Monday, 20 July 2015

#Microblog Mondays: Family Resemblances



Before having my daughter, or at least at some uncertain but fairly recent time in my past, I was fascinated by family resemblances.

I loved to look at photographs and pick out shared features. One thing I found quite entertaining at parent-teacher interviews was to observe the resemblances between children and parents, both in looks and in mannerisms.

I think my favourite encounter of this sort was between an (occasionally challenging) parent and her (occasionally challenging) son. We were discussing some aspect of his behaviour and appropriate responses to it, and the mother commented with a bit of annoyance that no matter what she asked him, his response was always "Yeeeeaaaaah" (imagine it said through a resigned sigh). We went on with the conversation, and a couple of minutes later, she responds to one of my statements with "Yeeeeaaaaah" uttered in the exact same tone and manner as her son.

Enter AJ. Many people love to look for and comment on her resemblances. I find it amusing how varied these are. In the space of a day I can hear "she looks just like mom!" and then "she looks just like dad!" or even how she resembles someone in extended family. They're all right in a way I suppose: she has our genetic material and by extension our family's, too. But sometimes I feel like AJ is a kind of Rorschach test and everybody sees what they are looking for.  If she was conceived by donor egg, and we didn't tell people, would they all make the same comments with the same conviction? I think they would.

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And as for me?

I don't see resemblances to anyone. (Except when AJ yawns: then she looks like Mr. Turtle.) I'm not saying they aren't there; I just don't see them. I see AJ. Also, this may be indulging a privilege because I was lucky enough to have a genetically related child, but so far I don't care. I don't have the same desire to look for family resemblances in my daughter that I used to have with regards to other family members, students, friends and acquaintances.

I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it is just harder to see resemblances to myself because I don't look at myself all the time. A lot of my mannerisms are habit, and like the mom in my example above, I probably don't notice that I'm even doing them. I do think it is easier to see resemblances to Mr. Turtle than to myself, although even so I don't see them constantly.

As for why I don't care, that's a bit harder.  At least for now (because I may feel differently in the future) I think it has to do with a changed perception of what bonds a family together. Genetics are an obvious bond. However, after going through all the fertility tests which suggested I would probably not be able to have a genetically related child, I had to re-think what bonds a family together. Even though we were able to have a child, that experience still affects my perceptions. I feel like I crossed some invisible line, and things are just different on this side of the line.  So when people comment that AJ is so much like me or Mr. Turtle or so and so, I smile and make an accommodating remark, but I'm not really playing the game.

Because what matters most to me is that I have a child who is her own individual, and becomes more that unique individual every day.

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24 comments:

  1. Such a nice post. With a DE/DS child, I fully expect that A resembles so and so, but will secretly know it can't possibly be the case, at least in terms of looks. I've actually heard it a few times--he has B's smile, he looks just like I looked as a baby. I thought it would hurt, but in fact, it just makes me smile. People see what they want to see, and family is so much more than genetics.

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    1. Thanks :-). Perhaps if people see what they want to see, there's an option to hear what one wants to hear in the comments about resemblances: that we have a common humanity outside of genetic relatedness (and of course all humans are related on a genetic level.) Hope you continue to enjoy be(com)ing a mom and family!

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    2. I second this comment. Since having Q, I've had more than one person emphatically insist that he has my eyes. Which I completely disagree with, as they're the one feature I think is pretty distinctively from M. The rest...I can't figure out, for obvious reasons. It sort of makes me wish I had a photo of the donor to compare, but just out of curiosity, since it doesn't really matter in the end. As my MIL keeps saying (and similarly to how you seem to feel about AJ), he looks like himself! People definitely see what they want to see.

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    3. very true! perceptions are interesting and unpredictable things.

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  2. I appreciate this post a lot right now as I am working to sort out all my feelings about nature and nurture in how we will move forward in constructing our family.

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    1. Thank you for the appreciation and stopping by. Feelings about these kinds of things are usually complicated and there are no right or wrong answers. Sending lots of love xo.

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  3. I don't really see anyone in O, either. He's just himself! He has my brother's coloring but that's it. Everyone else says he looks like a mini Matt but not to me. Isn't it funny!

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    1. It is! I don't see any obvious resemblances at all, but sometimes it seems like I'm the only one who doesn't!

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  4. I love this post, it's so thoughtful. Last year I was super annoyed when the teachers I work with commented on open house parental resemblances, sensitive the fact that at the time, our baby would have no genetic ties to my husband. But it's undeniable that both physical and behavioral traits can be weirdly repeated in parents and children. You get the occasional mini-mes, but really I find the behavior similarities most interesting. Kind of like people and dogs (not that I am comparing babies to dogs...), eventually they kind of resemble each other. I do think that people always look to find similarities with parents and children, and that will happen even if there's no genetic ties at all. Harder when it's a transracial adoption, but even then I've heard stories of people making the same comments when it seems that wouldn't be probable. And by the way, that Rorschach test scared the pants off me... I see a psycho clown. (I think that means I may have some anxiety...which I don't think I inherited from either parent!)

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    1. haha, I see the psycho clown now too. Before I was more looking at the parts rather than the whole. I saw two people sitting back to back looking in opposite directions. I thought that spoke to my theme of different/opposite perceptions. It kind of looked like a skull too. I wasn't trying to pick a scary one lol. Actually I wanted to take one of AJ's photos and manipulate it into a Rorschach, but I couldn't figure out how to do that. I think you make some very good points here. We are probably programmed genetically and/or through socialization to look for for similarities. People even see faces in inanimate objects (man on the moon, Madonna on toast, etc.) I agree that the behavioural similarities are more interesting. Especially with parents and children because you wonder who taught who which behaviour. :-D

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  5. My daughter looks very much like my husband, but she is very much like me (in some good ways, but in other more troubling ways). I never thought I cared much that my daughter doesn't look like me, probably because she reminds me so much of myself in her behaviors and mannerisms. Then my son was born and the bigger he gets the more I see my own childhood face staring back at me. I will admit, I enjoy it more than I would have expected, though I'm not quite sure why. I know how lucky I am to have two biologically related children--I am very grateful--but there is so much I seem to have passed on to them that I wish they didn't have to deal with. It really is a double edged sword...

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    1. That's so interesting. Yes, I think the resemblances - both good and possibly problematic - could become more important as a child grows up. As I was reading your comment I remembered when I saw the first U/S photo that showed AJ's face, and I fancied she looked like me. At first I was tickled, then my next thought was: Oh no what if I've given her some messed up genes! it's all imagination at this point though. I can see how the idea of inheritance gets more complicated as more of the child's traits emerge.

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  6. We go through this a lot. Many people comment about who looks like who regarding the Beats, especially because they are fraternal twins. I get told constantly that one child looks like me, only to have someone immediately disagree with that person. It's always amusing because I see both kids as being combinations of us, but also completely unique from us and one another.

    It's always interesting watching people go through this exercise.

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    1. It is interesting indeed. People are amusing!

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  7. I have to admit, I love hearing that my daughter looks like me. I don't think that she looks like me now but she is a carbon copy of me at the same age. That being said, I wouldn't love her any less if she looked like my husband- or neither of us!

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    1. Good point, I haven't really looked at pictures of myself and AJ at the same age :-) It's awesome that you enjoy the resemblances. I may well too as she gets older.

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  8. I wonder if it's also the distance that allows you to see those commonalities (and closeness that keeps you from seeing them in your own child). I find it easier to find those similarities in other families than I do my own.

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    1. Good point, you are probably correct!

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  9. Interesting post. I actually really enjoy looking at baby pictures and looking for a resemblance, but more so between my twins and my oldest than between myself or my husband and the kids.

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    1. I can see how that would be fascinating with siblings. :-)

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  10. Its funny, most people say Paloma looks like Andino and they aren't genetically related.

    I think after going through infertility and the adoption process, it affected me in that genetics don't mean much to me anymore. I really think I would feel the same way even if Paloma wasn't genetically mine.

    Culture, on the other hand is still significant in some ways

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    1. I think I feel similarly about genetics. Everybody is different in their reactions of course. And there are no right or wrong feelings. I also agree that culture is important because it gives you a bigger context of who your are and where you are from than just your immediate family. As they grow older especially people need that.

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  11. Really unique perspective, Turtle! It's not often that a parent of a genetic child writes so thoughtfully about what genes mean when you have the genetic connection as well as when you don't. I appreciate your inclusion, and, judging from the number of commenters here who have children who don't share their genes, I'm sure they do too!

    One point I'd like to address, more for general education for anyone else reading this, is in response to your sentence, "Genetics are an obvious bond." To me that sounds like "genes are what make us bond," and that is incorrect. If we bonded through genes, we'd procreate within our own bloodlines; nor would we have the loving relationships we have with our pets. Genes have nothing to do with how we bond. Parents of both genetic and non-genetic children love all their children equally. (One woman I know actually said the loves her donor egg-conceived twins more in some ways than her genetic daughter.)

    To summarise, the psychologist Madeline Feingold put it very well: "Genes make people; people make families."

    If you were saying that "seeing your families' features replicated in miniature" makes people feel closer to their kids (or something like that -- I wouldn't know, ha!) I guess that's possible that some people might love their kid more because they look like them. But they'd be mistaken if they put it down to simply sharing DNA.

    :)

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    1. Thanks for that thoughtful response! Your discussion of genetics and bonding makes perfect sense. My wording is awkward and the thinking behind it probably isn't completely clear. What I meant to say is rather "genetics are an easy way to perceive a connection with your child." Or more accurately, a way for other people to perceive a connection between you and your child. I honestly don't know if seeing resemblances makes people love their children more, so I shouldn't have implied that. :-) Trying to find resemblances / commenting on them / generally making a big deal out of them does seem to be a way that people acknowledge relationships and shared heritage. I think that is a kind of bonding but it is different from emotional bonding (aka love).

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