Years ago, conventional wisdom (or was it an urban legend?) taught that before you open a can of soda, tap on the top. Ostensibly, it calmed down the carbon dioxide inside the can so it wouldn’t spray when opened. So I adopted the habit of tap-tap-tapping on the lid before I pulled the tab.
One day, I saw my eight-year-old daughter tap-tap-tapping on the top of a can prior to opening it. I asked her, “Why do you tap on the lid?” She paused, and said, “Because you do, Dad.”
It caused me to wonder—in what other ways is she mimicking my behavior? Then I thought, for better and for worse, in what ways do I imitate my family of origin?
For instance, relative to my family of origin:
- Often, my father would be impatient with my mother. It saddens me to admit: I struggle with that issue in my marriage.
- My father neglected holidays and special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries). I also neglect those events.
- Mom was kind. I hope that rubbed off on me.
I recently asked my grown daughters (ages 40 and 42): “What did you ‘inherit’ from Mom and me (other than tapping on cans)?” They struggled with answering the question and Mary and I weren’t much help because we’re too close to it to be objective. Eventually, though, it led to interesting conversation.
How should we respond to these learned-from-our-family traits? How can we overcome the negative influences and strengthen the positive ones?
Mitigating the unhealthy traits is very difficult. They’re so deeply engrained we’re probably not even aware of them. It usually takes a third party’s involvement to help us identify them and change. But predisposition need not be deterministic. We can and must work through these issues.