How much of our character and personality is passed on to our kids through our genes and how much through observation?
I’m a worrywart. My oldest daughter is a worrywart. And she blames me. So here’s the question; did she learn this behaviour by living with me and, like measles, was it contagious, or was she simply born to worry?
Here’s an example: When my three kids were young adults, they spent Christmas Eve afternoon with their father. He lived 50 miles (80 km) away, in snow country. Did I hand over the car keys? Not a chance. The thought of all three kids travelling together in a car on Christmas Eve was tempting fate. So I drove them. Fifty miles north. Fifty miles south. And, after a two-hour hiatus, drove north again to collect them. Two hundred unnecessary miles.
Today a parent doing that is accused of hovering, or being a helicopter parent. Back then, my kids just thought I was neurotic. But for me, it had nothing to do with trusting them or cutting the apron ties. My worrying stemmed from my superstitious nature. Superstition reigns in the kingdom of my psyche. It doesn’t take much for me to be overcome with apprehension. I’m certain that if I weren’t on guard to appease the fates, there would be unpleasant consequences, so I pay my dues so fate will give me a break.
All three of my kids are in their 40s now, with families of their own – but I still panic when I hear a couple of them talking about going on a holiday together. All on the same plane? Are they nuts? So I go into overdrive trying to sabotage the plans even before they start to take shape.
They have been more patient with me than I have any right to expect. All three, wherever they are, take a minute at midnight on New Year’s Eve to phone and assure me that, yes, they’re on the alert for drunk drivers and, yes, they’re using taxis or have a designated driver. And, incidentally, happy new year!
Truth to tell, I suspect they’re a bit amused about having this mother who imagines unspeakable possibilities and has to bargain to buy off the fates.
Now, please understand that I recognize that this is not normal behaviour. I clearly need enlightenment so I can abandon superstition and embrace a relaxed acceptance that what will be, will be. I owe it to my eldest daughter, because I cringe every time I see her fighting the need to over-protect her boys. She has the same monkey on her back as me. So someone or something has to be accountable for this character flaw that I seem to have passed on to my daughter.
So, after careful deliberation, I have reached a conclusion. I’ve decided that it is not, after all, learned behaviour, but genetic. I point an accusing finger at our family’s dramatic, superstitious Irish blood. That nicely lets me off the hook so I can stop apologizing and convince myself and my daughter that we are all who we are and what we are. I prefer to think it’s predetermined, because that lets me off the hook.
Published in March 2011.