The importance placed on genetics

“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.

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7 thoughts on “The importance placed on genetics

  1. Oh reading that broke my heart for your wife. Her genetic makeup or not, doesn’t matter, from day one, she’s been a huge influence in your daughter’s life and that truly makes a HUGE difference! Yes, genetics CAN play a role, but so can EVERYTHING they see and do each and every day! Bless your wifes heart! I can’t imagine how painful those things must be for her to hear. I hope she knows though, that every day she is teaching Avery new things and influencing her in ways that her genes can’t do! That is far more important than anything! Thank you for sharing this post! I can’t imagine how hard this must be for both of you! ❤

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    • Thank you for your kind words! We’re hoping that Avery will pick up some obvious traits or interests that are clearly influenced by my wife, so it will be easier for people to see.

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      • She’s still young yet, so I am sure in time she will in time! You guys are doing a great job! I can’t imagine how hard it is for your wife, but I can tell she’s a strong determined woman and I hope she knows this!

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  2. We have no genetic link to our son, yet people, family, friends and strangers often make comments. When comments come from family or friends, our emotional response depends on the circumstance. For example the people who say Little MPB looks like my brother, we laugh because we all see it. And Little MPB also has definitely picked up some of Mr. MPB’s manurisms, so that makes sense too. As for commenting that his eyes look like mine or he looks just like Mr. MPB, both are 100% factually wrong, so don’t even bother.
    For us, our emotional response has nothing to do with Mr. MPB or my feelings, because neither of us care about a genetic link, or lack there of. (I imagine slightly different for you and your wife, where one of you shares a genetic link and the other does not). Rather our emotional reactions is about our concern for how confusing it may be for Little MPB. And our fear that people are going to make Little MPB feel less worthy by not being genetically linked to us. And so we often out our emotions aside and respond to educate people on the presumably unintended consequences on Little MPB from these types of comments. It’s very situational.

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    • I was hoping you’d comment because I was curious how this might play out for you. It’s definitely hard not to compare parental status when one is genetically linked and the other is not, and I think that’s where a lot of the hurt feelings come from. But for the most part we also are most concerned for how Avery will perceive the differing attention to each parent’s genetic relevance. We don’t want her to feel like others take her Mo less seriously, or to have her feel this herself one day if everyone around her makes such a big deal of genetics.

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  3. Being a step parent who has raised my oldest kids from the time one was 5 and the other was an infant I can totally relate to this. My husband often makes the counter comments of well not surprised he’s creative look at my wife, or ya he’s got my wife’s sense of humor that’s for sure and emphasizes my influence on my kids… I totally get it though I’m the main person in my kids life because my husband works so much bio mom for oldest isn’t in the picture, and bio mom for number 2 is in the pit when she feels like it but I get very little recongition has a primary influencer on my kids…

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  4. “I don’t think it is genetics but exposure to Y” would be a possible response. OR, “Huh, I thought it was the impact of Z’s teaching.” OR even, “We like to think we have taught her all her positive attributes and only attribute her human imperfections on genetics so out of our control.”
    Some people use ‘genetic similarities’ to feel included and part of positive attributes. I saw this when people would tell me I looked just like my step-mom. I thought she was beautiful so always simply saw the compliment. The ear of the hearer is the important key, I am very sorry your wife gets hurt by this because I hope that isn’t the intent. But it would take a toll on anyone! I have seen birth mom’s get their noses bent when the father’s family only sees resemblances to him also.

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