We Are Our Parents' Mirrors

Whether we admit it or not -- whether we want to or not -- we mirror our parents. Parents are the single greatest influence on our lives. We see, absorb and act out their best and worst habits and behaviors.
08/18/2011 12:24pm ET | Updated October 18, 2011
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Whether we admit it or not -- whether we want to or not -- we mirror our parents. Parents are the single greatest influence on our lives. We see, absorb and act out their best and worst habits and behaviors.

As a parent myself, I am trying my best, not always successfully, to be the best version of myself I can be for my children. Everyday I work to impart the basic values and behaviors with the hope that they will lead successful lives. My idea of success, and my greatest wish for them is that they choose to live a meaningful, purposeful life. That they learn the grace and importance of building real, open relationships, live healthy lives, follow their passions and, ultimately, leave the world a bit more beautiful than they found it.

As I work to shape my children as best I can, I think of a study conducted by A. Lisa Fahrenthold in December 2003, which indicated that individuals are much more likely to volunteer throughout their lifetimes if they volunteer as a child or teenager. The likelihood increases when individuals volunteer with their family.

This makes intuitive sense to me and I am always thinking of ways to bring public service into our family activities. Over the years I've organized family outings where we sold doggie toys and bones near the dog park, donating the money to our local animal shelter. We have had family food shopping trips where we have filled bags with our favorite healthy foods for families in need during the holidays.

Of course, my children don't always share my goals and my son's entrepreneurial spirit seems to deflate knowing he has to give the money we earn away to charity. Perhaps my words aren't the right ones, but with deep breaths and lots of explaining, I forge ahead. It isn't always easy but it's worth it. I know the most important work I do every day is shaping my little people and fashioning them with values that will last a lifetime. Parents have a lot on their plates.

Speaking of plates, I recently found out that we mirror our parents at the most fundamental levels, before we are even born. What a parent eats can influence the child's susceptibility to obesity and health related problems. A recent study published in the scientific journal Diabetes found that a mother's diet during pregnancy has the ability to alter the genetics of her unborn child and predict their fat mass at age 9. However, this doesn't mean that mothers are the only ones to blame for childhood obesity. The diet of future fathers may have an impact too. According to a 2010 study in Nature, male rats fed a high-fat diet went on to produce daughters with symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Thanks to the hot new scientific field epigenetics, we are learning that the things in our environment (like our diet) can cause changes to the way genes are expressed, and these changes can be passed down to our offspring. All this new research suggests that if we can make healthy, life-long changes in the diets of today's children, it has the potential to put a huge dent in the obesity epidemic for generations to come.

As I settle in for the night with the precious few minutes I have to myself, I can't help but think about how I am the mirror image of both my parents. My father is obsessive about balanced meals and exercising religiously. He believes in vitamins and wearing good shoes when you run. He can also put away a tub of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia Fro-Yo on his favorite chair like no one is watching. My mother is a very simple cook, who loves to eat, loves the grocery store, loves to chat-up the grocery line attendants, is over-excited when people cook for her. She loves to watch people enjoy food and there is nothing greater to her than when she has her whole family at the table regardless of what's for dinner. Though I prefer the Chocolate Brownie Chunk and I haven't graduated from kids' vitamins, I am a carbon copy of my parents.

As I well know, the work of a parent is ongoing and can seem overwhelming -- from the daily challenges of homework and ensuring that the kids are safe and fed to the broader work of fostering trust and making the home a happy place. I also know being a parent is the most important job I will ever have. Every choice I make shapes their health and well-being, which is why I work so hard to nourish myself and my children with love, guidance, and good food.