Like Parent, Like Child: A Look in the Mirror

Lisa writes: Reproduction it turns out, is just that.  While we strive to treat our children as their very own selves, we cannot help but peer through the genetic stew to the many people who have lent their chromosomes to the task of creating our children.  When lucky, we see the echos of the traits we fell in love with in our child’s other parent.  Sometimes we see a beloved parent, grandparent or sibling in a smile, a gritty determination or just the tilt of a head.  But often times, we see ourselves mirrored and think “like parent, like child.”

Even though we know that it is coming, the experience of seeing ourselves replicated can be a startling one.   The physical similarities can be charming, or unsettling.  Yet it is our personality traits, seemingly planted at birth in our offspring, that can be the most challenging to face.

like parent, like child,like father, like son

I am easily distracted, capable of losing my way even in the midst of a sentence.  I can be telling a story and, before I realize it, I am telling a different one and have no idea of how I lost my way.  I have been having senior moments since I was ten.

So when I gave birth to a child who would put one shoe on and then lose interest and move on to something else, it came as no surprise.  I watched my own wandering mind play out in him a thousand times and, while I should have been understanding, I was often furious.  Seeing myself in him should have brought compassion yet, instead, it engendered anger as I screamed at him on 2,250 separate mornings to get ready for school.

Compassion or frustration seem the natural outgrowth of seeing ourselves in our children, but there was one more possibility that I was not prepared for. I was a twitchy kid, taken to the doctor many times and sent to the principal many more for my inability to, “Sit Still And Pay Attention!”

I can still hear countless teachers complaining to me as they sent me to the corner or simply out of the classroom because, yet again I had disrupted their class.  Over the years I wondered why I couldn’t manage myself, exercise a bit more self-control, and save everyone a lot of aggravation.

And then I had my own twitchy child, a son who could no more sit still than I could. His teachers would regale me with their complaints and he too would be sent out of the classroom on an all too regular basis. But I think it was the day that I saw him reading a book on the couch perched on all fours while bouncing up and down (miraculously, never losing his place on the page) that I suddenly become kinder to myself.

looking at ourselves in a mirror

No one would read that way by choice.  He squirmed in my lap, tossed in his bed and jumped on a small trampoline while he watched television.  And if he couldn’t help it, maybe thirty years earlier, I couldn’t help it either.  I understand my overactive child, and in an unexpected twist, I came to understand myself.

How are your kids like you? Have you had “like parent, like child” moments?



  1. says

    i absolutely love this post! I was thinking the same thing over the holidays. i was not over active but i was so easily distracted i quickly became and remained my mother’s least favorite child. my daughter is like me in those ways but somehow it made me laugh more than it frustrated me. the procrastination that i passed on to both my son and my daughter frustrated me terribly though. i am fascinated though by a gesture or an expression that reminds me of a family member that neither of them were around enough to pick it up by copying it. that gestures and expressions are genetic is just fascinating to me.

    • says

      Sandy, thank you, wow. Anyone who is reading this should visit your AMAZING cooking site. Really.

  2. says

    I really enjoyed this! I see myself in my son a lot, our curly hair for sure, and the way we laugh at the same things at the same time, how we can read for hours. Just thinking about that makes me miss him!

    • says

      I know, it was hard to go back to my little boys when they are so big now. But really, all good.

  3. Emily says

    Oh I could so relate to this one…I’ve got a “mini-me” not just in physical appearance, but in personality. Like me, he is ultra-sensitive and stubborn and if he’s wronged or feels he’s wronged, he can hold a grudge for days. I completely understand him, but it’s a double-edged sword. My husband says he is like my voodoo doll: If you prick him, I feel the pain too. And yet, my son can also push my buttons like no one else…I recognize myself so much that yes, sometimes it infuriates me, but in the end, it’s just like you say, I understand him and I understand myself.

    • says

      I didn’t really expect that he would allow me to forgive my child self. Don’t think I have properly thanked him—and he doesn’t read this, so I might just need to let him know. Kids give us the most unexpected gifts.

  4. says

    Oh, yes indeed, I’ve had too many “like parent, like kid” moments to even count! Strangers remark pretty regularly that my daughter and I could be sisters (well, with a rather pronounced age gap)–we share the same build, the same eyes, the same facial shape, the same hair…and many of the same mannerisms and attitudes. She and I laugh at the same things, appreciate the same music, love the same books (except for Twilight. I can’t abide that one…).
    My son, too, looks very much like a male version of me; and he shares my sense of humour and my heel-digging-in “no nos moveran” attitude. All three of us have varying degrees of “bouncy brain”–probably ADD, but who the heck knows? I love that my kids are so much like me in certain ways, but I rejoice in the ways they’re different, too–my son’s brilliant, incisive, logical mind; my daughter’s visual-spatial creativity. I’d hate to think I was raising little Mini-Mes!

    • says

      Love that Sisters…I find it my harder to see the physical likenesses across genders. Maybe I am just blind. Bouncy brain is a great description of how it sometimes feels, but maybe it is the Internet that has brought that on.

  5. says

    Oh dear – my son got many of my most annoying and troubling traits. Like me, he would rather sit than stand, walk than run. Like me, he retreats into himself and shuts out the world far too often. Like me, he bites his cuticles and, I’m sure if it was long, he would twirl his hair when he reads like I do. But like me, he is compassionate, sensitive and generous. And he looks so much like the men in my family.

    My daughter has my eyes, which makes me happy, because otherwise she looks nothing like me. She is sharp and witty, which I like to think she got from me – but she’s much more her father’s daughter.

    Children don’t come to us as we expect, but isn’t that the magic of it all?

    • says

      Think you have it right about the magic of it all. Bet your kids have your worm inviting personality that draws people in.

  6. says

    My son is a lot like me, so I apologize to my daughter-in-love (his wife). Fortunately, he got his ability to recall important info from his dad. They’re both quite intelligent.

    • says

      Such a lovely thing to see those things we love/admire in our children’s other parent, manifest in our kids. A blessing.

  7. says

    A delightful read. Thank you!

    My oldest and youngest are most like me. My oldest in looks, hobbies, and some of her mannerisms; my youngest in regard to musical preferences as well as some of my most annoying habits and mean streaks (which is why she and I are endlessly butting heads but loyal to one another in ways no one else understands). My middle daughter, mother to my grandsons, is so much like my husband … which means I sometimes want to strangle her for her ultra-conservative political beliefs. 😀

    Sometimes I’m shocked and dismayed to see my daughters act just like me. Other times it pleases me to no end. And every once in a while, I hear them tease one another, saying, “You sounded JUST LIKE MOM!” To which I tell them, there could be far worse people to be like.

    It’s all so interesting. Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

    • says

      Oh, Lisa thank you for your heartfelt comment. It is thought provoking and ever changing. The other dynamic which I did not even touch upon here is how the siblings are like each other and how they made each other what they are. Find that such an interesting topic.

  8. says

    My son is goofy to the point of crossing boundaries at time (like his mother). And my daughter is bossy, controlling, and takes things way too personally at times (like her mother). At times I am horrified; at times I have greater compassion for them and for me. I just really don’t want them to experience the pain of these personality excesses, but it’s probably gonna happen.

  9. says

    I’ve had so many. I never thought to be more compassionate to myself as a result. I bet that would make me a better parent too. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • says

      SO kind, thank you. I could almost feel the ants in my pants (as everyone referred to me as a kid) when I saw him move. I am so grateful to him because in my head I had ben “bad”, now I was just antsy.

  10. says

    I really like this post and the comparison’s you made to yourself and your son and how you would get angry at him for doing the exact same things you did. And, I love how you now give yourself a break and him with realizing it was not your fault and neither is it his. I can relate to all of this.

    • says

      Thank you. So glad, seeing myself in him was a revelation and really allowed me to stop beating up on myself. He was a bit of a do over for me.

  11. Carpool Goddess says

    Sometimes seeing myself in my kids is a delight, other times I want to pull my hair out! One is fearless like my husband, the other a perfectionist like me. My daughter has my coloring, but looks like her father, and my son has his father’s height, but looks like me.They both have a great sense of humor, so I’d like to take credit for that, but ultimately, I think that comes from my father. Seeing my less than stellar traits in them has hopefully made me more patient with them, since after all, it’s not their fault.

    • says

      Funny the jigsaw puzzle of genes that make up our kids. Some of the things I saw in childhood have changed so much for the teens and young adults, it is an evolving process here.

  12. says

    I see many of my annoying traits in my non-verbal autistic son all the time. Because of that, I understand him and can, in a limited way, communicate with him. When he gets frustrated with others because they don’t understand him, he can come to me, take my hand and show me what it is that he’s trying to convey. I act as an interpreter for him. If he and I weren’t so much alike, I’m not so sure we’d have that connection.

    Great post and really made me stop and think. :)

    • says

      FIrst, he is truly and profoundly lucky to have you and your ability to see yourself in him. Second, I LOVED your post, got me a little worried, but I loved it.

  13. says

    As an adoptee, I was surprised by these things. My sons were the first people I’d met with whom I shared genes. I am still in awe of that fact. It also makes me painfully aware of my daughter’s sense of “otherness.” I can relate to that so well, but I cannot remove it.

    • says

      Awe is really the right word. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this, such an important perspective.

  14. says

    I’m sincerely sorry you and your son had difficulties in the classroom. The coldness and blankness of a classroom (and unfortunately some teachers) is no match for an active and free spirit.

    I see myself in both sons and never thought about it until a friend recently asked if they take after me or my husband. The 4 year old is me as a child (kind, gentle, happy) and the 2 year old is me as a teen/early 20’s (ragey, frustrated, short tempered). Like you, when the babe shows the traits that bother(ed) me it is upsetting. I think since we know firsthand the punishments and personal berating for these character traits our response to the boys may be subconscious helplessness? Unable to control them and protect them from being treated how we were.

    Thanks for this post. You gals always inspire reflection and potential growth. I am very happy you are kinder to yourself now. It helps!

    • says

      Just visited your blog and I love it. Your About Me is one of the best I have ever read. I am so happy that we have found you and vice versa. Things got much better for my son as adolescence calmed him down, as it had me. The classroom is just not the easiest place for some little kids.

  15. says

    How ironic is it that some of the traits we see in our children…some of our traits, are the ones which infuriate us the most? I too have one son who cannot sit still. (Like me.) Bounces his leg so much so when he is sitting that no one in our family wants to sit next to him. Is quick to fly off the handle (me again). But always expects the best from others (uh, me), and is good and caring and honest (OK, that’s me too). So how can I complain? Isn’t it grand to see what someone else can do with “us?”

    • says

      The good with the bad…eh? It is also interesting to see it across the gender divide, isn’t it?

  16. says

    Apart from the fact that my children are not the same colour I am, two of them still look quite a bit like me. Others don’t always see that, which I find interesting. Personality wise, I can see bits of myself and my husband, and my husband’s parents, and my parents, in all of them. It is very interesting how the genes mix up, that’s for sure. :)

  17. Risa says

    One of my dad’s standard sayings was “Apropos of nothing,” which he used as an excuse when his monkey mind leapt ahead in a conversation. I do this now myself–jumping over to point D or E when the conversation left off at A…and one of my sons can always connect the dots with me. It scares him–and me–that he can do that! But it’s nice to know that he “gets” me in that way. My daughter and I have great powers of concentration–whether it’s with a knotty knitting problem or doing some other craft-like task. We also seem to do things the hard way–me going back to grad school with two little kids (and getting pregnant with #3 during), and her deciding to go back to grad school while working full-time (only one kid, but still…and now she’s expecting #2!). My youngest and I have a connection I can’t even describe without tearing up. He is wired more like my husband–(geeks!) but he remembers the little things and has a sentimental side. He can crack me up like no one else. And the best: I brought him up to be a great gift-shopper. His wife is a lucky gal.
    Thanks for your thoughtful post–it inspired a lot of great comments here!

    • says

      Love that: Monkey Mind, sums it up for me. Such wonderful wonderful connections formed in some way, I am sure, even before our kids were born. I loved your stories, thank you for sharing them with us, really.


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