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Do We Inherit Our Parenting Styles From Our Own Parents?

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Years ago, Michael and I ended up in marital therapy. I remember our therapist, with her wild, flyaway hair and her sensible slacks, drawing up family trees for the both of us. Then we talked about the concept of "family of origin issues," and about how the different ways in which we had been raised might complicate our marriage.

Looking back, I probably found the conversation more fascinating than fruitful. I had always been interested in the behavioral sciences. Either way, our marriage survived, and now we have a child, and the nerd inside me can't help wondering whether family of origin issues might complicate the way we parent even more.

How will we approach money, for instance?

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Growing up, I was discouraged from getting a job so that I could focus on my schoolwork and on my massive collection of extracurricular activities, all designed to bulk up my college transcript. My parents even balked at the idea of me working when I went away to college, finally conceding to the possible benefits of an on-campus job. When I inevitably dug my way into a mountain of credit card debt, my parents bailed me out, because that's what parents did. They kept you from falling on your face. It's a value of motherhood I've since internalized.

My husband, meanwhile, started working part-time at the age of 14, with the understanding that things wouldn't just be handed to him. He had to earn them. When he went away to college and got into credit card debt, his father temporarily paid the minimum amount on his bills but then helped him secure tough but well-paying seasonal jobs that enabled him to pay off his debt on his own. Later on, after graduating from college, Michael's car broke down, and he didn't have enough money to buy another one. His father loaned him the money... but made him pay it back with interest. When it comes to his strong work ethic and his financial responsibility, Michael credits his upbringing.

How will we reconcile these two wildly different upbringings—and the values they engendered in us—if our darling Em ever gets herself into financial trouble?

How will we reconcile these two wildly different upbringings—and the values they engendered in us—if our darling Em ever gets herself into financial trouble? How will we find the balance between wanting to support and protect her and wanting to teach her how to be a strong, independent woman?

And is that perhaps the question all of these parenting decisions come down to?

For the moment, we're finding our own way, upbringing be damned. We've negotiated our way through division of labor, sleep training, and solid foods and, thus far, we've done pretty darn good for a bunch of noobs.

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But Em is only 15 months old at this point, and there is still so much ahead of us. Teaching her how to share. Teaching her how to play well with others. Teaching her how to cope with separation anxiety. And how in hell will we approach things like sexuality education? Balancing schoolwork and screen time? Dating?

I suppose all we can do is approach the lessons we learned from our own parents in much the same way I approach anything else: take what resonates and throw out the rest.

Either way, I'm pretty sure we only have partial control over how our strong-willed daughter will turn out.

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