Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nature v Nurture: A Big Issue Even in Bio Families

Obviously adoption puts an additional spin on the nature v nurture discussion, but it's also a very interesting phenomenon within non-adoptive families.

I think about it a lot. I am coming to the conclusion, more and more, that Jeb has more influence on who I am as a parent, than I have on him as a child.

I'll say that again in another way: My motherhood adapts to Jeb's personality/needs/tendencies, it has not formed Jeb's personality/needs/tendencies.

I started having this feeling in the first couple months of his life. I had all kinds of academic parenting philosophies. And then I was blessed with a child who would not be put down. And slept like shit. And wanted to nurse non stop. So I became that mom in short order; the one who held her baby all the time, and also slept like shit, and nursed her baby anywhere and everywhere. I didn't turn Jeb into that baby, he was born that baby.

He is still that kid. His favorite place is in my lap. I'm sure he would still be nursing had I not weaned. He still sleeps like shit. It's just him. Bennett and I have abandoned many of the theories-that-sound-awesome-until-you-know-the-reality-of-day-to-day-parenting. We've become the parents who Jeb needs, not the other way around.

We actually have had very little effect on who the core of Jeb is. Sure, we've taught him good manners, and appropriate behavior ect, but that doesn't have much to do with who he is as a person. I haven't created his fantastic temperament, or concern for people in distress, or his sense of humor. I like to think we've given him a strong, secure foundation, so that his best traits can shine. I believe that we've created an environment where he is not stressed, but rather curious and playful, which contributes to the development of his smarts and imagination --- but it doesn't create those qualities, those are his.

I was musing to a friend (who has 2 daughters) about Jeb's absolute obsession with basketball, and she made an off hand comment about "conditioning" boys' love of sports. It wasn't mean spirited, but it couldn't have been more wrong. I could care less about basketball, and I don't think my husband has shot a basket since junior high gym class. We've never even followed March Madness. I had nothing to do with 10 month old Jeb pointing at every single basketball hoop in the neighborhood. He is passionate about basketball. And skateboards. And backhoes. And so many other things that I also had nothing to do with.

I wouldn't even dream of crediting myself with this stuff, I love learning about him, I'm not interested in molding him in that way. There are things I do want to "mold": compassion, respect for others, healthy self esteem, determination, you know... all that good stuff. But not his interests. Not his personality. Not his goals.

The other day Jeb said something to my husband that was incredibly sweet and compassionate, and I said to my husband (like I do about 20 times a day), "Isn't he just amazing?!" And my husband said "That's all you, babe, he's so great because you do such a good job with him". I loved the compliment at the time, but the more I thought about it, I couldn't really take credit in good faith. Jeb could have been a tough kid, but he's not. My next kid could be a really tough kid. Hopefully I'll be able to create the same environment and boundaries to instill the same values I'm trying to instill in Jeb, if that's the case.

My mother in law constantly want to assign Jeb's traits to one of his ancestors. He loves cucumbers! His great grandmother loves cucumbers! That's where he gets it from!! So, if the neighbor kid loves cucumbers is he surely a distant relative? I don't really play that game; it kind of annoys me.

Being a birthmom, I sometimes think about what Jeb would be like if he had been parented by other people. It's not a weird thought since my reality is that other people sometimes raise my kid. You know what? He'd be basically the same kid. Any other woman who raised him in a loving home would marvel at his mild temperament, and his love of snuggling. And I'm sure someone in that family would like cucumbers.

It's a comforting thought, to me. My job is to guide, love, and support. I can do that.

(In the unlikely even that my MIL reads this: that wasn't a dig :))


  1. Great post! I have to link to this, Patti!

  2. Interesting post. I think all children mold their parents and it doesn't matter if they came to them by birth or adoption. My son has special needs and was a lot of work but even though I didn't plan it. I did what I had/have to do.

  3. What a great post! I have often pondered nature v. nurture as an adoptive parent but I think you've hit the nail on the head. We are looking at it backwards. It is our children's nature and nurture that develope who we are as parents.

    ~ Jill