Would I make a neurotic frankenkid?
August 17, 2009 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Should I try to breed out the parts of me I don't like? Or is it ok to make super neurotic kids?

I'll make the question as simple as I can. Let's say I've been a bit tortured in my life by some issue, for instance: OCD or generally being a neurotic, anxious worrier. Now in meeting women, I may meet someone who is totally different from me in those regards, and that might be nice in that we can compliment each other, and she might have her own set of issues that I won't have.

But I also might meet a woman who has a similar set of issues, and that might be really nice because I won't necessarily have to explain myself, and we might be more compatible because we might feel less weird about ourselves in relation to each other.

My question is: does this vague similar/different scenario have much of an impact on our kid's DNA? Is being a neurotic person a dominant gene? Any chance we'll end up with a varsity football player, or are we definitely going to end up with a shy kid who is scared to come out from under the couch?

Please, I'm not looking for 'get a therapist, you are a crazy person'. This is actually on my mind, and I'm interested in the answer. If it matters, I'm just your garden variety obsessive worrier, not so clinical.

Personal anecdotes would be totally welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Much of this is simply behavioral. Kids tend to imitate their parents' moods and emotional postures.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:57 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Genetics is a roll of the dice. You're both full of recessive traits, as far as genetics goes, and that's not that far. Yes, it matters, but much less than your personal compatibility, I believe.

Really loving your spouse, so that you both have the peace and strength to do well for your children, day after day, month after month, year after year, is less random and arguably just as if not more important.
posted by amtho at 6:59 AM on August 17, 2009 [10 favorites]

Ha. I have wondered similar things. But come on, you're trying to breed out of your offspring what you don't like in yourself? Surely the greatest determinant of how your kids turn out, the one thing over which you can exercise the most control, will be the environment that they grow up in. Find someone who makes you happy, and don't worry about anything else.

I mean, sure, maybe you can find someone who has different issues than you. Someone who sort of balances you out. But then, your kids might inherit all the bad stuff from each side. Or maybe you win, and they get all the good stuff from each side... but you can't control that at all. So you're gambling. But more importantly, you are trying to excercise control where you cannot. So let it go, and worry more about your happiness.
posted by molecicco at 7:03 AM on August 17, 2009

(favorited amtho's answer)
Your kid may end up with amplified genetic characteristics if you marry someone just like yourself, but when mom and dad really love each other kids usually turn out alright.

That said, my wife and I are polar opposites in almost every way. I was never able to stay with anyone too much like myself when I was dating. Moral: Don't try to scheme. Just fall in love.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:06 AM on August 17, 2009

The kid's genetics might pull them one way or the other, but nurture overrules nature a lot of the time in how they will cope with things. They might be more shy by nature, but learn from watching their parents how to make friends, behave in groups, and know that it is okay to need alone time because you and your wife have been supportive of that.

It isn't the issues that may or may not compliment the other, it is how you cope with them; if one does while the other refuses to address, for instance, OCD, that just looks like trouble to me. You both might understand the issue, actually building a life together could be torture.
posted by variella at 7:06 AM on August 17, 2009

This line of questioning is part of your OCD. As mentioned above, most behavioral issues stem from nurture, not nature. IOW, you're beanplating this.

First, fall in love. Then deal with the other shit.
posted by notsnot at 7:11 AM on August 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

Animal breeders need generations of livestock to select for desired traits.

You only have one.
posted by notyou at 7:18 AM on August 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

My partner and I were just joking about this the other day, since our oldest son in particular has some traits that have been challenging for me in my life. But we really do see the difference parenting makes--he struggles much less than I did at the same age, for instance, and already has coping mechanisms for dealing with his anxiety that I didn't develop until I was a grown up in therapy and had suffered for years.

Both our biological kids were conceived with donor sperm, and we have joked about it sometimes--I love my partner, but you'd have to be insane to reproduce with him: alcoholism, diabetes, schizophrenia, juvenile arthritis, cancer--and that's just his parents! But, truthfully, a child with my partner's qualities (and our kids do have them) would be a blessing.
posted by not that girl at 7:46 AM on August 17, 2009

Some advice my dad gave me upon becoming a (neurotic) new father:

Kids grow up despite your best efforts not because of them.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:50 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think amtho's got it up there.

For what it's worth, my girls have some wacky brain chemistry on both sides. So far...they seem pretty happy, and well adjusted kids. My now-ex and I take parenting pretty seriously, and are willing to invest lots of energy and attention toward the girls and work hard on modeling healthy approaches to life and it's challenges.

But, yeah, lots of OCD and anxiety and depression on both sides. I think it must means that you make sure you pay attention for that stuff as they get older. But, really, any parent should be paying attention anyway, so...I'd argue that it's pretty much the same as parenting without a family background of brain chemistry issues.
posted by Richat at 8:24 AM on August 17, 2009

This line of questioning is part of your OCD. As mentioned above, most behavioral issues stem from nurture, not nature. IOW, you're beanplating this.
And if you ARE OCD'ing this thought, stop yourself with a little CBT.

But, yes and no. Many, MANY neurological issues have genetic predispositions and run in families. In a way, it helps that my son who has OCD also has a dad with OCD. I know how to work with it already.

But I have three kids and only one got the OCD gene, so you never know.

It's something to have on your radar but should most definitely not stop you from having kids. My OCD boy is the greatest kid ever, and there are some seriously rough patches but more moments of wonder.
posted by dzaz at 8:32 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

My wife is a worrier/planner/organizer. Me not so much. Both of us to a fault. I wish I was more of a planner and she wishes she could take it as it comes more. We have three wonderful kids. All three with very different personalities and quirks. One is a freak about being early or on time. Another casually rolls with the punches as long as it does not affect their own agenda. The other loves a random adventure like trying to get into the Phish concert will driving past SPAC last night (alas, we failed) but hates to be told a plan in advance. My wife and I learned to adapt. The time freak, we get there on Lombardi time, 10 minutes early. One, we don't tell the plan even if we have one because that is not going to be productive. The other, we just don't mess with his sleep habits (teenager) and he is good to go. I think DNA has something to do with it, but it is such a crapshoot that I would not specifically try to breed a trait out. Who knows, you may have a recessive gene you don't like. I would worry about the million other things to worry about rather than your kid's gene pool.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:36 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

So there are these kids who were once my eggs. They have two dads, only one of whom is their bio-dad.

One of them is just like his bio-dad in terms of neuroses, and one of them is just like her other dad in terms of neuroses. Neither are anything like me.

Yes, anecdata, but. Choosing a partner who you think will complement your strengths as a parent is a fine idea. Thinking that there's a simple genetic code that maps onto all behaviors, not so much.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:47 AM on August 17, 2009

Any chance we'll end up with a varsity football player, or are we definitely going to end up with a shy kid who is scared to come out from under the couch?

Yes, of course you could end up with a varsity football player. You could also end up with a shy varsity football player. For that matter, you could end up with a confident, outgoing, kid who absolutely hates sports and competition. Or a fearless introvert, who can face anything life throws at him but doesn't go in for small talk and doesn't mind going it alone. Or an extroverted athlete who still hates risks — a varsity quarterback who succeeds because he's already thought of every single thing that could go wrong, and come up with backup plans for all of them. Or a varsity QB who quits sports because he gets too nervous on game day — and then goes on to a wonderful, fulfilling career as a gym teacher. Or a shy, nervous kid who still accomplishes great things and has a very happy life because his parents taught him how to be persistent. Or a shy, nervous kid who accomplishes great things because he's shy and nervous — he hides out in the library all the time, reads all the best of western literature by the time he's twelve, and goes on to be a brilliant novelist.

There is really no predicting this shit. There are thousands and thousands of possibilities. And most of them, frankly, are pretty good. Almost nobody is doomed from the get-go — most of us, regardless of our genes, have a solid shot at happiness.

Is being a neurotic person a dominant gene?

Of course not. It's not controlled by a gene at all. You get your personality from hundreds of genes, thousands of life experiences, and thousands of choices that you make of your own free will.

We can talk about dominance for binary traits — ones that are all or nothing, you've either got it or you don't. But look at all the different ways that "shy" or "nervous" or "not macho" can show up in a person. Can you honestly believe that there's one all-or-nothing flip of a switch driving all that variation?

Does this vague similar/different scenario have much of an impact on our kid's DNA?

Oh, sure. Your kids will take after you in all kinds of ways — most of them unexpected. Your kids will take after their mother, too, in all kinds of ways, and most of those will be unexpected.

Odds are, when they're all grown up, you'll look at them and go "Wow. Who knew that weird-ass combination of my traits and hers could turn out so awesome?"
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:58 AM on August 17, 2009

I'm pretty neurotic and Mr. Llama is kind of a melancholy sort (although just occasionally a peering into the heart of darkness), and I can tell baby llama is going to be on the thinky, bookish side. She's always seemed like a pretty together person to me.

I think that temperament is inherited, but the forces that act on it are such that it can create vastly different people -- I'm really going to be okay with it if little llama just wants to sit under a tree and read. My parents weren't, they treated me like there was something very wrong with me. Hence the (thanks folks!) years of therapy.

So, I think yes, your kid has a chance of inheriting whatever your personal weirdness is, but if you're accepting and supportive and you have a sense of humor about, whatever way that you have been tormented by said thing is not as likely to be passed on.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:05 AM on August 17, 2009

Also, for the record, neurotic frankenkids are fun in their own right, too. We had this vision of baby llama, before she was born, of her reading in restaurants and just like glowering at us and rolling her eyes as we made totally out of date references to The Simpsons.

It may yet turn out like that, but I suspect there are some pretty serious lulz in that scenario as well.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:10 AM on August 17, 2009

There are genetic links for many things, and for many traits, it's unknown. More than a few of my family members have bipolar disorder, which is a drag for them and others. But many of my family members are also highly creative and interesting. I'd seriously consider not having children if I had a disease like Huntington's, which is serious, and the inheritance is quite well understood. But I'm glad I live in the world with Woody and Arlo Guthrie. Genuine Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder seems to be a biological disorder, not a neurosis or a poor adaptation.

Neuroses? Manageable, don't get too worried about it.
posted by theora55 at 9:54 AM on August 17, 2009

Being slightly neurotic myself, I too have thought about this stuff. However the thing that makes me stop thinking about it is realizing that my parents are total opposites, personality-wise, and instead of having created two children who are a mixture of their two personalities, they created one kid (me) who very much takes after her father, and one kid (my brother) who very much takes after my mother. So it's really a crap shoot how this stuff works out.

And plenty of people I know don't take after their parents whatsoever. So just marry someone who makes you feel emotionally stable and "sane"-- that's the best way to encourage emotional stability and "sanity" for your kids.
posted by np312 at 10:48 AM on August 17, 2009

You need to do research about the specific disorder involved and its heritability. Then, when you start to consider having children, you need to factor your disorder into your reproductive decisions.
posted by kathrineg at 1:49 PM on August 17, 2009

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