How much say do we have over who we become?

It’s quite strange when your son reaches an age where he is not only taller than you – but is also smarter than you. And probably always will be. Being an average Generation X mother to an exceptionally bright Generation Z is quite the eye opener.

I’ll break it down for you.

I stopped being able to help my 15-year-old son with his maths homework years ago. Embarrassingly, I think he was in about grade seven at the time. I’ll admit I am somewhat mathematically challenged. But in my defence, he was doing an accelerated program. He asked me if I could help him solve one of the problems. Well, sadly, it was numerical gobbledegook to me. So I had to admit I was literally unable to help him with his homework. Oh, the shame.

At 15 I was discovering boys, alcohol and the joys of spending school hours at the beach. I was all about brand names, thinness and doing what everyone else was doing. I was a study in teenage angst and rebellion. Rebellion against my mother, mind you, not society.

At the same age my son gets consistently glowing school reports, excellent grades and knows what career path he wants to pursue. If I had received even one high school report that read like his, my mother would have wept tears of joy.

My son simply likes what he likes, thank you very much. The universe, black holes, physics, time travel and artificial intelligence are subjects that pique his interest. He’s not interested in wearing the right clothes by the right designers. While I battle a chronic Zara addiction, he seems immune to marketing. I don’t know what happened. Sometimes I think they sent me home with the wrong baby. Wasn’t I supposed to end up with the brat?

It’s made me realise that parenting may have little to do with how kids turn out. I’ll confess I’m now inclined to agree with Judith Rich Harris who, in her 1998 book The Nurture Assumption, argues that parents have little or no influence over the long-term development of their children’s personality. Obviously her book went down with child psychologists about as well as a new mum turning up at playgroup with two litres of Coke for the toddlers to share.


But, honestly, I’ve never been much of role model mum. I was single for 10 years. He’s been through a divorce. We lived in low socio-economic suburbs for most of his life. I can’t cook. I’m not much of a homemaker. I get distracted easily. I have a short temper. I have been a career-focussed, working, busy parent most of his life. And I’ve had my fair share of personal challenges and difficulties along the way.

But my son doesn’t seem to have suffered because of it. In fact, he’s one of the most grounded, lovely and well adjusted people I know. He’s always had a quiet confidence and self assurance. He has a great sense of humour. And I certainly didn’t teach him that. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been plagued with insecurity, self doubt and seriousness most of my life.

Maybe it’s the difference between girls and boys. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s just that we’re all born with our own nature. Your family may affect the choices and experiences you have – but ultimately you are who you are.

People always congratulate me for raising such a delightful young man. But I’ll happily give my son all the credit for that.

Do you have a child who has turned out nothing like you? Are you anything like your parents?

Summer Goodwin has been a professional writer for 15 years. She is a former News Ltd journalist and has freelanced for Harper’s Bazaar and Shop til you drop. You can read her blog here or follow her on twitter @summer_goodwin


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