I do this thing with my face when I concentrate really hard where my features get scrunched up all tight. My wife blames this for the increasing number of wrinkles I have and regularly tries to stop me from doing it (even though I can still pass for 18). I see her point, and I’d love to stop creating crow’s feet. But it’s impossible; it’s genetic.
My father makes the same face, for the same reasons. I’ve seen him do it. Now I’m waiting to see it on my son’s chubby little visage. Detective Munch already looks a lot like me so it’s gratifying to see him take on some of my characteristics and I’m OK with adding the wrinkle-maker to that collection.
It hasn’t happened yet, but I have seen him reflect back other aspects of myself that are not quite as amusing.
Everybody knows kids are sponges, but they’re also mirrors. They reflect what they see and what they see most for the first decade or so of their lives, for better or worse, are their parents. It’s our words and actions they emulate as they make their first tentative contact with the world. At first, it’s super cute when your mini-me displays your facial expressions or your spouse’s mannerisms and generally starts behaving like, well, a mini-you. It stops being cute when the kid begins letting the world see some of your less-than-flattering behavior.
When that happens, you typically react in two ways:
- by pointing fingers at yourself or your spouse
- by resolving to become a better role model for your kids.
For example, my son has learned what some may consider a swear word. It’s the relatively benign “dammit,” and it usually gets a laugh when he wields it in public. But no one’s going to be laughing if he becomes the toddler who throws out F-bombs at birthday parties And that would be on me. (Or on his mom – at least I’ve been trying to ease up with the cursing; she’s basically unrepentant!) Regardless of who is to blame, if our son becomes a little Andrew Dice Clay, everyone will know it’s his parents’ fault and it won’t matter which one.
It’s going to be a while before my son’s behavior is measured independently of us, and that’s as it should be. And while he may just be copying funny words and mannerisms now, soon he’ll be internalizing the things we say and the opinions we have and repeating them in public as if they’re his own. When that happens, no one will have any questions as to where he learned them.
Sometimes he’ll end up reflecting the everyday behavior you don’t even consider: the way you act toward your neighbors; the things you say when you’re not censoring yourself; the tone of voice you use with your spouse. We’re the stars of our kids lives, and it’s not long before they start emulating their idols.
Nothing shines a brighter light on who you really are than the behavior of your kids. Once your little mini-me starts interacting with the public, you become an open book.
So you might want to start changing how it reads.
A version of this first appeared on Dad and Buried.