It’s funny how when our kids are well-behaved we say “they’re so me,” but when they’re not so well-behaved we say “they’re so their father/mother,” as if behavior can affect one’s genetic makeup. Regardless of how we feel about the other parent of our kids, they’ve contributed their DNA—even if we’re no longer married to them.
This particular story is about Nancy, a divorcee, her daughter, Jenny, her son, Rob and a 23andMe ancestry kit.
Disclaimer: This story and images are 100% real. Names and other details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
As parents, we often assume that since our children look like us, sound like us and have similar tendencies they must therefore have the same ancestral makeup as we do. It’s easy to think that if we’re, let’s say, 99% from one region of the world then our kids must also be. But DNA testing kits have been proving this theory wrong for some time now, and Nancy’s personal story to shows it clearly.
Nancy is 44 years old. She is a divorced, with custody of her 2 kids - Jenny, age 13, and Rob, age 11. She divorced her husband a few years after Rob was born and while she doesn’t consider her divorce ‘messy’, it certainly wasn’t an easy situation for herself or her kids. A number of years after the divorce, Nancy moved with Jenny and Rob to Canada, which is where they've been living for the last 3 years.
Nancy came across ancestry testing quite by accident. Here’s how it happened.
A certified psychiatrist, Nancy had recently received board certification in integrative and holistic medicine. She was at a medical conference that discussed a link between a gene mutation known as MTHFR, and various psychiatric and other medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. She had a personal interest in the topic as she’s had a number of relatives with Parkinson’s disease, so she decided to take a DNA test to see if she had the marker.
When she signed up for a DNA test from one of the major testing companies they added in an ancestry test for free, and Nancy couldn’t refuse the free test. She sent in test tube saliva samples for herself, Jenny and Rob, and a few weeks later she received her results online.
Nancy wasn't surprised by her own results—she learned that she’s 95.6% Ashkenazi Jewish, or what Nancy calls "very Jewish." But she was pretty shocked by Jenny’s and Rob’s results. She learned that Jenny is 66.9% Ashkenazi Jewish and Rob is only 68.8% Ashkenazi Jewish. The rest of their ancestral makeup comes mostly from Northwestern Europe and Southern Europe.
"Although I know that my kids get parts of their DNA from their father, it’s still surprising to see that my kids aren’t as much Ashkenazi Jewish as I am,” Nancy says. She explains that her ex-husband’s mother converted to Judaism, which is where her kids get their Northwestern and Southern European genetics.
While rationally she understands that her kids’ ancestral makeup shouldn't be a big deal to her, for some reason it is. She thinks about the results often and says that she was “surprised that my kids and I are so genetically different. You always see yourself as being so similar to your kids, but in my case it seems they really just got half from me and half from their dad.”
Ancestry test results like Jenny’s and Rob’s happen all the time, and these results aren’t even some of the most surprising—at least to those not involved in the story. Major ancestry testing companies like MyHeritage and Ancestry.com offer some amazing capabilities. MyHeritage’s test offers a breakdown that analyzes over 42 ethnic regions at a very affordable price and Ancestry.com already has over 6 million users in its database, providing more data and discoveries.
In the long run, Nancy has found that she’s actually happy with the test results because they’ve made her realize that she'd been harboring some resentment after the divorce. She’s been putting in extra effort to move past her history and focus more on her future.
Interestingly enough, Nancy added that she considers herself a better mother after taking the ancestry test, because she has come to the conclusion that although her children are a product of herself and her ex-husband—ultimately they are their own people. Now, she deliberately focuses on building them up as their own people, and makes an effort to hold her tongue when making a comment about the kids resembling either parent. She says that she would rather them flourish in their own way, rather than projecting her views onto them.
Nancy admits that she is overall more relaxed since taking the ancestry test and coming to terms with Jenny's and Rob's personal makeup. She often thinks about the irony of the fact that she's a psychiatrist and rarely focuses on her own mental health. She said that going forward she's going to devote more time to herself.
Interesting how sometimes learning about our past can help shape our future.