Are We Destined to Become Our Parents? Or, Can We Be Different?

Like Father, Like Son

By Chuck Roy

Today, for me, started out as usual – you know shower, shave, dress, sip far too hot coffee and spill it all over my shirt, change shirts, and then head to the office.

Well, today was different and slightly unsettling. Nancy is in London for the month so I am alone at home with my menagerie of farm animals, about three acres of two-foot tall weed infested front lawn, my choice of frozen food dinners, and barely enough energy to push the TV-remote buttons only ten-thousand times, before retiring to bed around 8:30 pm.

My epiphany came this morning when I realized that this is pretty much what my dad did when I was still a child at home. So, the pressing question emerged, “Are we destined to become our parents?”

I decided pretty early in life that I was going to be very different from my parents. It seemed easy at the time to just watch their mistakes and avoid them. So why have I spent so much time over the years hating things about myself that seem to have come straight from them?

Some psychologists would argue that it’s because I learned their habits as I was growing up, so it’s all about the environment I grew up in (or nurture). Others might argue that the ways in which I’m like them are simply in my genes (and thus hard to overcome), so it’s all about nature.

I think it’s some of both, as I suspect most people believe today. I think most of us would like to believe we were born as blank slates and that whatever we become is just an accumulation of the “programming” that we got from our parents and whoever else raised us, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Whatever it is, why have I so often in the past heard things coming out of my mouth — or seen myself acting in certain ways — that seemed to be the ghost of my father within me?

I’m not a psychologist, so I have no formal credentials to answer that question, but I do have some thoughts about why most of us do it. I’d argue that we all “channel” bits and pieces of our families, but since some people don’t notice it in themselves, I don’t want to get hung up on that point.

I believe most of us take the path of least resistance — and that path leads to us becoming our parents, in whole or in part. Everyone makes a few decisions along the way that are different from the ones our parents made, so we’re not carbon copies.

I believe the less introspection and insight people have into themselves and human nature, the more they’re going to automatically morph into their parents as they age. If you don’t understand yourself well enough, you’re going to be shocked as you realize that you’ve become one of your parents at some point. It can be a painful realization.

My own conclusion is that we’re not destined to become what our parents were. We’re not pre-cast to repeat their mistakes. We’re not doomed to be like the things we hated in our family of origin or in our ancestors.

But if you take the path of least resistance, those things are going to happen to you. And if that happens to you — and then you wake up to realize what you’ve done in allowing yourself to live this way — you’re going to hate yourself. And you’re going to hate your life.

You have two ways out of this situation, as far as I can see. You can either remain oblivious to what’s happening — as is the case with the vast majority — or you can look inward, get to know yourself, think deeply about what you learn and then take actions to make yourself an emotionally healthy person.

It’s easy to say, but hard to really do. Half-measures won’t be good enough. If you just become somewhat aware of what’s going on, you’re simply going to hate the process as you see it taking place — as you slowly become aware of your transformation into your mother or your father.

In the last few years, I’ve had to change a lot of things in my life — and it started with a realization that what issues my father had, had influenced me. It was difficult work, both emotionally and intellectually, and I didn’t get truly motivated to reach the root issues until I could really define what is important to me – God, Country, and Family. This will be a work in progress for me but I know it’s worth the effort. Try it. You might learn something, too.