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The Worst In Us

A long time ago, even before I thought about having children, my friend Nancy had two young children. We were work out buddies and we would discuss and work through our lives problems on the treadmill.

One morning, she says, "When you have kids, you just assume that that they'll inherit all the good things from both of you, but the truth is, they inherit all the things you can't stand about yourself and your husband. They really get the worst of the worst".

Whoa, I thought, that is pretty deep. "Really? How could that be?", I thought. She went on to explain qualities that her two kids inherited, be it nature or nurture from her husband that drove her crazy long before they were displayed in triplicate. 

Years later, with five kids of my own, dealing with five unique personalities, it becomes clear what Nancy was saying. If we see a behavior in our kids that we don't like, maybe we need to think about where it came from. Maybe we subconsciously modeled that characteristic or behavior and we never had to acknowledge it until we had to face it mirroring back at us.

As parents, all of us are ready to step up and be proud when our children inherit abilities we are proud of. My #2, Aspy, is a science wiz like his dad; he has that natural math/science ability that I don't take credit for. #1 has perfect pitch  and can memorize any song. Last summer, the camp counselor told me a story about #1: she was teaching the kids a song, but she had to change the key because it was too high for most of the kids. He got mad and refused to sing it in the altered key.  He got both things: stubbornness and perfect pitch from me. I watch the way the twins talk with their hands, move around and modulate their voices to connect with their audience and I know that comes from me. (albeit, they are MUCH cuter). #3 is the gossip. He tells us all the things going on at school and with his classmates. "Mike's dad moved out and is looking for a new apartment." Oh, really?, but that is my grandmother channeling through him. And then there are things we both take credit for like bad dancing. At least they are Bar Mitzvah ready.

However, when they develop habits that aren't that praise-worthy, we spend more time trying to modify the behavior than figuring out the origin. One of requirements of ADHD is the need for organization. It is helpful when things are put in the same place, which makes it easier to find. As a family we try to have that organization in place, however, when the system fails and they cannot find their stuff, a meltdown is imminent. I know this better than anyone because I have ADHD. Before I learned that I functioned a lot better when everything had a place, I melted all the time. For a three year old, it can be cute, for a 20 year old, not so much. So when I see my kids melting because they can't find their stuff, I know my genetic influence is rearing it's ugly head. (We also know that ADHD often piggy-backs with Autism.)

Children model behavior. I have learned through years of modeling language for two of my children who were language delayed, that you have to be teach them language as building blocks. You have to give them the tools to use language because it does not come naturally to them.  When you are focused on communicating the message, there is no room for much of the judgement that is conveyed subtly through language. So, if you are saying "hurry up" but your tone sends the message, "hurry up you slow, fat sack of shit", that is how they will learn it and say it.  The words we choose to use responding to situations is how we teach our kids the way to react to things. If you are using those bad words in front of your kids, be prepared to hear it come back to you. We teach the foundations of human interaction every second we're in our child's presence. If we're in our car screaming at other drivers, they are listening to every word. If we are trash talking people on the phone, they are listening. If we hold doors for others, help those in need and offer kind words to people, they are watching and listening. We have to grab a hold of our subconscious reaction to situations and rethink our strategy if we do not want to see that behavior come back to us one day. To sum it up, we have to be the model of the person we want our kids to grow into. They don't become amazing adults without having amazing models. (And you didn't think parenting was hard enough already).

We all have heard the phrase, "Nature vs Nurture", but for many of us, we think the "Nature" part is tangible biology: eye color, skin, diseases, hair and height. But there are so many characteristics that fall into the grey area between the Nature & Nurture since scientists are still trying to figure out the genetic link to qualities such as personalities, predispositions,  intelligence, outlook on life,  approach to problem solving, interpersonal relationships, self-confidence, compassion and empathy. The nurture pat is everything that can be learned. Yes, there are so many ways to mess up our kids without even trying. The goal is to do more good than bad and try to tow the "good parent" line.  Most parents carry around a mental journal of all the things they endured, good and bad, from their own childhoods that they want to either teach their kids or end with them.  We all know that  we exemplify our parent's shortcomings in one way or another.  Our goal for our children is to do better than our parents did.

I know now, Nancy used a lot of our treadmill time as a pathway for introspection. She would talk about the discoveries she made about her kids behavior and then revealed how she and her husband consciously and subconsciously contributed to them. As my kids grow, I am glad I can take the lessons I learned from her and make my own journey into the land of introspection to learn how I can do better. How I can be a better model in not only my conscious behavior, but to be self aware enough to modify the other stuff, so maybe, just maybe, they can be the best of mediocre.  If that fails, I'll just blame my husband as I do for everything else.


  1. Great insight. Nice to know I am not alone in seeing the worst of myself (and sometimes, my husband) in my daughter. My son? Maybe I'm blind in the way only a mother can be to her son, but it often seems like he got the best of both of us. Except for my horrible sense of direction. We were in a new building the other day, and we needed to head back to the play area from the rest room. (For the third time.) Alex and I immediately turned left, and Ashley pointed us in the other (correct!) direction.


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