Are all moms narcissistic, or is it just me? Do we all wish, or hope, or at least think we might see just a bit of ourselves in our children? Once I found out that my first child was a girl, I immediately envisioned a MiniMel running around. Long dark hair, wearing a little Vineyard Vines dress and grasping a Coach wristlet (in my fantasies I also had unlimited shopping funds).
When E was born, I was shocked that I couldn’t see myself in her. At all. I thought for sure she’d have my hair, or my eyes, or something. There were certain faces she’d make where I’d get a fleeting glimpse of myself. But otherwise, she looks utterly and completely like my husband. Please note here: I am not implying that is a bad thing, and I think my kids are totally adorable.
She did end up with my eye color, and I think her frame may ultimately be like mine. But she still has this undefinable light brown/blondish hair that is wavy, but not curly, completely uncontrollable and not yet grown longer than her ears. Her personality as a baby was clearly my husband’s. Sweet and calm, she was the picture of a perfect baby. Slept through the night at three months old, barely cried, and was the driving factor of us deciding to have #2 right away.
Baby B was different. In an early ultrasound, I swore she did look a little like me. When she was born, many people commented that she looked me or mom. I thought she looked a lot like my Grammy Hazel. When she was two on Halloween, she had a Snow White wig and was a dead ringer for Hazel. Today? No longer looks like any member of my family. Her personality? Definitely me. Tempestuous, emotional, fiery. Dramatic. I was particularly amazed when she came home from school with a note saying that she cried after hearing Puff the Magic Dragon because she “felt sad for dragon.” I still break down when I hear the part where little Jackie Paper came no more!
What I’ve learned is that the fun part is not just whether your children look like you; it’s finding out all the secret ways that their personalities mirror your own, good or bad.
I was a psychology major, and believe that both nature and nuture play a role in developing your personality. Yes, your upbringing and environment can guide you in one way or another. But I believe that part of your personality is genetic, or defined by your own unique chemistry. And I believe that the core of who you really are as a person is with you throughout your life. You can modify your behavior, but you can’t change who you really are.
Which is why E’s recent behavior at school is so interesting to me. Nearly every day, she’s come home with a report that she wasn’t sharing toys. Or she was refusing to play with a particular friend. The worst was that at times she was saying really mean things to people (such as: you can’t come to school here, because no one likes you). I have been shocked, embarrassed, and frustrated about her behavior. I have tried to talk to her about it and she tells me that she’s trying and it’s hard. She does not understand why her preferences and thoughts don’t matter and the other kids can just impose on her. I swear I could hear one of my parents’ voice in my head saying, Life’s not fair, kid. Get over it. We talked about how you need to be nice to people or else no one will want to be your friend. The thing is, I think she really prefers to be alone and therefore may not care.
One day her teacher told me that she wouldn’t let a friend share a puzzle with her and another friend. When E heard this, she explained, “Mom. There were only five pieces of the puzzle, and I was already playing with a friend. There weren’t enough pieces for three of us to play.”
Huh. That actually made sense.
I exchanged looks with her teacher, sighed and said, “Well, you still need to share the toys with the other kids. Maybe you could’ve told the friend you would take turns.” The teacher smiled, so I know I said what I was supposed to say.
The problem is, I get it. I love my family and friends, but I crave solitude much of the time. Anyone who has ever had to live with me knows this. I can understand not wanting to share all the time, or having to deal with other people when you just want some peace and quiet. But I also know that that’s not how the world works. I had some of the best roommates in the world in college, but it never made sense to me that I was “required” to share a 12×12 cell with someone during a particularly difficult transition in my life. Sharing didn’t make a lot of sense either. In fact, for the first few years my husband and I were living together before we married, we didn’t even share groceries!
And this aspect of my personality came all the more clear when I was making Valentines as part of volunteer project at work. The project guidelines had said to BYO supplies, so I had carefully shopped for the very cutest things, including these adorable foam stickers of bees (“Bee my Valentine”) and colorful sparkly hearts. Some woman came over from across the room and said, “oh, I’d love to use some of these” as she stuck her hand in the box. I stopped for a minute, but quickly smiled and said “go ahead.”
I try really hard not to expose the kids to the less positive aspects of my personality, but I do wonder if there’s something in our genetics. And it’s just really hard to act like someone you aren’t. But I’m trying.
Let’s hope that E takes more after my husband in the end!