nature, nurture

August 23, 2019

I’ve been thinking about nature versus nurture this week, and how much, or little, our childhood experiences impact our adult selves. At one end of the spectrum is psychologist, Oliver James who states that genes play little part. “Nurture is critical, whether it be carrot or stick.” And at the other end is psychologist and geneticist, Robert Plomin, who says that our personality traits are less a manifestation of how we were raised by our parents, and more to do with what we inherited from them biologically. I tried to listen to one of Plomin’s podcasts, but my brain turned to blancmange. I struggle with the science of being human. Neither extreme makes sense to me. I’d like to believe that holding your child’s hand as you walk down the street, or teaching her how to shuck an oyster is as important as the DNA that runs through her. And that unconditional love does wonderful things for a child. As does celebrating his triumphs (you’re cycling on two wheels!) And supporting his failures and falls (it’s ok, you’ll climb that tree next time.) That introducing them to as much variety, be it through food, travel, art, music, film, cultivates curiosity, empathy and openness. As does boredom. And that those terrible parenting moments, or periods in you child’s life that you wish you could alter or erase are character building, too. Countless people attribute their grit to the adversity they were raised with. Children learn from a parent who can admit to weakness and humility. “We’re all bad parents,” says British psychotherapist, Philippa Perry. “We all do our best and make mistakes….It’s not the mistakes we make that matter so much as putting them right.” I lose my temper more than I’d like to, and I rush my kids because I’m a poor time keeper. I’m distracted, and often trying to do five things at once. I tell my children all the time that I’m a human being, doing my best, and like them, learning a little about myself every day. On our road trip last week, there was a resistance in Antimo every time we visited a gallery, garden or state park that reminded me so much of own response to cultural outings as a child. Every time I’d lose my temper with him, I’d then berate myself for expecting too much of a child. I should know better. I was a seven year old girl once, forced up mountains on foot to visit Byzantine monasteries that were of no interest to me. Has my father’s curiosity distilled its way down to me, and will it one day reach my son? Or is it his self servingness that I now inflict on my children as I drag them around the grounds of a regency style Vanderbilt Mansion? Perspective is everything. Is my ability to see both sides something I saw modeled in both my parents? I do believe that out of these moments spring possibilities to nurture something that genes alone might not cover. Curiosity. Respect. Worldliness. And yes, a sensitivity to other people, and their interests. Boredom. And not always getting what you want. I don’t know. None of us do. But I’d like to agree with Perry, that we all do our best, and make mistakes. What sticks and what doesn’t is not for us to decide.

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