125. Nature, Nurture, Etc.

There’s a saying that the acorn never falls far from the tree. It’s a statement about people’s tendency to resemble their parents. But sometimes the acorn does fall far. Sometimes an apple seems to fall from an oak tree, or an acorn and an apple. Sometimes a tree can be a veritable horn of plenty. Enough with this possibly obscure metaphor. Your child or children may not resemble you or each other as much as you expected, hoped, feared.
Maybe the successes or troubles you’ve had were not genetically or osmotically transmitted to your offspring. I think we make trouble for ourselves when we look for signs of ourselves in our children. The statement, “He’s just like you” or “She’s just like me” are not very useful statements, and can cause problems.
One of the reasons we have children – for some people, a major reason – is to achieve immortality. It’s not our fault; nature probably intended to have us longing for immortality and reaching for it through reproduction. Like all the other species, we’re supposed to survive, and the chance to be immortal is a very effective motivation for getting our species to survive.
But to some degree, I think it’s a trick nature’s playing on us. Our children may end up liking things we don’t like at all, choosing careers that have nothing to do with our own, and so on. While we nostalgically listen to Frank Sinatra or the Beatles, they may listen to disco or punk rock. In our culture, every generation has its own style. To those in the preceding generation, it may sometimes seem as if there was a mistake in the hospital nursery.
Teachers often end up with younger siblings of children they’ve taught, and wonder how these children could possibly be related to each other. And they invariably end up with the children of some kind of parents. Teachers think, this couldn’t possibly be Craig’s brother, Ellen’s sister, Marie’s and Stephen’s daughter. This reaction is based on the expectation that children will resemble their parents.
To some degree, they may carry on some traits. Once, at a parent conference, I described a disturbing tendency I saw in a child. I said, “Elijah doesn’t seem to be able to express complete thoughts. He often answers complicated questions with one-word answers. Do you see this problem at all at home?”
Elijah’s father answered, “No.” A one-word answer.
But it wouldn’t have been out of the question for the father to have answered, “I’m very aware of Elijah’s reticence to express himself verbally. I’d really appreciate any insights you have about this problem.” Because Elijah, notwithstanding genetics and the effects of the family environment, is not his father.

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