A baby’s arrival is almost always a joyous event.  Family members flock to see the newborn (one can imagine the prehistoric origins of such in-gatherings of the clan in order to determine or confirm the likely father) and to offer congratulations together with a flurry of often conflicting first impressions , “Who does the child take after?”  Everyone present feels obligated to provide an opinion.  This subject dominates the conversation.  Family features and traits must be identified, sorted out and credit assigned once a consensus is reached.  Claims are made, supporting evidence put forward and contrary opinions contested.  Because heredity involves a fluid genetic stream supplied by an extensive network of individuals its possible to range pretty far afield here.  Distant relatives, barely recognized or acknowledged could nevertheless end up in the mix as readily as kin more closely related.

Opinions fly fast and furious.  Some focus on facial evidence; others maintain that body shape is crucial.  Still there’s no agreement.  A further complication arises from the fact that in the early weeks and months the situation remains remarkably fluid as the baby’s features change, creating obvious disappointment for some, but also opening the doors for others to stake their claims.

Each encounter with the newborn prompts renewed discussion and debate.  A few actually reference old baby pictures in their possession in support of their case.  Meanwhile, the parents look on delighted at the attention their child is receiving while staking their own obviously legitimate claims.  The road to compromise is within reach, however, once discussion moves from the infant’s overall “look” to specific features.  Concessions are now likely from all concerned parties.  Concede the eyes, but claim the nose.  Insist upon the ears and bargain away the lips.  Do not compromise on the hair, but accept the judgment regarding the chin.  Broaden the conversation to include temperament and eating habits and you expand the possibilities for give and take on all sides.

Meanwhile the baby cackles and coos seemingly oblivious to the ongoing debate over genetic inheritance.  But don’t be deceived:  the infant is taking it all in, upset at being used to satisfy the expectations and needs of individual family members.  Accordingly, he will, in years to come reject being defined by others and insist upon establishing his own unique identity.

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