Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Nature vs. nurture

Imaginary Conversations got me to thinking.

Nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy.

I don't doubt that genetics plays a huge role in who we turn out to be.

Lord knows, as I've typed elsewhere, two generations of suicide before me (my father and his mother) fairly screams "genetic predisposition to depression". Recognizing that predisposition and getting the proper meds to assuage it are the only reasons I'm stopping the death roll at two generations.

But nurture also shapes personality, character, outlook and development.

Nearly every day, Monkeyboy in DC demonstrates behavior or attitudes that he could only have learned by virtue of the fact that children are incredible little sponges, soaking up, contemplating and spitting out (usually at the most embarrassing moment possible) everything that goes on around them.

When you know they're watching and --- especially --- when you don't.

I firmly believe he's a more resilient and inquisitive fellow because he spent the first 26 months of his life at home with me, going to formal "Mothers First" play groups, impromptu play dates at the neighborhood playground and running my errands with me and watching me do household chores.

He'd be a different kid if he'd started day care when he was 2 months old rather than 2 years later.

I don't think nature had a helluva lot to do with his bravery to participate in, and enjoy, an otherwise all-girl dance and movement class for three years. I think it was watching me be at ease in a group called Mothers First when he was knee-high to a grasshopper.

Examples of obviously genetic contributions to his make-up abound. His looks favor his mom, thank heavens. If, after adolescence, his beard has five o'clock shadow at one pm, and his back is as hairy as an ape, that's my contribution. And, someday, he'll be sorry for mocking my ever-growing bald spot.

But examples abound too where the best explanation is nurture. He negotiates about getting extra video time or a later bedtime or a bigger allowance or permission to buy a hamster using words, phrases and gestures he's seen his mom and me use with one another all his life.

His ear for music is probably nature, but his willingness to go up onstage with me and my guitar, without fear, at Celebrate Fairfax! or at our shul, to sing Puff, The Magic Dragon and The Hammer Song looks a helluva lot more like nurture to these eyes.

Bottom line: Neither nature nor nurture has exclusive bragging rights for how we turn out. Both exert influence, and both, together --- along with random chance and the laws of unintended consequences --- account for the whole.


imaginaryconversations said...

I agree, it's never one or the other.

What I meant was that if *it* is not there by nature, no matter how much nurture you do, it won't add *it*. He is a more resilient and inquisitive fellow because he spent time with you (same with me - didn't see other kids until first grade, at 6). But he was probably inquisitive in the first place. He sounds like a smart kid to me. He wouldn't have enjoyed spending time with you, running errands with you and watching you do chores if he wasn't a smart kid.

And I was probably wrong about Mommy and Me classes being useless. They're not, because the people who go there are usually smart and highly educated, so their kids are genetically predisposed to be able to benefit from them.

That part of my post was, in part, inspired by people saying stuff like "Oh my God, Britney Spears has a newborn baby (Jaayden) at home, and she's out partying every night instead of spending time with him." My thinking on this is that even if she spends 24 hours a day with him, he won't turn out the same way your son did.

David in DC said...

Yeah, but when he's about fifteen, she's so going to be the planet's ultimate MILF.

laughing said...

You do not get male pattern baldness from your father, you get it from your mother (though the odds are against your mother actually having male pattern baldness herself).

If you want to find out if Monkeyboy will have male pattern baldness, look at his maternal grandfather.