Nature vs Nurture

Parents, remember when the children were little, and you thought that each time a phase hit, it was the toughest time of all?

Ahh, the terrible twos. The tantrums, the fights to get them to eat a vegetable, the potty training (sorry, I think it’s called, ‘learning,’ now), the struggle to speak language one person besides Mommy will understand. That was tough.

The first day of kindergarten when they were afraid to let go of your hand and you were afraid they wouldn’t make any friends because, well, they’re weird. They’re so little. They made the friends and colored the pictures and learned their ABC’s. That was tough.

Then when they hit middle school and you thought they wouldn’t adjust to roaming the halls to class, or they would get in with the ‘wrong’ crowd, they wouldn’t make any friends, because well, they’re weird and awkward and your kid. And so young. The school dances, the snapchats, the social media. That was tough.

Then high school. Whoa, high school. Will they be bullied; will they join the club they like or not join any club? Will they play band or try out for a team, or will they get an afterschool job? Will they have friends, because well, they’re even more weird than before and they’re your kid? Social media, field parties, smoking, drinking, drugs, rebellious door-slamming and the ever popular, “I’m-sleeping-over-at-so-and-so’s-house” when really, they’re at a field party.  That was tough.

Every stage is tough from babyhood to adulthood.  Acknowledging the toughness and the weird awkward strange oblivion of parenthood makes it almost bearable, when you know everyone has gone through or is going through the same thing.

But what happens when they’re not?

What happens if your kid is the one who bullies? Your kid is the one who flunks out, who has anger issues, who smokes outside the cafeteria or inside it, who drinks, who does the drugs? What then?

It’s so easy for people to jump to assumptions and judge. Bad parenting. Ignorance. Not paying attention.

Nope. Nope. And NOPE.  

Sorry, judges, that is not how it works. Bad parenting cannot be the knee-jerk reactionary reason for kids to turn to the dark side. Not buying that.

Oh, sure it can be blamed for some kids, but not all. It’s not a ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of deal.  Here’s a thought before you judge. Chemical imbalance? Something deeper going on. Mental Health issue?  Let’s look at a case study.

A couple get married and decide to start a family. Mom has trouble conceiving, so she adopts. Baby number one, she is told, is healthy and perfect. The adoption went so well, they decide to adopt another. Baby number two is six-weeks old, healthy, they were told, and perfect. Then uh oh, mom gets pregnant. What she thought was the flu, was a baby. She gives birth prematurely, the baby struggles, but manages to survive.

So, nuclear family. Three children from all different birth mothers. All raised by the same parents in the same household, but completely different personalities, character traits and DNA.

Baby 1 is developing normally, excels in school, sports and is an all-around average kid. Works hard, gets good grades, has friends, etc.

Baby 2 developed normally, however, there were issues. He starts manifesting behavioural issues. Anger, truancy, failing grades, poor impulse control, etc. This continues into adolescence when it evolves into drug use, alcohol use, behavioural and anger management issues, until finally, police involvement and a stay at a group home.

Baby 3 Develops normally. Shy, but average grades, friends and works throughout high school, an average kid.

So, an average household, considering the constructs of the loss of the patriarch during the adolescence years of all three children. Two out of the three children develop normally. Go on to acquire post-secondary education, move out of the home and get married. They have children of their own and are happy.

Baby 2 struggled his entire life. Social workers, and school personnel tried to explain his behaviour, but none could, until it was too late. Behaviour difficulties manifested from a poor sense of self, poor self esteem, and a steep learning disability. He left high school at sixteen illiterate.  By the time he was in his twenties, things began to change. He got a job. He had a girlfriend. He was learning to read and write. He had his own apartment. He matured, changed, and realized his worth.

So, all three raised by the same parents, but one went completely off the rails. Totally off script, sideways in every way imaginable.

Bad parenting? No, on the contrary. Both parents were stable, loving, generous influences on their children.

Let’s consider that two babies were adopted. Birth parents and their influences on those babies played an integral part in their development, despite being physically absent.

Baby 2, in my opinion, suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. All the signs were there, but in the seventies, this was unheard of.  It was not a well-known nor often diagnosed syndrome. If the parents had not disclosed the babies’ adoptions, it would not have been investigated. Why would it? The parents were not drinkers.

My point in this long case study, in explaining this perspective, is for clarity. Is for a different perspective on kids going through a tough time, other than the label of ‘bad parenting.’  Stop it.

Instead, support. That ‘bad kid’ may come back from whatever hole he is in, and it won’t be because he had bad parents. It will be because of maturity, support, good parents who stuck it out and decided he was worth sticking around for. Shunning, shaming and labeling doesn’t work. Simply stating that the parents are to blame helps no one. And, in most cases, it’s not true.

As a parent, we were strict. We totally own that. Rules, limits, and more rules. Our kids will raise their children the way they see fit. They will be good parents based on, yes how they were raised, but also outside influences, chemical make-up of their children, and good ol’ personality traits. It’s the classic nature vs nurture and say what you will, nature will always play a part.

Next time you hear of someone’s child going down a dark path, before you judge, before you slough it off as bad parenting, consider there may be a different reason. Support. Listen. Encourage. Be someone’s ally, not a discouraging judge.

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