On Nature, Nurture, and Awesome Family Members

My Brother Is One Smart Dude.

In the comment section to this post on Attachment Parenting, my big brother said:

I read in Freakonomics that it really doesn’t matter how you raise your kids, they are going to be who they are going to be, and to think we can exact our will for them into their lives is naive at best, and probably selfish. I give every ounce of love that I have to my kids, be the best possible person I can be, and make sure they see me a little bit here and there so they know what kind of person I am, and I think they will be allright. I will leave the scriptural references out, but if you raise your kids, and teach them what’s right, they will be just fine. I am glad to see you with a little section of the big block of cheese that is the internet, carved out so you can add your flavor. Thanks for the insight C.

“…to think we can exact our will for them into their lives is naïve at best, and probably selfish.” Woa. That snippet led me to examine whether I’m trying to project things on Baby I that aren’t really there. Am I parenting her a certain way because I want her to be creative, or go to college, or be just socially awkward enough for everyone to realize after High School that she was actually the cool one and now they’re sad that they’re not in her inner circle? (just kidding on that last one…kind of.)

The whole thing is nature vs. nurture, isn’t it? How much can I really influence what is already in Baby I’s nature?

The simple answer to that one seems to be: probably not much (smart one, big brother!). However, I’d like to append that with some information in this article on the Human Genome Project. A statement about halfway down the page that rings true for me: “But even the most diehard geneticists acknowledge that the environment plays a major role in shaping our behavior, temperament, and intelligence.”

So, while Baby I may already be predisposed to become who she will become, I believe I was chosen as her parent to guide her a certain way (need a scriptural reference?). An interesting example from that Nova article:

“With so much attention on explaining behavior in terms either of nature or nurture, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco recently described a fascinating example of how heredity and environment can interact. Perfect pitch is the ability to recognize the absolute pitch of a musical tone without any reference note. People with perfect pitch often have relatives with the same gift, and recent studies show that perfect pitch is a highly inherited trait, quite possibly the result of a single gene.”

“But the studies also demonstrate a requirement for early musical training (before age six) in order to manifest perfect pitch. Time will tell whether there is a “perfect pitch” gene, but it seems reasonable to think that many personality and behavioral traits will not be exclusively the province of nature or nurture, but rather an inextricable combination of both.”

I still agree with the big bro that exacting my will on Baby I could easily cross the line into selfishness, and that will be something I will need to work hard on for the next 18 years (or maybe forever). I definitely do not want to be one of those moms who try to tell everyone they’re just doing what’s best for their kids, but it becomes painfully obvious that they’re actually doing whatever they think makes them look good. We probably all know how incredibly damaging that can be.

But, I know my kid has inherited some pretty awesome qualities (while it’s too early to tell, if I had to guess, I’d say she’s got some good musician genes, probably an eye for art, and some stellar reasoning skillz) and I do want to make sure she grows up in an environment that nurtures those qualities, and any others that might be in her DNA that we don’t know about yet. To me, the best things I can do include loving her with everything I’ve got (a la my big brother and his wife and three kids), making sure home is a safe place for her to be, and allowing her to be her and not me. Those are my ultimate parenting goals. I hope I can live up to them.

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3 thoughts on “On Nature, Nurture, and Awesome Family Members

  1. I have neither children or grandchildren who are anything short of miraculous human beings. They are all wonderful people who are resilient enough to get past poor influence I may have had on them…Each child is, indeed their own person…if they are loved and read to ( I know both of these qualifications are true) they will grow up to be as uniquely fabulous as any of my children are!
    Thanks for the great post!

  2. mar says:

    Excellent discussion of a question many parents think about. I’ve been around long enough to see the pendulum swing both ways in the scientific/academic world. My personal opinion: you have it right when you say that genetics provide certain inclinations/potentials in a human, and that environment can activate or suppress those natural tendencies. Love your brother’s attitude toward parenting–

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