Having lived with my birth family for more than 22 years before I married and moved away, I know where I come from. I know why my hair grayed early (like my mom’s) and why my right hand has a tremor (like my mom’s mom). These are physical understandings.
But what I haven’t thought about until now are the invisible things we often inherit from our family of origin – the desires, delights and sometimes dysfunction we observed and absorbed while living so closely with one another.
Reflecting on the habits I inherited or chose to pursue, the first one that comes to mind is reading. My mother was an avid reader of novels and my dad loved nonfiction and collected a huge number of books that filled every nook and cranny in their apartment. As a young child, I watched them both read and talk about their books. And as I grew I decided to join them in the habit. Following their example, I’ve always treasured books and began collecting them when I was in elementary school. Jack London was my first favorite author.
For years I watched my mother crochet afghans as gifts for the people she loved. My kids have ones she made when they were little and left the crib and others she made when they were grown and left for college. I have more than 20 she made for me over the years. They were her non-verbal way of saying “I love you.” I became addicted to the habit of crocheting gifts and have followed her example for years.
My dad always had a love of writing, and once he retired and had the time he founded a writer’s group in the senior apartment where he and mom lived. The participants began to publish a monthly newsletter for other residents. Somehow, whether by genetics or by observation, the love and habit of writing was transferred to me and has enhanced and enriched my life.
But not all habits are happy ones. My mother was a worrier and I’ve fought that habit for most of my life. She didn’t give it to me. I took it.
And she was intimidated by using new tools. Mom used the same large slicing knife for the 60-plus years of her marriage until it was razor thin. New tools scare me too. I’ve yet to read the microscopic instructions for using my smart phone and feel threatened by the complications of my digital camera.
But what intrigues me is that there are things and behaviors I have purposefully chosen not to inherit from my family of origin and the decisions that I made – pro or con – say much about who I have become. I guess I don’t really understand how I came to absorb some and reject other behaviors that I saw modeled.
Webster’s Dictionary defines habit as the prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts or feelings – their mental makeup – and goes on to explain that habit is a behavior pattern or an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. Therefore I’m assuming the habits we absorb come from what we see, what we feel and what we think. And I’m left wondering what good or bad habits my children might have inherited from me.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”