My daughter is a lot like her mother.
This frustrates the heck out of me.
For instance, no matter where we go, she forgets something. After I chastise her, I inevitably realize I forgot something too. (This is especially embarrassing when my husband is around.)
Many are the times I’ve had to turn the car around to retrieve my daughter’s shoes. Just yesterday, I tried to hide my own bare feet as I ran into the library to get a book being held for me.
Don’t ask either my daughter or me what we had for lunch. We both forgot upon swallowing the last mouthful, though you may be able to tell from the dirty plates we typically leave on the kitchen table.
Don’t talk to either of us when we are occupied with a task. We may respond. We may even be able to repeat a few words. But neither of us are effective multitaskers. You may as well be talking to the wall.
We are both night owls, and, though my daughter is thin and muscular like I was at her age, she has my tendency toward unhealthy foods and avoiding physical exercise. We are also both ambitious and artistic, though we tend not to finish the projects we start.
Our similarities do not stop me from insisting that my daughter get to sleep at a reasonable hour, eat healthy, clean up after herself, pay attention to what’s going on around her, finish what she starts, etc.
At 43 years of age, I often wish I had my own involuntary life coach forcing me to do what’s good for me. Whether or not she’d admit it, my daughter acknowledged the benefits at an early age when, the summer between third and fourth grade, she told me she thought I should “make (her) do one drawing a day.”
I explained to her that I shouldn’t have to make her do anything; the point was for her to do it, herself. Then, for the next few weeks, I proceeded to yell at her each day until she drew me something. Needless to say, this did not last half the summer, despite her pleasure with the drawings produced.
I still perform this exercise from time to time, particularly when the deadline for a local poster contest is nearing. She’s always happy with herself afterward, once the nagging has stopped and her poster is in the mail and especially if there are cash prizes.
When confronted (often) with the inescapable fact that I also suffer from the afflictions I nag her about, I remind my daughter that “My job as a parent is not to make you like me, it’s to make you better than me.”
I think she’s finally getting it. And I’m finally realizing what a daunting task this is.
Speaking to parents about their children, early-20th-century writer Kahlil Gibran advises: “seek not to make them like you.” But he doesn’t mention anything about the odds you are fighting against here.
By definition, human learning is based on imitation. My kids learn from me whether I want them to or not. Indeed, it appears they learn even better from me in the latter case.
Even when I specifically preface an action with the statement “Now don’t you ever do this,” my children’s brains absorb every move I make and process it in a way I can’t begin to imagine. So, no matter how many times I direct my children NOT to be like me, I cannot escape the fact that I am unconsciously and incessantly demonstrating to their formative CPU’s how to be exactly like me.
I am comforted by the knowledge that my children understand the need to empathize with and respect everyone’s frustrations, limitations and differences.
I am reassured by the knowledge that they are getting the quality education required to do this.
But, most of all, I am humbled by the acknowledgment, also expressed by Khalil Gibran, that my children are not my children. “They have their own thoughts” and “dwell in the house of tomorrow…which I cannot visit, not even in my dreams.”
They may, by default, learn to be like me. But they can choose to be different and, hopefully, better than I.
The most I can do is try to set a good example in all things, point out to them when that example is unintentionally in the negative (‘this is what you should NOT do’), and, as Kahlil Gibran surmised,“strive to be like them” when they exceed my limitations.
Melissa Rooney is a scientist, writer and mom in Durham. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org