Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Family Heirlooms and Unfortunate Inheritances

My mother has passed on to me an antique sapphire ring, pudgy knees, and a hair-trigger temper. The ring is lovely, the knees make me long for liposuction, and the temper is the thing I most dislike about myself. Since E was born, I've been particularly conscious of this unfortunate inheritance, and I've tried to be mindful of controlling my reactions. Lately, however, I've felt as if I'm fighting a losing battle, and worse, I am starting to see signs of that same temper developing in E.

J has been gone on business the past four days, and I sit now counting down the few remaining hours of his absence with a glass of wine in hand. The past few days have felt more like the emotional equivalent of hand to hand combat than parenting. There are a bunch of outside factors I could blame, but the truth is, E and I descend into this pattern because of me. Because of my temper. Because of the volatile reactions he is learning, courtesy of me.

We're working hard to teach E to give voice to his emotions, to help him identify feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and talk about how he feels. We encourage him to take time outs if he needs them to calm down, and to take deep breaths when he's feeling upset. We've been surprisingly successful with this approach, with just one factor undermining our progress: me.

I haven't been able to get on board with these techniques for myself, and I'm beginning to see that until I do, E will never be able to use these techniques to their full advantage. He's learned the temper from example; he won't learn to control it without an example. I have to be that example, and if I am not, I will have to live with the knowledge that 30 years from now, E might think that his temper is the thing about himself he most dislikes. We all have failings, but those failings should be things of our own making, not patterns imposed on us from the generations that have gone before.

The ring is a family heirloom, and I hope someday to pass it on to a daughter or a granddaughter. The temper is an unfortunate inheritance, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't make it to the next generation.

Do you have any "unfortunate inheritances"? What family patterns do you see being repeated in your children, and what strategies are you using to break those patterns?


  1. Procrastination. It's a trait I inherited from my dad. It's too early to know whether my daughter has it, but I hope not.

  2. I inherited a propensity for clutter, unfinished projects, a fairly advanced case of vain self-consciousness, and quick assumptions. And many saggy parts.
    So far, my son has shown no sign of any of these. He takes after his father: loves straightening up, fixing things, finishing things and moving on. (In the temper department, my mother did suspect for months that he had inherited my sister's volatility - but I think it was a fluke.)
    Thankfully, I inherited my father's strong belief in self-control, and I've been improving. I clean off my desk once a week; I do laundry daily; I bring home less and and I weed out the house every three months.

  3. My temper from my dad. My stubbornness from my mom. My procrastination from my dad. My need to win an argument from my dad. My fear of imposing on others from my mom. My constant worrying from my mom.

    If it weren't for my parents and these traits / flaws I've inherited from them, I would've been perfect. Hah!

  4. I always wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. I think I inherited a propensity toward anxiety from my mom, or did I get it from watching her and feeling her emotions? Not sure. I did inherit a pout, that's for sure. My father was not really in my life, so I always wonder what I got from which parent. It's hard to know. Don't be so hard on yourself. You're doing the best you can and at least you know you have a temper, so you'll be careful with it. (Though that's a lot easier said than done.) I haven't taken out much of my anger with kids, just my husband. It's a bit better that way, but not by much. Plus, your kid is young, right? They do it to us!

  5. My mom and I are both hardcore conflict-avoiders. We will take it and take it and take it so long as we don't have to confront anyone about it. I very much hope I can teach my kiddos to stand up for themselves. I know I should start by setting a good example but ...

    And I understand the temper and anger. Some days are just so darn hard. Hang in there!

  6. I really relate to this. I remember the first time I saw E's temper and the guilt and sadness that came with it. I couldn't BELIEVE how easily he picked that up from me. Now the best gift I can give him is to teach him how to manage his temper since I think that he's got one to matter what.
    But those first few glimpses -- i just felt like an unfit mother. I had to come to terms with doing the best I can and learning to do better. The mirror that our children are to our own shortcomings can make me cry.
    I think that there is a big gift in our children seeing us try and fail and try again though. Because that's so much of life. I think that you and your E will be okay. Because you want to grow. And that is a GREAT example.

  7. My unfortunate heirloom is emotion. I mean INTENSE emotion, I cry...a lot. I feel everything intensely and react the same way. I see it in my son. I think it's because we are both of the cancer sign. The hard part is that I believe there is some value in it, but it always strikes at the worst times. In stressful situations in particular. I cry. My son is the same. Like you, we are trying to equip him with coping mechanisms, and I'm really hoping that over the long term they will work. I think if you stick with it, they will.

    One thing...I never though I had a temper until I had kids. For some reason they just bring it out in us. You would hope it would be the opposite, but it's not. I have come close to lose my mind on more than one occasion. Try not to beat yourself up about it, they can easily drive us to distraction.