This is a few years old (hence the Jersey Shore reference), but it’s been on my mind a lot lately so I thought I’d resurrect it from my archives. Reading it now, I can’t help but think how smart I was a few years ago! And I totally should have taken my own advice since we are still struggling with the same issue.
I love to think about how we become who we are – the whole Nurture vs. Nature complexity of child-rearing and growing up. Can you blame your parents for your own problems; and if so, do you blame who they are or how they raised you?
I especially love to see Nurture vs. Nature play out before my own eyes with my son and daughter. Before we go any further, you should know that my kids are the best ever. I know, I know – ALL parents think their children are the best, but I’m serious. Mine are truly, objectively speaking, the best that children could possibly be!
And while I can brag all day about how amazingly spectacular they are, I can’t actually take the credit (guess I’m a Nature kind of girl). Indeed, I chalk a good 84.3% up to pure luck. Then genetics – let’s say 9.8% goes to the good old genes. That leaves, what? 5.9% for parental influence? What a huge relief! I mean, here I could be wholly responsible for ensuring these small people grow up to be productive members of society, and it turns out less than 6% is actually within my control! On the other hand, there is a lot to cover in that 5.9%. Please and thank you, brushing teeth, putting on fresh underwear daily – these things don’t fall under luck or genetics and must be taught. Plus, now I can’t give dirty looks to parents with awful children. I mean, really, it’s not their fault, right? Instead I’ll just have to give them a look of sympathy and say, “I’m sorry. Is it bad luck or bad genes?”
But I digress. And I have a problem I need to discuss. You see, my near-perfect children are only near perfect. Unfortunately not everything in that 9.8% I credit to genetics is ideal. Although… wouldn’t it be great if we could select the traits and characteristics our children inherited from us and our family members? It would certainly make natural selection a more efficient process in propelling us forward in evolution to the ultimate beings we should be. Seriously, humans have ruled the planet for how long and we have Jersey Shore to show for it? Come on people, we can do better that!
And I digress again. So in this genetic portion that have made my children who they are without my direct input, there are some flaws. For example, my son is practically a clone of his father. But instead of being able to follow in his father’s footsteps of 10 years without a dentist visit and not a cavity in sight, my son has my weak tooth enamel and has already had more fillings in his mouth than years on this planet. And instead of the seemingly impenetrable immune system of his father, my son has my uncanny ability to contract strep throat at the mere mention of germs. Of course, these things can be addressed in my 5.9% responsibility. I am totally capable of administering antibiotics and supervising teeth-brushing to minimize the damage caused by imperfect genes.
So let’s get down to the problem. My son is doing very well in school, but has one area that is in need of improvement: “Uses organization skills”. Granted, that’s not a hard skill like math or science, but in many ways it’s probably more important. I mean, the grade itself will not follow him through to college and his first job, but the underlying behavior behind it likely will. He’s smart enough to be disorganized and still score well in school (that’s my half of the 9.8%!), but eventually it will catch up to him.
The real kicker is that this is not something I can easily teach out of him. Anybody who has seen my house (…or my desk… or my car… or my purse) can tell you that I’m not exactly what you would call “organized”. My husband is somewhat better, but the reality is that neither of us excel in this area. We try sometimes – we buy bins to help sort and organize the crap around the house. And then we end up with bins full of crap now stashed in the basement, garage, or not really stashed at all but just set aside.
But how do you teach a teach a skill when you struggle with it yourself? And if he’s not getting it by Nature or Nurture, how can we overcome this? Maybe he can turn to his sister – she has the cleanest room in the house and I can’t remember the last time I told her to do anything about it (either mutant genes or really good luck gave made her a cleaning bug!). Or is it really just time to start looking outside the family for help? If he was having trouble reading, we could find a tutor. Do they have get-your-act-together professionals? Seriously, do they? Aren’t there shows on TV where they swoop in and organize your life? Wouldn’t it be great to get someone like that to come arrange his desk at school, and his closet (and my closet for that matter!), and teach us all to be better organized?
So maybe the age-old debate is too simplistic and incomplete (and yeah, you’re probably right… I shouldn’t attribute so much of my children’s success to mere luck). The world is changing and it’s time for the discussion to become Nurture, Nature, and Mentor. Genetics plays its part, family life can make that better or worse, but as parents we need to be aware of where we fall short and take responsibility. It’s so easy to reach out and be connected with friends, families, and experts of all kinds across the globe. Why not use that connectivity to find people who can help teach our children the skills that we can’t teach them ourselves?
That way, no matter how we break it down, our kids can be 100% awesome.