Nature versus nurture

Over the past week, I’ve seen these twins separated at birth on several talk shows. (They co-wrote a book about their experience called Identical Strangers.) Despite being raised apart, they share much in common from mannerisms to their educational choices. (And almost everything in between.) I find their story relevant to me because I am raising adopted twins, albeit fraternal twins.

Fourteen years ago, we waited with great anxiety for the birth-mother to choose us. I believed wholeheartedly that Nurture would triumph over Nature in an arm-wrestling contest. Motherhood would be all about providing an appropriate, loving environment. I would mold my children into my image and they would become straight-A students with an affinity for the piano and a love of literature. They would be polite and gentle and funny. My only worry was that they might be ugly.

I discounted the idea that nature and their genetics would dictate the course of their lives.

I was so wrong.

My biological son is 9 years old. He shares not only physical traits with his father, but also personality traits. He is the sort of child who sets his own alarm, gets up early to do his homework, then takes a shower (without being asked) and plays with gusto until it’s time to go to school. At school, he listens, follows directions and excels in every subject. (I like to think he got that from me.) He has an optimism and a persistence that will serve him well. And he’s hilarious.

If he’d been my only child, I would have dislocated my elbow patting myself on the back. I would have been an insufferable, smug parent, one who believed that my careful choice of educational toys resulted in my boy’s brilliance. I would have thought that his success was due to my excellent mothering skills. I would have peered down my nose at other mothers with their difficult children and reluctant students. I would have blamed them for their children’s behavior and destiny.

On the other hand, if I didn’t have my 9-year old, I would consider myself an utter failure as a parent. Over these past fourteen years, I have repeated myself like an insistent parrot. I have hovered over my boys, insisting that they do all the math problems. I have pointed out that laundry goes into the laundry room. I have lectured and pointed my finger and on occasion, stomped my feet in frustration. My boys shrug off my parenting like a coat that does not fit. They refuse to bend to my will, to fit into the mold I expected.

Living with them is a lot like living with strangers. They do not act, think or behave like anyone I know. When I make jokes, they look at me in confusion. (The other day, one of them demanded, “WHY CAN’T BRANDON SPEND THE NIGHT?” They wanted a sleepover on a Saturday night, which is against family rules because sleepovers on Saturdays make Sundays too hard. After offering a bunch of reasons only to be met with arguments, I said, “It’s against my religion,” and the son in question said, “That’s not in the Bible!” I laughed at his indignance. “It’s a joke!” I said. These boys do not “get” sarcasm, which is my primary love-language.)

So, stories like the twins separated at birth give me hope. I can stop fretting and loosen my grip just a little. I cannot control these kids. They are who they are. I’m merely along for the ride, hoping that they’ll believe me when I tell them we should turn left at the corner. If they don’t, we might get lost for a while, but I’m sure (relatively sure) that we’ll all end up at our destination sooner or later.

I’m just the mother, not the Grand Ruler of the Universe. I need to remember that. I must not take their rejection of my mothering skills personally.

17 thoughts on “Nature versus nurture

  1. Well said. I have often said that my strong willed children are certainly going to make good adults – it will serve them well. In the meantime – I stand on my tip-toes so those 15 years old girls still know who is in charge. And the little ones … I stand up and go at them every now and then … just to see if they still jump to do what I ask or … run.


  2. I am faced daily with nature vs. nurture with my girls (both adopted by me, of course). I am ever so grateful for their fine genes – they are the happiest, easy going, talented girls one could hope for.

    If we hadn’t had kids this way, there’s no way I would have said nurture is the more potent – but I truly believe that nature plays a much greater roll in a person than we give it credit for.

    Hang in there, Mom. You’ve got it right!


  3. Mari says:

    I know exactly what you mean when you say that, if you just had your 9 y.o., you’d be arrogant, but if you didn’t have him you’d consider yourself an utter failure! I have a bio child with disabilities and personality that takes everything out of me and it still achieves little. And then I have a couple of gifted- in -every way children, one of them adopted, one not. Three of my four I would consider very strong-willed (um, hmmm, those are the bio children… must be my husband’s genes). Anyway, I’m here via links, and I can relate!


  4. My mother-in-law has all kinds of stories about how smug she was when my perfect-child, adopted husband was little. Her confidence in her parenting skills suffered later when she was raising his strong-willed(not adopted) younger brother. God has many ways of humbling us.


  5. I have two wonderful children. They are children so they aren’t perfect, but they aren’t strong-willed or difficult, most days. I constantly remind myself that it isn’t me. It’s the way God made them. I know that there is NO WAY that I am that gifted to have molded my children completely into who they are all by myself.


  6. I just found this blog.
    I live this every day–my kids are adopted. 7 and 8 when they came home. If they are ever back in Ukraine and find their abusive, alcoholic, neglectful Mom I know I would be crushed at the joyous reunion. “Fantasy Island” never saw something as grand. God put something so strong in us that ties us to birth. God also is trying to get me to accept the Grace to get over that!


  7. So true. There are a lot of parents out there with dislocated elbows (oh, I love that phrase!) sitting smugly next to their only child. I could be there, too, if I only had my first child. Instead I’m blessed with nine children who have not only humbled me, but regularly keep my on my knees. God has certainly made us each unique, hasn’t He? And I’m also thankful that He’s given me a good sense of humor to preserve my sanity!

    Tammy ~@~


  8. Amy says:

    They may not behave in a way you would have prescribed, but their hearts know that they are LOVED and SAFE, and that is everything. Anybody can parent when it’s easy. It takes something special and God-given to parent when it’s hard. I think you’re wonderful!


  9. But surely teenage boys must at least be easier than teenage girls…I think if I ever have teenage girls I will have to divorce my husband just so we can raise them separately, Parent Trap style, and then we’ll get married again after they go to summer camp.


  10. I figure when my three girls hit their teens I’ll be on the full blown menopause roller coaster. Won’t my husband have fun with us?! Muhahahaha! NOT…….

    Tammy ~@~


  11. Crystal says:

    That’s right you’re not grand ruler of the universe!! I am !! Wink. well I do realize I’m not but I sure try to control things like I am. I used to say to my best friend “it really is a hard job trying to run your life and mine”


  12. N says:

    Biological children can seem like strangers as well. “Who is this kid and why does he act nothing like me?” I find myself frequently asking. My oldest is very strong willed and his personality is very different from us. I had a son whose personality type I frequently clash with. That’s life. Nature rules. I no longer blame parents.


  13. This post is so funny (I guess your 9 yr old gets his humor from you?). I use sarcasm as a defense mechanism for myself or I would be crying everyday. This is very tricky because my oldest is only 3 1/2, and he takes everything literally (he checked my ears yesterday to see if my brain really was leaking out of my head).


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