If I only had one child–my 10-year old–I would be a smug parent. I’d congratulate myself on raising a self-reliant boy, one who does his homework without supervision, wakes up when his alarm rings at 6:36 a.m. and earns excellent grades and praise from his fifth grade teacher. I would think that I made him like this, that his cheerful attitude and zest for life are somehow my doing.
I would narrow my eyes in judgment at other parents with their children who cry during homework and refuse to rise from bed in the mornings and avoid shampoo. I’d think they were doing something wrong and I’d probably write a book called How To Raise A Great Kid. I’d feel sorry for other parents who just had no clue.
However, I have four children. And without naming names, I’ll just say that my other children keep me humble. My other children received more attention, more devotion, more nurturing since they were my only children for almost five years. I fretted about and tended to those boys with whole-hearted devotion because I thought back then that my actions would determine their course. How silly.
I believe nature guides human behavior more than nurture does. You can disagree with me–and you probably will if you have children you gave birth to who are turning out so much like you or your spouse or maybe like no one you know, but still. You think that what you do, what you say, how you discipline, what you read and how much candy you allow is making all the difference. After all, look at how great your kids are! All due to you, or so you think. You are all about the rules and control.
My daughter is 6 and she’s nothing like her brothers, either. She’s been raised by the same parents and we’ve all lived together in the same tri-level house for eleven years now. And she is her own person, a hilarious person who likes to draw and paint with watercolors and print out the alphabet in tiny rows on college-ruled paper. She collects stuffed animals like my boys used to collect Pokemon cards. She told me today she’d like to be a singer, you know, with a microphone. She’s a lot like me, but not because of all the time we spend together. She just happens to have inherited a lot of me.
Before we adopted our twins, I was convinced that all I had to do was be a Good Mom and my boys would turn out pretty much like me, only male. Or they’d be like my husband. I never considered that they might be just like their birth parents, other than in looks. When they were babies and toddlers, I’d catch glimpses of myself in them, or so I thought. I think I saw what I wanted to see. I believed that love and nurture would chart the course of their lives. And in the fifteen years since, I have changed my mind.
Now I am convinced that behavior (and accomplishment) is driven almost entirely by nature. Genetics are very powerful.
Sure, I can guide, I can influence, I can provide the right environment. But I will never change the essence of who my children are. Instead of building them from the ground up, I am discovering them day by day. I am not making them. I am watching them become themselves. It’s the difference between fashioning a rose from silk and watching a rosebud unfurl.
I want them to have smooth paths, easy journeys, lives full of love and laughter. But they will live their own lives, ultimately. Good or bad.
All the same, when the teacher explained how smart my boy is, how well he works with his classmates and what good grades he is getting, I wanted to take credit. At least I contributed my genes and housed him in my uterus for nine months. The rest of it is a miracle unfolding every day and has very little to do with my mothering skills. So there will be no book unless it’s called Nature Will Win So Stop Building on a Flood Zone or something like that.