By Tammie Allegro
One by one, I loaded the photos from my computer into a video presentation for my daughter’s 18th birthday. Each picture I posted was a glaring reminder of just how much we have in common - from the way our eyebrows raise when we are being photographed, to the way we stand when we think no one is looking. We are a science experiment in nurture versus nature. We even speak the same. Oftentimes, we sound like an old married couple finishing each other’s sentences. Features and mannerisms aren’t the only traits we share; she also inherited my chronic migraines and poor eyesight. For every trait I am grateful I passed on to her, there is something I wish she didn’t have to deal with.
The same can be said for my connection with my own mother. The pictures of my mom at my current age were a complete shock to me. As kids, we see our parents through different eyes. I never really thought we had much in common except for our noses. Boy was I wrong; not only do I look just like her, I stand like her, too. Heck, I even sound like her. I am grateful for the strength and determination I picked up from my mother; however, I wish I hadn’t gotten her health and weight issues. Unfortunately, that is the way genetics work. If you are a parent living with an autoimmune disease, you know that simply hoping you won’t pass on those traits isn’t enough.
There is a twinge of guilt that we feel when we see our children suffering - especially when it comes from something constant and chronic in their lives. It doesn’t matter that we had no control over how things turned out; it is impossible to turn off that feeling. It is important, however, to remember that it is just genetic. It isn’t something we caused by doing something wrong. Autoimmune diseases in children are almost never caused by environmental factors; they are something they are born with.
When our children do something amazing with the talents they inherited from us, we feel a sense of pride. I love to brag about how my daughter skipped a grade when she was little. I know that she put to use the intellect and determination she inherited. With the compassion she inherited, she is going to work with children with special needs. I would love to take credit and say I taught her that love for others, but it is just who she is. Just like the eyebrow and the migraines, it’s genetic. The difference this time is that she chose a path early in life to utilize those traits in a way that will make life better for others.
Thankfully, we all are a combination of more than just one person. Our features, illnesses and intellect are contributed to by two channels of DNA. For some, it will have a yin-and-yang effect, creating a balance; for others, it will just intensify specific traits and talents.
Environmental influences that will factor into the equation as well. Where someone grows up will contribute to how they experience life, what habits they develop and what personality traits they form. Even illness symptoms are impacted by where we live; certain climates intensify allergy symptoms, and rural locations might have limited access to medical specialists. Our lives are a mixture of what we are made of, where we live and what we make of our situation. We are given certain challenges, talents and abilities. The true test really is what we choose do with them.
It would be easy to sit back and think of all the ways our children are “cursed” with our genes, especially when it causes them pain or heartache. Instead, we have to do our best to teach them to make the best of what they were given. Even if it has been extremely tough on us, we have to show them that they can and will do what they want in life. When we let them know early in life that anything is possible, we are not denying their genetics. We are simply proving that it isn’t all about the genes.
What genes have you passed on to your children? How do you feel about the impact it has had on their lives?