The Inheritance

By Cheryl Gochnauer

I saw my mother in the most unexpected place the other day. She lives four hours away, but as I passed the hall mirror, I spotted her out of the corner of my eye.

It was just a flash, but there she was — the familiar expression, the tilt of the head, the amused glint in the eyes. Oh, she had gained a little weight and her hair was honey auburn instead of silver-salted brown. But it was definitely her. And it was definitely me.

For most of us, comparisons begin the day we are born, as observant relatives decide which parent we favor. As time passes, the benign comparison goes on, as each set of genes asserts itself over the years. I find myself watching my own daughters, Karen and Carrie, thanking God they have inherited their daddy’s long legs, while admiring my own contribution of shiny carrot-tops.

But I don’t want my influence on these precious little ones to only run skin-deep. There is a greater inheritance to share with my children, as we spend these fleeting years together. And the years are passing at an amazing rate. Karen turned 11 this year, and my heart jumped as I realized her time at home is more than half over. It seems she just got here, but adulthood already looms faintly in the distance.

I have still got a few years to guide her, though, and I plan to make the best of those teachable moments sprinkled throughout our relationship.

At the risk of sounding like I need to be sitting on a front porch in a wicker rocking chair, I must say that when I was a preteen — besides having to walk barefooted to school everyday through two feet of snow, uphill both ways — I was surrounded by the turbulent uprisings of the late 60’s. The riotous U.S. was on fire, literally and emotionally. Societal shifts sprang from that time, and then reverberated through my teen years in the 70’s.

By the time I grew into a young adult, I had swallowed the “I’m okay, you’re okay” hook whole. “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” It sounds pretty good, this “can’t we all just get along” mantra.

But as I look in my daughters’ eyes, I feel a deep uneasiness in passing on such a philosophy. I do not want to leave them a legacy of shifting sand that holds no solid ethical absolutes.

Boundaries do not trap children; rather, they define safe zones. I am resolved to teach, to tutor, to advocate the tough, honest choices now, while Karen and Carrie are still receptive to their Momma’s insights.

“Train up a child in the way he should go,” the old Proverb says. I will — and when my daughters ponder their future decisions, no matter how they choose, they will be able to draw upon an instilled moral compass.

That’s an inheritance I can live with.

Comments? E-mail Cheryl at [email protected], or write her at PO Box 6883, Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-6883. Visit her website at

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