(aka “How did they get to be so much like me?”)
Greetings! Sorry that I was off the grid for a few days. I just returned from Nuremburg and Munich, exploring the German Christmas markets with Rebecca and the kids. While my wife and I tried to keep our 4 eyes on 3 rapidly moving gas particles in a crowded market, I reflected on a few anecdotes regarding the things that make my kids so unique and “delightful” – as well as some thoughts about the ways my wife and I foster those good (and bad!) characteristics in each of them, often unintentionally. I hope you don’t mind if I share them with you. There’s a funny video clip at the end if you want to skip ahead!
The first anecdote took place in Venice about three months ago. While on the island of Murano, Rebecca and I were wandering past stores full of elegant blown glass while the children scurried around planters in the middle of a wide brick path. A middle aged man, with companions that appeared to be his wife and adult children, stopped at a store and gazed inside. Then, he raised his hand to call the attention of his family members as they continued walking. Since they didn’t notice him, he walked several yards further and made the same silent gesture. Finally, he moved across the walkway and 20 yards toward them and tapped one of them on the shoulder; then the whole family quietly turned and headed towards the store. I remember thinking to myself, “that’s funny, any of us would have just yelled across the walkway – or at least thrown something at them!”
The second anecdote took place about two months ago when we were vacationing in Cinque Terre (our family blog of the trip). Our friends, the Garbers (their blog) – a bit more measured in their decorum – were joining our exuberant family for an off-season visit to the small coastal towns of northern Italy. We are explorers by nature and spent most of our days wandering the narrow streets and terraced vineyards, figuring out what was around the next bend, and then the next. During a pause in a hillside piazza, I became suddenly aware of the piercing, nasally voice of my 3-year-old rising above the quiet hum of the town and distant crashing waves with what seemed to be an endless series of cogent observations and requests – “watch me jump on one foot!” “why can’t I go in there?” and various screams of delight while he and his siblings alternately tortured and were tortured by each other. For some reason, in a town full of people, we were the loudest ones.
The third anecdote took place about a month ago while I was in Chicago, meeting my family. I was waiting in front of the ER at Rush University Hospital, enjoying second hand smoke (this seems to be universal at all ERs), walking in a large oval around the parking lot to keep warm, when above the whirr of the subway and traffic I heard a strident voice: “Where are we supposed to meet Josh? I don’t see him!” I recognized the voice of my mom from around some distant corner of the hospital, from which, of course, she wasn’t supposed to be able to see me yet – however, she still felt like such a loud observation was warranted. As she rounded the hospital, I greeted her and reflected, “Now I see where Caleb gets it!”
I have an admission: the 5 minute behavior and development commentary that I give while I am examining your kid is a canned speech. While I modify it from one patient to the next, it usually is going to contain a lot of the same basic concepts. The anecdotes above are particularly relevant to my 12-month talk. My guidance then usually includes something like this (abbreviated): the transition to being a 1 year old can be a confusing time for a child. Your child goes from being praised for exceeding his prior limits (yay, you ate solid foods; yay, you walked; yay, you talked) to being instructed to stay within limits (you can eat, but not only candy; you can walk, but not across the street; you can talk, but not yell). In incorporating these concepts of limits and right behavior, they don’t learn well didactically (i.e. telling them, “don’t walk in the street, don’t yell, don’t do this, don’t do that”) – they learn by being shown. That means if you want your child to be kind, polite, honest and trustworthy, you must show them those behaviors in your interactions with them, your significant other and others you encounter. In short, you need to be the person that you want your child to be.
Wait, I really do that?
If I’m right, as your children grow, you will begin to see yourself in your children. Over the past 5 years, my kids have shown me the kind of person I am – for better or for worse. Apparently my wife and I are loud – we have no qualms about yelling across the street if there is something exciting on our side and you are on the other. We are passionate and excited about exploring and starting (but not necessarily finishing) projects. We’re a little bit reckless (me more than her – see video at the bottom). We think that everyone else wants to hear our thoughts (which explains why we both have blogs) more than they want to actually finish their own sentences.
In this way, from my mom, to me, to my kids, perhaps personalities are perpetuated through generations, and over many generations to infuse entire cultures. There are many cultural stereotypes, at least some of them likely to be based on true trends that exist within gene pools and ethnic groups. Perhaps there is a reason why one culture seems to be loud, another quiet, one passionate, another cautious. When I lived in Japan, I remember being struck that the Japanese children were so soft-spoken and polite! Perhaps the Japanese children really were more quiet – and they will perpetuate that tradition to their children and grandchildren. Or perhaps my less than statistical sampling was simply an anomaly.
I know that my kids’ personalities are more than just a mirror of my own and my wife’s; I know that they won’t necessarily share all of my strengths any more than they will share all of my shortcomings. There are so many other factors that make kids unique. As I frequently tell parents, at some level, it comes down to genetics. Is the reserved child of our more “mature” friends with whom we visited Cinque Terre quiet because of her parents’ example, or because of her parents’ genes? How will our kids be affected by school, church, friends, activities and experiences? I admit, I don’t know those answers. However, I do believe one thing – the way we live matters. We must make sure that our kids are vividly cognizant of the things that are important to us – not because we say them, but because we do them consistently.
The pressure’s on – but in a good way!
If we say we love our kids, we need to show them. Saying it isn’t enough. Our interactions with them should be overwhelmingly positive (my rule of thumb: 4 positive interactions for every negative). This needs to start on the first day of life. From that day on, nearly all of your child’s behaviors are learned from one source – you! They are incorporating your social codes about patience and how to respond to frustration – even as they are learning to return a smile at 1-2 months of life. Like it or not, our kids are going to look a lot like us – and from my vantage point right now, I think I’m looking pretty great (after reading this, my wife commented that she thinks I need a bit of work)!