Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest Post by Karen Smith

Inherited Habits: 
Know When to Honor Thy Father and Mother 

by Karen Smith

We all derive some of our personality from our parents, and some of it from rebelling against them. It’s a healthy, dialectical process: we get to choose which of their beliefs, inclinations, and habits are beneficial to us, and which we can improve on.

Personally, I was raised by a wonderful mother who also happened to be a librarian by trade. Although you would think that this vocation might imply an orderly, organized nature, that part of the job description was not as evident in her own personal life as was the compulsion to hoard.

Admirable enough in the context of a library, where it can be put to use preserving mankind’s knowledge for posterity, this retentive, pack-rat quality made for an unbelievably cluttered house. Kitchenware and other goods, however obsolete or redundant, were never, ever thrown away. Surely, someone will want those someday! Newspapers (remember those?) and magazines were piled and clipped and shredded, and piled again, on any available surface. My sister and I would sometimes joke that our living room looked like a gerbil cage.

My father had the same tendency, though his was mostly confined to the realm of gadgetry and electronics. Boxes of wires that once belonged to God-knows-what. Defunct computers. A whole slew of long-obsolete MiniDisc players, which he had bought in multiples, not because they’d be worth something someday (at least he wasn’t that delusional) but just so he’d never have to buy another one, even if he could find someone still selling them.

Dad also had some bad habits when it came to work. A government attorney, he often found himself working long into the night, due less to any overly onerous caseload than to his own procrastinating ways. He would schmooze and dawdle and not get nearly enough done at work, to the point that it ate into his personal and family life, thus affecting us all.

Unfortunately, as a writer, I find myself replicating this behavior pattern frighteningly faithfully. I’m not in analysis or anything (though maybe I should be!), but I frequently find myself thinking, D’oh! I’m doing exactly what I used to judge Dad for. It’s something I have to actively struggle against.

The hoarding compulsions less so: now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Spartan, but I don’t like clutter. I relish the feeling of control that comes with a well-organized and streamlined household, though without ever being totally anal about it. In other words, I think I’ve found the balance they never did between keeping a sterile and uptight “museum house” and being a complete slob with cars up on cinder blocks in the front yard.

If only I could find that same balance with the productivity issue. Some parental curses are hard to break, as mythology soberly notes. In Christianity we trace this “original sin” all the way back to Adam. But whether you’re religious or not, it’s hard to avoid recognizing that the sins of the father often truly are visited on the son, whether by genetics or environment. We do each have the choice, however -- and the ability -- to be a little bit better than the last generation. We would want the same for our own children. Right?

So think about it: which of your habits constitute a helpful inheritance from your parents? On the other hand, can you recognize places where these ingrained ways of living might be holding you back? Mom and Dad formed you, but it’s your life to live.

BIO: Karen Smith is a versatile freelance writer who often writes for While her writing focus is trends in small business, she also enjoys writing about the challenges of parenting, continuing education, health, and more. Karen welcomes comments below!

No comments: