Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

“You’re lucky. You got good kids.”

While discussing my love for my children the other day (I’m a mom, we’re known to do that) my lunch partner said, “Yeah, well — you’re lucky.  You got good kids.”  He said this in a way that implied I had somehow picked my children up in a serendipitous cosmic yard sale, narrowly missing going home with the ill-tempered Garbage Patch Dolls sitting to their left.

Questioning my companion’s usually diplomatic communication skills, I inquired why he chose to label it “luck” instead of, I don’t know, “parenting” maybe.  He went on to explain that “there are plenty of good parents out there whose kids grow up to be complete…” — and I almost quote “<expletive deleted>!”  

The argument of Nature Vs. Nurture is one that has raged since the Victorian era (but those people also had a utensil for everything.  Seriously?  Grape scissors? Way too much time on their don’t-touch-the-fruit hands) and the debate continues still today.  The question of whether we are products of our environment or our bloodline was actually raised as early as the 13th century, but the more jingle-worthy phrase, Nature Vs. Nurture, was first published in a document called English Men of Science in the late 1800’s.

For hundreds of years, scientists and philosophers have questioned whether we are a product of our environment or our heredity.  Are we hard-wired from our ancestors or are we blank slates (tabula rasa) on which those that care for us, and our outside socialization, draws the ultimate conclusion of who we become?

Over time, the term “nurture” has grown to be defined as that which is going on, on the outside that defines us as human beings from the get-go: the prenatal, parental, extended family, peer experiences and influences such as media, marketing, and socio-economic status.  The term “nature” defines more of what’s going on, on the inside: heritability, the traits directly affected by your encoded DNA, such as your genetic predispositions to (perhaps) intelligence, personality, aggression, and sexual orientation.  [Go ahead and send your emails – I didn’t make that last one up, but I’m happy to listen to your thoughts on the matter.]

Kimberly Powell, a professional genealogist had this to say about the subject, “Researchers on all sides of the nature versus nurture debate agree that the link between a gene and a behavior is not the same as cause and effect. While a gene may increase the likelihood that you'll behave in a particular way, it does not make people do things.”  She went on to say something I especially liked, “…which means that we still get to choose who we'll be when we grow up.”

Having tutored music for 20+ years, I’ve worked with a whole lot of families who have brought brothers and sisters to me for lessons and I have watched some of those kids grow up into fine adults and seen some of them turn into relatively crappy adults (I’m sorry, but no matter how their parents try to sugarcoat addiction, immoral behavior or rudeness-in-the-name-of-reality-tv-type-honesty, I will not invite their now grown children to my table for tea).  I’ve watched thousands of families with kids raised by the same parents, sometimes sharing the same DNA, sometimes not (adopted) and whether they have monochrome similarities or multi-colored variables up the wahzoo, who is to say why one family is “luckier” than another when it comes to whether or not they “got” good kids.

Personally, I can see that parenting styles have a whole lot to do with it.  Humans are not exactly machines and are malleable, therefore those who are downright manipulative can push what buttons we do have and we will respond accordingly.  A family can have three boys and, depending on the personalities of those three, the parents can respond equally or slightly differently to that which they are presented with.  For example: #1 The shy and quiet child might not make all of his needs and desires known, so mater ‘n’ pater simply let him be, figuring he is fine; while #2 The middle child, falling somewhere in between may learn to be diplomatic in getting what he requires from mom & pop; and behind door #3 The squeaking child, with his stamping feet and mewling pleas, gets all the grease, including his brothers portions.  These wonderful parents, while working with similar lumps of clay had a choice in how to shape each and they may have employed the exact same parenting methods for all three sons, then again — maybe not.  No matter what, each boy will grow into a man and very well may make choices that differ from his brothers, despite being raised in the same house, by the same parents with the same genes.

Human beings.  We are a most complex lot, aren’t we?

And so, the Nature Vs. Nurture debate rages on, even over a polite lunch in a four star restaurant between friends.  Having done more than a little light reading on the subject in my lifetime (I’m adopted, therefore I have always been fascinated by these studies), it doesn’t surprise me that even after scientists decoded the full sequence of the human genome a decade ago, there are no definitive answers.  In fact, Dr. Kevin Davies (author of the 2001 book Cracking the Genome) states that “even the most diehard geneticists acknowledge that the environment plays a major role in shaping our behavior, temperament, and intelligence.”  Ha!  Whodathunk.

As for me and my house, I am going to continue to roll the parental dice I have, and do what I can to shape the environment that my children are being raised in, in the hopes that it continues to play a part in how they might ultimately shape up as adults.  May luck be with me (and also with my above-mentioned friend, who has yet to spin the genetic wheel of parenthood).

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.’  — Anon.


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