What’s More Important: Nature or Nurture?
When Baby first arrives, most of us spend a lot of time just looking, thoughtfully, at our newborn and wondering “Who are you going to look like?” or more importantly, “Who are you going to act like?” We definitely spend a fair amount of time wondering and waiting for our babies to show us who they are. Let’s just say we let nature reveal itself.
It doesn’t take long before we start thinking more about our plans for Baby rather than Baby’s designs on us. We make plans for our personal contributions to Baby’s self-concept, social development, and learning. Some parents I have interviewed have very specific goals in mind for their infants (Brown University—Class of 2030!), while others are more general (good, kind, generous), or religious (at one with God, faithful to morals and ethics).
Whatever, we say; we ALL believe there is a parental contribution to how a child turns out as an adult. If we did not believe in the power of nurture, we wouldn’t have “signed up” to be parents. Extreme control freaks would flip out at the uncertainty—unless of course, they really believe their powers are extraordinary.
In the past 20 years, one of the greatest success stories of scientific collaboration is the Human Genome Project. It’s as though the titans of technology, biology, chemistry, and genetics got together and cooked up a 23 course gourmet meal with stunningly delicious results. The Genome Project revealed the presence and location of bio-genetic markers for over 1800 diseases and a wide array of physical attributes and behaviors. In parallel, the field of neuroscience has revealed the cellular and neurological development of the cognitive and emotional dimensions of the brain over the life cycle. Our understanding about what comes “naturally” is way more complicated than the simple nature vs. nurture model.
Ironically, our greater knowledge actually makes it clear that we do not fully understand all the specifics. However, there is one certainty: nature opens the door for nurture. And the impact of nurture will vary across individuals and between the individual and the nurturers that will enter the child’s life. If you count a child’s peers among the contributors, there are even a few scientists who believe peers may outweigh parents as the most influential force on adult outcomes.
Nature THROUGH nurture is a very different concept than nature vs. nurture. We must all do the best we can to the greatest positive effect. But do so with respect for what your little one brings to the table already. Our babies are an extension of us, not a mirror of, or a better version of who we are. Work to help them develop their positive abilities and to manage the behaviors that will annoy the hell out of everyone else. Know that nature will always pull them toward their inner path. But YOU have the greatest opportunity and influence for setting the tone and providing the map to a productive future.