Odd parent out: how it feels when your kid isn’t anything like you at all

Guest post by Michele Yulo
wishing for a rainbow.

Isn’t it interesting how we struggle with our own identities through our children? We want them to be like us. By that, I mean, our vision of who we are — you know, all the good stuff. I know that as my own daughter has grown and developed her unique sense of self, her individuality, her very strong-willed personality, I have always looked for those moments of me in her.

Maybe this is partially due to the fact that she is practically my husband’s born-again twin (my husband is already a twin, by the way). She looks so much like him it’s eerie sometimes. Once in a very blue moon, others will say, “Oh! I see you in her now!” She’ll turn a certain way, or give a little look — sometimes I see it in pictures. She has some olive green in her eyes — they are not completely brown like my husband’s and I think, “There I am.”

I even went to the baby pictures to find one of me that seemed to resemble her as if to say, “See…we are alike!”

When she was three and began emulating everything my husband (who is a carpenter) did, wore, ate, said, it practically broke my heart. Each day, I hoped she would want to be more like me and less like him. And each day I made that wish, I would ask myself, “Why?” Wasn’t I being completely selfish? Or was this simply a mom issue?

It was not an issue for my husband who LOVED that she wanted to be like him. She was his “little buddy” running around with a tool belt on and climbing up and down ladders, hammering a nail with her work boots on. And I could only sit back and watch. My husband and I discussed this one day. I asked him, “What if we’d had a little boy who wanted to be just like me? Would that bother you?” This gave him pause. He wasn’t sure about that, he had said. So… maybe it’s not just a mom thing.

But I’m not going to lie. My daughter’s seeming rejection of me hurt like hell. Regardless, I knew I had to get over myself. I knew that my daughter would be better off if I simply let her be her true self and not force her in any one direction. So that’s what I did, and in the process I realized something: I actually don’t want her to be exactly like me.

Of course, I believe I have many, many positive things to offer her in terms of being a role model; but, truth be told, I hope she goes in a completely different direction than I did. She has the world stretched out in front of her with opportunities that I never had. She is already an accomplished musician (for six years old), a straight-A student, a lover of tools and building. She may be an engineer, a scientist, president!

But I’m starting to believe that being the odd parent out can be enlightening and liberating because it provides an opportunity for personal growth on many levels. There is no doubt that I think very differently now because of her. And even though I know that as she continues to learn and grow there is a good chance she will be more like me, I also know that it’s not about me — and that’s a good thing.

Comments on Odd parent out: how it feels when your kid isn’t anything like you at all

  1. This is something that has always been in the back of my mind. My SO and I are Math and Science People (yes, with the capitals!) We are also quite socially awkward and introverted. What if our kid turned out to be popular? What if they actually wanted to party and don’t care about school and have a huge social life? How on earth could I ever relate!?!

    What if they hate math? What if they hate computers? What if they want to become a *gasp* humanities major? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • My husband and I have similar fears. But we were both humanity majors ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m a librarian and he’s a lawyer. But we’re both total nerds, he’s into D&D and I’m a total Tolkien/puzzle game freak.

      We both fear that J will be the super popular/athletic guy. How do we relate to that?! We were both band/theater geeks, I went to exactly 1 party in high school. I’m sure somebody wrote a book on it that we could read but other than that idk what we’ll do.

      • All our friends tease us about our son turning out to be a dumb* jock with a perky cheerleader girlfriend. We’ll totally be supportive, but I’ll definitely be the mom going “So, is it a good thing he dropped the ball there or not?”

        *By dumb I simply mean not academically oriented. I am also NOT saying that all jocks are dumb, simply that this is what our friends specifically tease us with.

    • I worry about this in the future. My husband and I are wacky engineers, and we worry we’ll end up with a child who has no interest in education and would rather be the popular jock. It’s a silly worry, especially since we are planning on having kids in a decade.

      The only thing I can hope for is a mild rebellion during their teens and then a return to sanity. I rebelled against my parents by being a super conservative child. I ended up fairly liberal and open-minded! (Hey, I’m okay with polyamory! No problems there.)

    • If it helps, my shy mother and my withdrawn father pooped out obnoxious, loud me and for the most part I think they had fun. ๐Ÿ™‚
      My mom and I have talked about this and she’s said the good part about having a kid who was completely social and attended all the school activities and functions she never wanted to, was that she got to see a different side of school without actually having to experience it.

      Plus, she and my immigrant father had no frame of reference to go by with a lot of situations, so I was left to figure a LOT out on my own – which benefited me greatly in the long run.
      Sure, I was a little bummed that I didn’t have the mom that attended ALL the PTA meetings and headed committees, or who knew exactly how I felt the night of my first performance, but I also got parents that were so inordinately proud of me for doing something so different that I was praised and supported beyond what my friends whose parents had done similar things in high school.

      Granted, a lot of that (supporting your kid, encouraging them) is just basic good parenting, but being so different from them and yet eerily similar in a lot of ways made things a little more interesting according to Mom. Then again, I was raised an only child, so there’s no telling if she’d think differently if she had a little carbon copy running around…

      Also! My interest in things my parents enjoyed grew with age, so there’s always hope! My parents’ interest in things I loved grew a bit too; my love of theatre made my mom discover a passion for watching opera that she never had before…and that I don’t share AT ALL.

    • I coach middle school volleyball and my husband coaches girls middle school basketball. We’ve had people joke to us about “what if she is in the band?” My husbands response is always that he will be the loudest parent at the band concert cheering her on.

    • We are geeky, introverted, science/arty parents. Our kids are total extroverts, and the younger one is in fact shaping up to be a total jock. The jock thing has been easier than I expected, though, because really sports are just another hobby. The extroversion has been more challenging in learning how to support them and understand their social rhythyms, but I think it has been very good for us. (They still appreciate scifi, art and science, which helps.)

    • Get out of my head! I have this same fear. I don’t care WHAT my child will be interested in, I just don’t know how to relate to kids to prioritize people and relationships over all else. Having a kid who doesn’t LOVE something, whether it’s rocks, baking, music, or soccer terrifies me more than a kid who loves something I don’t.

  2. I worry about this all the time. I was always like my dad and I could tell it really bothered my mom and it hurt our communication with each other and my self-esteem. I hope I can be encouraging and embracing of whoever my daughter becomes as long as she is a good person.

  3. My husband and I (both theatre artists) joke around all the time that Teo is going to be a football-playing investment banker.

  4. I would love it if either of my daughters decide to emulate their father. I want so much for them to have a close relationship with him and I’m sure that if they end up sharing some of his interests that will only help.

  5. I am so unlike my mom (in looks and somewhat in personality) that I worried a little about this when I was pregnant.

    And it’s funny, most people think our son is a mini-me of his dad, in looks at least. But I have always seen him as the perfect blend of the two of us, with him being really all himself.

    In terms of temperament, I think our son is a little more like me, but my husband and I are a lot alike in many ways (and especially more when we were kids, I’ve heard now). And of course, he had a stroke/ is on the autism spectrum, so he has his own issues to deal with (my husband and I are both geeky, but we’re not really on the spectrum, at least not diagnostically).

    I think being the odd parent out (as my mom was with me — although I didn’t grow up with my dad, so I was completely the odd kid out) makes it easier to let the kid go off on their own path. My sister is much closer to my mom, in temperament and looks and my mom has had a harder time of letting her live her own life (there are other complicating issues, though).

  6. I have a bit of a different perspective on this – my mother never really wanted a daughter (too many sisters in her family), and when I was born she tried so hard to turn me into something different than her perception of herself – strong, self-secure, extroverted, artistic, gifted, etc. etc. etc. – the exact opposite of what she perceived to be her failings.

    And in some ways, she can probably look at the surface appearance and say, “It worked!” But my mother and I are exactly the same at the core of us – I see a little bit of her in every part of me. Not because she failed, but because she WAS strong, and artistic, and gifted. She just couldn’t see the best parts of herself (yeah, I didn’t say she was self-secure…)

    So I guess my round-about point is that your daughter may grow up to be the perfect image of your partner, or to be a different person entirely, but she will always be half of you as well (maybe the half you know so well, you don’t even recognize it when you see it).

  7. When J was a baby he looked just like me but as he’s gotten older he’s now a carbon copy of my husband who is a clone of his grandfather/father.

    Its been hard in both directions, because though he looks exactly like my husband his attitude and bitch plz facial expression are all me. I get bummed that my kid physically looks nothing like me, and my husband gets freaked out that I’ve seemed to possess my little boy toddler in facial expressions and attitude.

    Like the others above, we are scared that our two nerds combined would create a Republican accountant. He’s only 2 so we don’t know yet, but since he loves to run around in Hello Kitty rainbow socks & fairy wings I think we’re safe right now.

  8. I have to admit this hasn’t really concerned me yet, but my husband has already gone through the “what if our baby is a total nerd [like me] and I can’t relate to them at all??” My husband is very creative, amazingly talented with building, outdoorsy, and not very geeky at all. But I’m convinced that our child is going to be a blend of us both and that, as long as he’s interested in sharing what he knows and spending time with them, he’s going to have no problem relating to them. I guess we’ll see. But I’m so ok with them being more like him than like me.

    • This is kind of how I feel as well — I went through a “what if my child is totally different from me?” kind of phase (I was pretty quiet/shy/weird in middle and high school) and wondered how I would relate to him.. until it occurred to me that if we have an awesome parent-child relationship, I’ll be able to relate to him no matter what. If he’s this outgoing universally-adored kind of person, then I’ll learn what it’s like to be like that while growing up, and hopefully I’ll be able to teach him to be kind and considerate to others, that kind of thing. I think this is definitely something I over-thought in the first year of my son’s life.

  9. My daughter also could be my husbands twin – I have endured a lot of “well, if Mo had any doubts he was her father…” and a few “mini-Mo” jokes. Thing was, I didn’t want a girl, little girls terrify me. I had to really warm up to the idea, and part of that was me thinking I’d have a little me – tomboyish, tough – and I’d be able to sort of watch myself through her.

    Yeah, now I know that’s ridiculous. And we aren’t 100% sure how she’ll end up looking (I started out blonde-haired and blue-eyed, too, but am now a green-eyed brunette). I had to keep reminding myself that I married her father for a reason and eventually she’ll probably take a bit from him and a bit from me and a lot from her own experiences – ones I’m determined to support, even if it’s not what I would have done.

    In the end, all we really want is for our daughter to be happy. However she finds that happiness is irrelevant.

  10. My biggest fear along these lines, is that my child will grow up to be a bully. I was bullied aggressively through all of elementary school, and I don’t know what I would do if my daughter started inflicting that kind of pain on another child. It would be devastating on a very deep level. It would feel like a personal insult in a way.

    I wasn’t popular growing up, or terribly social either. It wouldn’t bother me if she is, so long as she still treated her peers with kindness. I’m sure there will be lots of things she might be into that I’m not, but that sort of excites me in a way because it might expose me to something new.

    Other than that, my husband and I joke that we’ll know we’ve failed her if she grows up to be a Red Wings fan. (no offense to anyone who is, that’s just one of our local teams biggest rivals) Although if that’s the worst rebellion we face, we will definitely feel lucky. LoL

    • If your fear is that she turned into a bully, you probably would be more likely to catch that behavior and talk her into a generally more empathetic state of mind than a parent who had been a bully and didn’t realize it would be a problem. I think if you tell her about your experiences as a child, and let her know how it hurt YOU, and ask her how she thinks other people feels if she starts acting out in a bullying way, she would check herself and change quickly. Especially if it’s not phrased as “we don’t hit,” but rather “how do you think that made him/her feel when you hit them? How would you feel if they had hit you?” and expand that into emotional bullying as well.

      At least, that’s how I hope to be able to discuss it with my kids. I was bullied too.

  11. I am completely and utterly my father’s daughter, and I think it probably hurt my mom’s feelings or made her feel “left out” or not as close to me. Fortunately in a large family, some of my siblings turned out to be more like her than I did, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve taken on more of her traits as an adult than I had as a child. So maybe as she grows up, you’ll see more of you in her.

    Great article, gives perspective on parents and parenting alike! Thanks!

  12. I’m hopeful that in a lot of ways my daughter will not be like me. I’m so happy for her that she’s not shy like I was. We hope that she’ll be more easy going than both of us. OTOH, I’m happy that she seems to be picking up our foodie tendencies and likes my clothing choices for her, but I know that could change at any time, for any length of time. I really only fear having to cope with the likely princess phase, but I’m up to the challenge.

  13. My dude and I have discussed the possibility of having a kid nothing like either one of us. We’re both creative, both nerdy. I’m the academic one, he’s more street-smart. What if our kid isn’t into any of that?

    My poor dad once expressed his feeling to me that he really didn’t contribute much to who I am. In many ways, I’m my mother’s daughter. I’m a book worm (she was a librarian), I’m somewhat introverted (she’s gotten more and more introverted as she’s aged), I am not sporty, I’m an academic. My dad, the social butterfly who I’ve only seen read a couple books and who is mechanically inclined, saw nothing of himself in me. To be quite honest, I sometimes feel that way. And yet when I look, I see both the good and the bad that I’ve gotten from him. A temper, the view that you help out your friends no matter what they need, a desire to have fun and play at any age, a love of playing “dress up.” The fact that he could not see any of that made me sorry that he doesn’t know me better and also sorry that he doesn’t see himself as clearly as I do. And much of this has changed as I’ve gotten older. I was way more social as a kid and even as a teen. I’m more introverted now. But I’m also more likely to value the help of my friends and understand that that is what you do. So to those who have kids who seem nothing like them I say, “Wait. Watch.” There will be something there. (Add in the confusion that I’m adopted and I have definite proof of the impact of nurture but also nature, in that I use the occasional term like my birth mom and there are hints around my eyes, we both like crafts. I’m also apparently the spitting image of a female version of my father, although I wouldn’t know.)

  14. I have 5 boys and a 3 year old girl. When they told me that I was having a girl, I was estatic!! That was short lived when she started going to her dad for EVERYTHING! To put her to bed…to kiss her boo boo’s. My boys are such ‘momma’s boys’ that I didnt even have the slightest worry about that! Maybe I hoped she would look like me, or be a tomboy like I was…(well she IS a complete tomboy, but I think that has to do with having 5 brothers ๐Ÿ™‚
    Although, we have gotten closer in the past few months, she still calls on him for everything….and it, honestly, is depressing! I really dont know what else to do but make sure (with all these kids) to set plenty of time aside for our one on ones. Love her, of course, but (whining) why does she have to like him better???? Lol ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. I worried about this from the moment I found out I was having a boy – and yes I will totally cop to gender stereotyping here! – that he would be way into sports and video games and I’m more of an artsy book nerd. I have to admit that I’m pleased my 2 year old already loves drawing and music. But I think the fact that I am having two boys and not having a girl at all is also liberating – to avoid getting into a trap of viewing my children as mini-me’s instead of their own people. And right now I actually think it’s adorable that my son often prefers his daddy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Ooo, that’s tough. I guess I never really think about this because my husband and I are very similar in ways, creative types, but then again our creative outlets are different. OR a critter could go into a whole direction that neither of us are a part of. Definitely something to ponder!

  17. Little girls love their daddy-figures until it’s time to “identify” with mom if they identify as the same gender as mom.
    it will come. it just takes a while!

    • Before this spirals: a) I wouldn’t make this assumption, because I can almost guarantee it doesn’t hold up AND b) I think you mean sex and not gender? There are many gender identities one could choose, and I’m pretty sure that the gender of your parents doesn’t always play a role in this.

      • Maybe I’m misinterpreting the comment but I’m not sure why it was jumped on for conservatism. Being an absolute statement may be problematic, so Hilljo could have used ‘”some” little girls “often” love imitating their daddy-figures until…’ but she still acknowledged that she wasn’t assuming the little girl will end up identifying as the same gender as her mother identifies. I think the point was to demonstrate a change in behavior emulation as children get older and develop their sense of self including gender identification and roles. I don’t know how exchanging sex for gender in that statement makes sense.

    • Your comment sounds very conservative and gender stereotypes. I was surprised to read such a view here.

  18. I really wish my mom would have taken this view when I was growing up instead of acting like it was my duty to emulate her and go against my natural personality (sarcastic with a slight mean streak, math based , and interested in construction which just happen to be some of my dad’s personality traits as well) But it sounds like you are approaching this in a healthy manner so go you!

  19. My six year daughter looks like I stole her. I am pale, always been chubby, and have dark wavy hair. She is golden brown, always been slim, and has straight brown hair. I used to get bummed out that she was had very little in common with me (single dimple, pretty feet, dark eyes, love of books, tempers that strike fear into her dad’s heart) but now I am proud of her differences. I was always shy and anti social, she is miss popular. My hell of being bullied began in preschool and followed me until I was 16; she was bullied and hurt physically in preschool until her Marine uncle told her to fight back and she has never been bullied again. I srtuggled with codependence and insecurity, she is independent and even got the Mc Donalds manager to open a register to take her order (on her own with me watching from a distance in total awe) because she didn’t want to wait in a long line. The biggest difference which made me totally greaful that she isn’t a total “mini-me” is that I have stuggled with severe depression, anxiety, and ocd most of my life. My daughter always finds a reason to declare “today is the best day ever!” Even if things go wrong, she calms me down by saying “its okay mommy, I still love you. We can find something different.” Her being different from me has been the best thing ever, better than any medication or therapy. Love that kid to death.

  20. When I was little, I looked just like my dad and loved to spend all my time with him. I didn’t really like playing with my mom. She loved to braid my hair and dress me up really cute and I totally hated it.

    But, as I got older and became a young woman, I began to identify very strongly with my mom. I understood her more than my dad, even if my dad and I had more shared interests. There was this whole secret world of female-ness that my dad would never really be able to comprehend like my mom could.

    And then–funny enough–as I became an adult, I started to look like my mom too. I still have my dad’s coloring but when you look at my shape, my bone structure, my expressions…it’s all my mom. I never looked like her, even as a baby, but now the resemblance is really striking.

    Of course, I can’t guarantee this’ll happen with your daughter to the extreme it’s happened with me, but I definitely think that as she grows older, and her sex and/or gender becomes more of a prominent part of her life, she’ll be looking to you and “getting” you a lot more.

  21. I take after my dad in looks and personality, but it sometimes meant that we butted heads, as we’re both stubborn and opinionated. It also meant that I’ve always had a great relationship with my mom, and her personality and his complement each other.

    This is such an interesting article, and I’m loving the comments. I can’t wait until my husband and I are ready for children, in a few years. It’ll be fascinating to see how they turn out. (I’m secretly hoping that they have my eyes. My nephew looks just I did as a baby, and he’s so adorable.)

  22. I guess I’d be sort of excited if I had a kid that took after me in some ways, however I’ve never really been expecting it. My partner will be the bio-mum for our first child and I’m incredibly happy to know (or at least assume) that it will have some of her traits as she’s a great person. Plus, she has some of the traits I didn’t have like not being cripplingly shy, being good at sport and making friends easily. I’d be relieved that having some of these traits might make it easier for my child to go through school/life. On the other hand, I think if we had a second one where I was the biomum then I’d probably get a kick out of seeing a tiny person who looked like me running around doing its own thing. I’m a fairly soft, gentle person, so I hope it’d inherit that.
    I think I don’t have the expectation of children being really similar to parents, because I’m like both my mum and dad, but my other siblings are totally their own people and I can’t see much of my parents in them at all.

  23. I’m a grandmother now, but I think you are worrying about something that is really not important. I was adopted as a baby, my sister was adopted by our parents 4 years later (not blood sister). Neither mom nor dad ever appeared to be at all concerned that we did not look or act like them or like each other.

    They loved us for who we were. And now that they are gone, and I’m a mom and a grandma myself, I know that they were right.

    Blood does not matter … love does.

    It does not matter if your precious child looks like or acts like you or your spouse – he or she is his or her own person. Don’t feel like you are being dissed by a child who is completely unable to help how you feel about him or her.

    Love your children, be they blood, step or adopted or foster children, and they will reward you with love in return.

  24. I’m glad I’m not the only one who worries about this a little! My daughter right now looks just like my husband and has his quizzical expressions, but I feel a lot of my personality (stubbornness!) in her too. She’s 5 mos old, though, so who knows. ๐Ÿ™‚ I live in Israel, though, so I struggle with the idea that my daughter will be fully Israeli, while I’ll always be the kind of awkward immigrant. Right now we’re her world, the words I use are the words she’s slowly starting to understand (maybe), etc., but there will come a time when our experiences will completely diverge, and when she’ll come home from school and not be able to explain to me what happened because she doesn’t know the word in English. Scary, even sad to think about… but we’ll figure it out!

  25. My sister and I are a pretty solid blend of both parents appearance wise, but my brother always looked exactly like my dad. My mother would always joke that she “didn’t know who his mother was.”
    Her joke may have hidden a slight twinge of sadness but thankfully neither of my parents ever really made us feel forced to be like them.
    They modelled behaviour they thought was appropriate but beyond that they allowed us to show them who we were. It sounds like you are taking this approach with your daughter and I think it’s a healthy one.

    My husband’s parents, conversely, spent a lot of time trying to tell him who they thought he should be and he struggles in his relationship with them now because of it. They will still express their disappointment in him that he did not become a doctor like they wanted. He’s very successful in a totally legitimate field that he loves – it’s just not medicine and this is a problem for his parents. It’s very painful for him to be reminded that he is a disappointment to them because he wanted a different profession.

    Also, it’s worth pointing out that your child will change physically as she grows. My brother developed my mother’s hands and my maternal grandfather’s height in his teen years.

    I read a study once that suggested that young children of many species tend to resemble their fathers more than their mothers so that their fathers will recognize and claim them. I don’t know how tested it is but it made enough sense to me that I remembered it. So as she grows, your daughter may grow to resemble you more.

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