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I say it a lot to my almost-three-year-old son: “You look just like your father.” A lot of people say it to him. I have three blue-eyed, curly and red-headed kids, and then the third kid out of the four randomly looks completely different; dark skin, dark chocolate eyes, straight black hair. Before our fourth was born, more than one person flat out asked me if our third (nicknamed Altima, for where he was born) had the same father as my older two children. Now that the fourth looks just like the older two, I don’t get that question anymore. Whereas the other three kids don’t look anything like my husband, the one born in his car is a dead ringer.
We talk about it a lot, we call him Seth Jr., or when he’s being mischievous, Meth Jr.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “you look just like your father.” At the precipice of his third birthday, he’s the same age I was when my parents split up. Growing up, I used to hear the same thing that Altima does, “you look just like your father,” but because of my parents’ divorce, it took a different tone. It always made me feel on the defensive when my mother said it, and when he said I looked like him, I felt like I was somehow betraying my mother by looking like him instead of her.
And while I looked like him, I had all of my mother’s mannerisms and her manner of speech. I looked like him, but I sounded, acted and thought like her. And that expression played out in the same way; “you’re just like your mother” was a criticism when it came from him, but it was her way of declaring victory when she said it. And we do it too; whenever our older daughter gives her dad a talking to he calls her “Bethany Jr.”
In these little ways, it feels like I’m raising my kids in a similar home like the one I grew up in, but with a very drastic twist. Raising kids has a way of making me see outside of myself and see my childhood in a new light. This is one of the most striking moments; when we tell our daughter she acts just like me or when we tell our son he looks just like Seth… We say it, and the look on their face isn’t the one I must have made. It’s not defensive, it’s not fearful, it’s not sad; their face exudes pride. There’s so much research out there about what divorce does to a child’s self-esteem, and this is one of the most profound real-life examples I’ve observed of how that self-esteem takes a hit for children of divorce.Published in