General Parenting Issues — 26 December 2004
What will your children inherit?

When we think of inheritance, we often associate it with the transfer of financial assets from one generation to the next. However, children receive from parents and grandparents much more than material possessions. In fact, the most important treasures from one generation to the next are the intangible ones. Our children will be blessed if we successfully leave them the most important gifts worth preserving.

Some of the important non-material inheritances include: strong values, family traditions, relational patterns, mottos, memorable experiences, behaviors worth emulating and love. We accumulate all these throughout our growing-up years and many start appreciating them only upon the demise of their initial holders.

You can appreciate your own inheritance by recalling your past and considering the following questions:

What do you remember about your grandparents? Their peculiar ways, their ‘Old fashioned” values, their tenderness with each other, their religious beliefs and practices, their repeated sayings or the love in their eyes as they admired you?

Do you recall the delicious smells of grandma’s cooking? Or perhaps the taste of her special recipes that have been unequaled to any other you ever tasted? Perhaps you remember grandpa’s happy voice as he read to you? Maybe you still savor your parents’ pleasure as you joyously opened your gifts as a symbol of their love for you?

What were your holiday traditions and practices? Did you cherish or dread them? Do you recall the happiness in your family home on the holidays or perhaps the chaos, anxiety and discord? Are your family remembrances tinged with joy or sadness? Can you still recite the words to your favorite songs your family sang?

Did your family share happy or tumultuous meals together? Did you love or dislike family vacations: the camping, hiking, long hours in the car with your siblings and the places your parents had you visit? Were the museums a drag? How about attending professional sports such as baseball games, the hot dogs and popcorn? Do you even remember where you went, or just how you felt about being together?

Were your parents talkative, inquisitive, and questioning? Did you find it annoying or caring? Did you appreciate the teaching, lectures, criticism “for your own good” and the one sided talks? Did your parents seem intrusive, neutral or detached from you? How did you feel about it?

Was there someone in your family whom you admired and wished to emulate? Was your father the greatest, cool guy you adored? Was mom a funny character who made you laugh and eased your pain? What did you then and what do you now want to preserve of your parents’ personalities?

What did you learn about marriage from your parents? Did you have a good or poor role model for a marital relationship? Were your parents affectionate with each other delighting in their connection? Or, did they fight, were unkind or distant? How did their example affect your adult relationship?

The questions are many and they serve to assess what is the legacy you carry and the one you may choose to leave for your children.

We sometimes fail to realize that everything we do, say or feel has a tremendous impact on those whom we love. Children are like sponges, absorbing all the obvious and less obvious messages of our conduct. It is hard to hold ourselves accountable for every act and word in order to leave our children a positive memory, but we can try. How we are in every way shapes our children’s memories, personalities and well-being and helps them amass the family “fortunes”.

All parents want to enrich their children in every way possible. Some regret that they are unable to leave their heirs money, property or valuable possessions. Yet, ALL people can leave their children blissful memories of love and family.

When you think about what treasures you may leave for your children, please consider the following:

• Decide what intangible assets may enrich your child: good values, education, a healthy sense of self-esteem, caring for others, people skills, humor, or good traits.
• Plan for opportunities for your child develop these worthwhile assets.
• Practice and model for your children behaviors that merit emulating.
• Repeat the experiences you had that helped you become emotionally healthy and use the damaging ones as lessons to avoid perpetuating.
• Create valuable experiences that may enrich your children’s sense of family bonding and connection.
• Be a loving, kind and considerate partner to your spouse. Modeling healthy relationships is a true gift for your children.
• Above all, create love. Behave lovingly, speak with tenderness and respect toward your children, spouse and others. Knowing that they are accepted and loved is the greatest inheritance they can receive and it will truly enrich them and their heirs to come.

A wise saying summarizes it well: “Love is never lost, it only passes from one generation to the next.”

December 26, 2004

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Dec. 26, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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