see him hesitate to join his gymnastics class because there’s a substitute teacher, I remind him that he’ll be doing the same activities and playing on the same equipment and with the same kids as he always does. I understand that the core of his hesitation is that he won’t know what to do if things are different, so I reassure him that nearly everything will be exactly the same as what he’s used to. But there are other times when he’s dealing with a problem that I haven’t mastered yet. How do I teach my child how to have thicker skin and shrug off a criticism or an unkind remark when I haven’t even figured out how to do it?
In some ways, I feel guilty that I’ve passed on my own insecurities to my child. Why couldn’t he have inherited some of the “better” parts of me, like my unusual eye color or my ability to identify obscure actors or my gift for writing funny poems? Why did he have to inherit issues that I don’t know how to deal with? What kind of parent can’t figure out their own problems by the time they’re in their 40s? I’m sorry that the part of him that came from me included struggles and shortcomings. And I'm sorry that I can't do much to help him with those struggles.
But then I realize that MY parents apparently hadn’t figured them out, either. Much like my son is a younger version of me in terms of personality, I am a younger version of MY mother. She had many of the same shortcomings that I do: fear of unknown situations, an (often unfounded) lack of confidence, and a sensitive soul. Which means that not only had my own parents not been able to figure out how to erase those traits from my personality, but my grandparents had not been able to erase them from my mother’s personality, either. So I’m grateful to know that past generations of wise and experienced parents couldn’t figure out how to “fix” their kids. Maybe I’m not such a bad parent, after all, if I’m having the exact same measure of success as they did.
But I'm also grateful that even those parts of his personality that cause him to struggle have positive aspects. Because of his sensitive soul, he is sensitive to the pain of others, and compassionate when he sees others struggling. Because of his nervousness with unfamiliar situations, he is careful to think through and evaluate anything new, rather than merely accepting it without question. Because he is self-conscious about his own shortcomings, he does not call attention to the shortcomings of others.
I’m sorry. And I’m grateful. And I hope that someday,
when my son has a sensitive child of
his own, he’ll look at himself, and he’ll look at me, and he’ll also realize
that even if he can’t “fix” it, he’s still a pretty good parent. And I hope that he
is sorry and grateful, too.