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Nature vs Nurture

Nature vs Nurture

It’s an age old question, that of which can never fully be answered: does nature rule our lives, or does nurture play a bigger role?  It seems that research and anecdotal evidence confirm that while nurture certainly plays an important role and has influence in who we become, there is just no escaping nature.

As both an adoptive mother and a biological mother, I concur.  My two boys are only one year apart, so their environment and household experience is nearly identical.  They’ve grown up in the same home, with the same set of circumstances, with the same parenting, attended the same schools, etc., yet I can attest to the fact that they are about as different as two human beings could possibly be.

While it is true that biological siblings are also frequently quite different from another, they do still tend to share certain traits and mannerisms.  Children who are not raised by their biological parents often still show mannerisms and habits of the biological parents.  There is just something very strong in our DNA that determines much of who we are and what happens to us.  For example, even a healthy lifestyle cannot always fend off genetic disease.  Some of the healthiest people I know get the worst diseases, and some of the least healthy people live the longest.  I have to believe it’s in the genes.

An interesting and quite controversial documentary has recently been released, called Three Identical Strangers.  In this movie, triplets were separated at birth and adopted and raised by three different families.  None of them even knew the boys were multiples.  In their early 20’s, they discovered one another by accident and began to learn their truth.  Their families were part of a secret study about nature versus nurture.  Though they’d been separated at birth, David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland had all individually grown up loving many of the same things: Marlboro cigarettes, wrestling, the same type of woman.

While the story itself is heartbreaking, and the experiment horrific, it does seem to shed light on the debate itself.  All three of the siblings struggled with depression and substance abuse, but only two of them, David and Bobby, were raised with nurturing, loving parents. Eddy was raised by a verbally and physically abusive father. Although all three of them dealt with depression, Eddy was the one who took his own life. The experts in the movie say that if Eddy had been nurtured more as a child he would not have felt as broken as an adult.

Nature dictated the brothers love for wrestling, cigarettes and the same women. But nurture dictated their emotional well-being.

Why is it important to understand the nature versus nurture debate?  There are several reasons.  If you are an adoptive parent, it helps you to understand that you are not the only influence in your child’s life.  Rather, there are genetic influences that are potentially stronger than anything you can do.  It can help you foster a healthy self-esteem in your child, empathize better, and accept them for who they are, not try to force them to be who you want them to be.

As a biological parent, you might wonder why your children are so different from one another.  Perhaps you tend to label one as a hard worker and the other as lazy.  It can be helpful to understand that maybe they are just programmed to be really different human beings.  One of the hardest jobs as a parent is recognizing and appreciating our children for who they really are, allowing them to be themselves, and supporting them along the way, even when they aren’t who we necessarily had hoped they would be.

And it is incredibly important for all parents to understand how critical it is that children receive unconditional love and nurturing from their parents.

All in all, the question will likely never be fully answered.  All children have the best chance to thrive in a supportive and loving environment, regardless of their DNA.  Focusing on strengths and individuality can help build confidence, despite whatever struggles or issues they might face.  While you cannot control everything about your child and who they become, you can certainly guide them along the way.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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