What our children inherit from us is so much more than just genetics.
Genetic inheritance is set from birth. Hair and eye colour, facial features, even susceptibility to certain hereditary medical conditions. (Sorry about that, kids – your dad has more things wrong with him than an Austin Princess that came off the line on a Friday afternoon.) They are what they are and there’s nothing we as parents can do about it.
However, there are many aspects of our kids that can be shaped throughout their childhood. Nurture versus nature. Personality traits, behaviours, basic personal values.
When I look back on the adult I have become, I can see how much I have been shaped by my parents, whether consciously or unconsciously.
I recognise common values, and many of these are now being instilled in our kids: a keen sense of right and wrong, a quiet but intense competitiveness and an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism, a love of puzzles and quizzes.
But it’s not just values and beliefs that are passed on from generation to generation. Simple likes and preferences are too.
So, for instance, food is a key component of our lives, something I have inherited from my mother, for whom everything revolves around food. It has always been more than just functional fuel to me. Food is something to be enjoyed – an emotion rather than a transaction.
My father instilled in me a deep love of gadgets and music. From as early an age as I can remember, technology was a key driver of our father/son bond, from teaching me how to splice reel-to-reel tape to tinkering with a growing array of personal computers. I also grew up immersed in a broad variety of musical genres from classical to Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals to punk. Long before iTunes democratised access to extensive music catalogues for the masses, I devoured any type of music I could lay my hands on.
Those preferences have become deeply ingrained in my nature – they are a fundamental part of who I am. Without even consciously thinking about it, what my parents passed down to me I am already passing on to my children.
We actively encourage them to enjoy their food. We eat together around the dinner table whenever we can, and food is a key element of holidays and days out – a priority rather than an afterthought.
Similarly, our kids are surrounded by gadgets which have become a key part of how I have bonded with them. Isaac learned how to operate my iPhone and iPad well before his second birthday and, at seven, has been busy familiarising himself with how my new iMac works without needing to refer to me. He single-handedly built a working FM radio over the weekend. He was so pleased when he finished it and it worked. So was I.
All three of our children also have a keen interest in music. The boys in particular take great delight in identifying and naming songs from hearing just a couple of notes. All three love listening and singing along to music – we can spend hours together just skipping through videos on YouTube. And Isaac is now learning to play the piano.
That’s not all our kids are or will be, of course. They will hopefully grow up to be much more than an amalgam of their parents’ interests – becoming a voice rather than an echo – but at the same time it’s interesting to see some family traditions being passed on to the next generation.
I can’t do anything about what I’ve passed on genetically, which defines a large part of who and what my children will be. The rest, however, I can play an active role in shaping and supporting. That makes me immensely proud – and curious to see what traits they develop that they will in turn pass on to their children.