Updated: Oct 22
Inheritance. What a loaded word for a parent. More complex than the comparatively tractable heredity of our biological characteristics. For me, the term brings with it a weight of expectation, guilt, regret and remorse that, appropriately, spans generations.
As a scientist, my first association is inevitably genetic inheritance. Will my children inherit the physical and mental illnesses passed down to me from my parents, some likely undiagnosed in theirs? No need to worry about the essential hypertension that only became a problem in my mid-30's; but is that colic, or the Hirschsprung's disease that resulted in my entire large intestine being removed as a child? Is my four year old daughter overly anxious as a result of a mother and grandmother with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic attacks? Or is that a normal level of childhood uncertainty? Will my GAD and chronic depression be passed down to my children, or learned from my behaviour? Does my daughter's habit of chewing her hair come from my compulsion to pull my hair, a compulsion shared by my father? Less tangible an inheritance, is that of low self-esteem - a truly destructive trait that took me years to recognise as the root of many other problems. My parents grew up in Apartheid; nothing damages self-worth like state-sanctioned denial of your basic human rights. They did everything humanly possible to shield us from this, bringing us to the UK, providing us with an education they were denied (but still fought to get). Yet, imposter syndrome, low self-esteem and a tireless, over-compensating work ethic pervades the generations.
If there is an anxiety over inheritance that dwarfs all others, it is of course the overwhelming shame, guilt, powerlessness and fear over the planet we leave our children that we have (and continue to) conspicuously consume. I have nowhere near the emotional intelligence and maturity to explain the gravity of all of this to my children, nor why generations of collective apathy have led to this. My son was born during a pandemic, my daughter is growing up thinking it is entirely normal to socially distance, have playgrounds out of bound, and only see her friends through my laptop screen. Having lived across four continents and spent my formative years collecting stamps in my passport, I imagined taking my children on adventures across countries, developing little global citizens. Now, I struggle to justify flights anywhere and I lecture them about plastic toys. It seems so unfair. Were July's restless nights due to the sweltering heat, or the existential crisis of knowing my children will regularly be at the mercy of extreme weather events? I eat less meat, I fly less, I try to make more conscious decisions, but why aren't I, why aren't we, trying harder to secure their future?
(part two will cover financial inheritance - big topics for a mini blog!)
One of my favourite ever songs; the soundtrack to how I feel about my children.
"I'm dedicating every day to you Domestic life was never quite my style When you smile, you knock me out, I fall apart And I thought I was so smart
You will come of age with our young nation We'll bleed and fight for you We'll make it right for you If we lay a strong enough foundation We'll pass it on to you, we'll give the world to you And you'll blow us all away Someday, someday Yeah, you'll blow us all away Someday, someday"
These posts serve partly as therapy for me, and partly in hopes that the words will resonate with you and help build a community of parents and friends that can support each other. Take a look around the website, and join if you want to see more.