Emily Parnell: The many facets of kid-watching — how do they mirror and blend their parents’ DNA and environments?

08/26/2014 12:14 PM

08/26/2014 12:14 PM

I love my kids’ friends. And my friends’ kids. Of course, I also love my own kids — and my own friends, but that’s not what this is about.

The last few weeks before summer ended were Playdatepalooza at the Parnell house. They arrived by foot, by bike, by sedan and by minivan. They stayed afternoons, overnights and entire weekends.

There were pool meetups where every parent left with different kids than they brought. There were grocery trips where trails of giggling buddies traipsed behind me. After school started, we continued to shuffle children, getting them to and from school.

I have to tell you, I love it. Anyone who enjoys some good, old-fashioned people watching needs to spend some time with a big group of kiddos. They’re quirky, crass, kooky, kind, cantankerous, or quiet, and I have to say, I love them all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want all the kids to be here all the time. And I certainly enjoy my personal me-time — the completely kid-free portions of my life where I’m only responsible for myself. But there’s something so fun about talking to other kids.

What makes it even more fun is when I’m friends with their parents — when I know them well. It’s so interesting to try to decipher the precise recipe of mom and dad’s DNA. Mom’s eyes, dad’s smile. A tiny girl with her father’s booming laugh, a boy repeating his mom’s gentle words of encouragement. I hear their language reflected and repurposed — watching with interest as children attempt to repurpose a parental scolding to deal with a peer. Yet they’re their own little people, unique to themselves.

I have to wonder what parts of my husband and me are evident in our own kids. In what ways are they mirrors? I think these things are only visible from an outside viewpoint. What’s normal in our home might be completely unusual in other peoples’ homes. Our vocabulary, our responses, our physical mannerisms — these all become part of our children.

Scientific studies have shown that when we look in a mirror, our viewpoints of ourselves are usually skewed. Many people can’t pick out a representation as their own body type. They may be overly critical and see themselves as larger than they actually are. Or others can’t see their own imperfections and believe themselves to be thinner than they are in reality. We focus on our imperfections — or see ourselves as we wish we were.

Our views are distorted when we look at our own kids, as well. We see specifics — good and bad. I see sweaty hair, creativity that strikes me as pure genius, a sharp tone of voice, an impressive vocabulary word, an academic challenge, beautiful eyes. It’s hard to step back and see the whole package — the complete child — without planning out next steps and celebrating successes.

I hope others see my kids the way I see theirs. Unique blends of their DNA and environments. Because when I look at other people’s kids, I always marvel at what a wonderful job my friends are doing at helping them grow.

Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly.

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