“She’s so artistic… It’s not surprising – there are lots of artistic genes in her.”
“She’s so good at puzzles! She takes after her great grandpa!”
“Look at the way she sticks her tongue out when she concentrates… Just like her great grandpa.”
“You were clumsy when you were her age, too.”
“She’s so athletic. Must get that from the donor’s side!”
These are all things people have said to me, about my daughter, referring to her genetic heritage. These comments come so frequently that all of these examples could have easily been made on the same day, by the same person.
My parents are particularly guilty of focusing on genes (although they’re by no means the only ones). At first I defended their right to make comments about how much she reminded them of me as a child. I thought it was just all about nostalgia. But over time, and after hearing (really hearing) my wife’s feelings, I’ve started to see the comments as disrespectful and ignorant. It’s one thing to see your own child in features of your grandchild, and to take delight in that. But it’s another thing to completely disregard the learning of behaviours and make logical leaps to connect a behaviour or trait to some family gene. The “artistic genes” comment is an example of the logical stretch… My grandparent who was referred to here was the only person in my entire family history who could draw. The rest of us can barely make a recognizable stick figure. My wife is an artist. She was accepted into a university program for fine art. That truth was totally disregarded.
The frequency of these types of comments show that the commenters really aren’t considering my wife’s role in who our daughter is becoming. When the comment about Avery being good at puzzles was made, my wife literally had just finished a puzzle that day in front of the person who made the comment. Instead of assuming that my wife’s influence had taught Avery to appreciate puzzles, the illogical jump was that her great grandfather had somehow imparted puzzle-loving genes on her.
I won’t go into how it makes my wife feel, because those aren’t my feelings to share. But it makes me feel frustrated that my wife will always have her influence forgotten or denied; that my daughter will see that others assume her Mo is less connected to her or is less responsible for the person she becomes; that we will constantly be on alert as we anticipate the comments that make us cringe.