Last week I put a photo of Little P up on Whatsapp and there were three different responses about who she looks like now. ‘She looks very like me in that’, my Mum’s response. ‘She’s the image of you when you were that age’ said my uncle. Meanwhile my niece thought she looked exactly like her Dad (my brother). This has been the conversation since she was born. My Mum, my Dad and my Aunt staring at her for hours as a newborn trying to figure it out. ‘She’s the image of her Dad’. ‘I don’t know, I can see her Mum across the eyes’. Followed by endless poring over the photo albums finding old baby pictures of me, my brothers and various other family members to find resemblances. ‘She has your eyes and from the nose down she’s like her Dad’. I kept imagining those bizarre puzzles where they join Kylie Minogue’s eyes with Kate Moss’s nose and Joanna Lumley’s mouth and you have to guess who’s who!
Of course we all know that a baby can have ten, or more, different looks in one day as their faces are constantly developing and changing. When they move into toddlerhood, with a full set of teeth and developing bone structure, looks change all over again. It’s often not possible to recognise a child from their baby photos, let alone an adult.
But such has been the pattern in my family after every birth, maybe they’re bit more obsessed than most by family resemblances but I don’t think they’re unique. For many years there was a popular theory (supported in a 1995 study by Christenfeld & Hill) that newborns more commonly resemble their fathers. It makes evolutionary sense as fathers cannot be absolutely certain of their paternity. So in the most basic sense, if a new baby resembles Dad then he is more likely to take on his parenting responsibility. But if only it could be so neatly explained by evolution. More recent studies have come up with different results, discovering that newborns are more likely to resemble both parents equally. And in some studies newborns were even found to be more closely resembling their mothers.
When Little P was born everybody said she was the image of her Dad. I remember the first time my Aunt saw her she said that she didn’t even look like my child at all! Dad was proud as punch and although I laughed it off at the time I remember feeling slightly put out.
Now that she’s grown she definitely looks very like me at times and I get a real sense of pride when people notice the resemblance. So why is that? Why do Mums and Dads or Grannies and Granddads get that wonderful swell of pride if they’re told that a new baby or a small child looks just like them?
For me, I think it’s the feeling that a visible piece of our DNA is going forward into the next generation. New babies are a little like those time capsules that are left for future generations to discover. We all know that we won’t be around forever but our children and grandchildren ensure that part of us will be and when we can see that part in a glance, or a giggle or a pair of green eyes, then we feel a little better about our own mortality. So now when my Mum says, ‘I think she looks very like me in that photo’, I simply smile and say ‘I think you’re right’. Because you know what? She is!