“His eyes are the same brown as mine. When I look into his big brown eyes, it’s like looking into my own eyes…but not. They are my eyes, but not mine. They look so much like mine, but when I look into them, I see an entirely different world. I see a world that belongs to an innocent child . . . to the happiest person I have ever met, who finds joy in the entire world around him.” (Shannon Whitmore, mother)
Have you sometimes looked at one of your children or grandchildren or perhaps a niece or nephew and thought how similar the two of you are? Our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews share at least a part of our genetic heritage. Physical features and predispositions to certain health and mental health issues are frequently hereditary in origin. Gestures, talents, ways of approaching the world, temperament—we debate the extent to which they originate in our DNA or develop through early experience and parental modeling. And there are many aspects of becoming our unique selves that we will never understand. We can never know definitively how the interplay of genetics, environment and innate temperament lead to the individuals our children and grandchildren become.
Nonetheless, we often see ourselves in our younger family members. Depending on the traits we notice in them, we may feel pride or disappointment, envy or embarrassment. The young reflect parts of ourselves back to us, both our light and our dark qualities, even as they are becoming their own unique people with quirks and personalities that are both like and unlike us. There is nothing as beautiful or, at times, as exquisitely painful as seeing aspects of ourselves mirrored in a niece, a grandchild, a son or a daughter. Let’s think about which of our own character traits, interests and life attitudes we see reflected in our young.
- Which members of your intimate or extended family do you resonate with the most? Are there nieces, nephews, children or grandchildren in whom you see some of your own traits and talents?
- What personality traits, attitudes or behavior tendencies do you see in the young that remind you of the best of who you were as a younger person?
- Which younger relatives embody traits, attitudes, and behavior that represent some of the things you don’t like yourself?
- What are your emotional reactions to noticing those negative qualities in a child or grandchild? Do you feel compassion, understanding, judgment, harshness, regret, embarrassment, fear?
- How do those similarities and differences affect your relationship with them?
- Share something you have learned about yourself or ways you have chosen to change based on discovering aspects of yourself reflected in the younger generation.