When our kids reflect our best traits, like my mother would say, we “kvell.” “Kvell” is Yiddish for “beam with pride.” When our kids reflect our worst traits, we say, “You take after your mother (or father)!” It’s hard to see our worst traits coming straight back at us. As my boys have matured into their later teens and one is about to turn twenty, I am seeing some of both – the good and the bad – from me.
I can’t blame my wife because she is their step-mom. Darn.
A recent trip with one of my son’s brought this to bear in almost painful ways and consequences. I’m a first-class pouter and I’m about as stubborn as can be. When two equal forces with these tendencies face off, the results ain’t pretty. I’m happy to say that I also don’t carry my grudges long nor does my son, so we got past it pretty quick. But, the time between wasn’t pretty.
One of the manifestations of my son’s anger was in the form of name-calling and simply calling me out on things that were both none of his business and, to one degree or another, completely true. I don’t like hearing such truths period, let alone from one of my offspring. This time, rather than be defensive, I owned some of what was expressed though the reason for their expression was born from simply wanting to hurt me. Like I haven’t done that before?
This reflection of my own bad self was sobering, to say the least. Maybe it will engender further reflection and perhaps even some change. I hope so but I tend to doubt it. I’ll forget it all and likely fall back to the know-it-all guy that I can often display. Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two. I can dream.
One of my worse traits is over-dramatization of whatever I’m particularly consumed with at the moment. This comes out with both the good and the bad things going on in my life. If I’m into something new and fun, I’m like the kid at Disneyland running to get to the next ride and shouting for everyone to hurry up. On the other hand, when I’m bummed out, I will dwell on and beat “it” to death. I’ll repeat my points to the point of incessant chatter and annoyance to those around me.
And, this is me on a good day!
All this came back to me – shoved in my face – with the recent high drama encounter that my son and I had. It’s not easy looking in the mirror and part of our job as parent is to allow our children to discover themselves, learn their own mistakes, and perhaps – gulp – make their own decisions. Protecting them forever is a hallmark of the current generation of parents and while I’ve decried this pervasive occurrence, I wasn’t looking inside at my own culpability in this regard until now.
My wife, however, will regularly point these things out to me. She is much more objective than I am and often is hitting the nail on the head. I’m just as often scoffing at her declarations in the same stubborn mode of mine alluded to earlier in this column.
I’m returning from this experience, slightly cowed, with my tail between my legs. My wife will simply give me that “I told you so” look and I’ll wilt under its truthful gaze.
Admitting that our kids reflect our bad tendencies isn’t easy but the sooner I/we get this, the sooner we may be able to help them see it. Or, at the very least, do our best to mirror the proper behavior and maybe they’ll begin to adopt the better choice over time if we display it more often.
I’m sure as hell going to try. If the only good thing about getting older is getting wiser – a common expression of mine – then I might as well get started now. The irony is that I have everything to gain and little to lose by reaching for some positive changes in my character and behavior.
Why is it so hard for us to change? Yep, that’s the eternal question. That’s why there are so many self-help books on the shelves. That’s why most diets fail and that’s why there’s so much falling off the wagon with alcohol and substance abuse. Change is hard.
But, everything good in life usually requires a lot of effort. My career was never easy, but the pay-off was and is worth the work involved. Maybe the same thing can happen with my stubbornness and other character deficiencies, especially if I work on the lengthy list of them that my wife could rattle off in her sleep…
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