Nature and/or Nurture

Dear Reader,

I am not sure how to join these two terms in my title. Traditionally, they are in opposition (nature versus nurture). But I tend to think they work together very well. I am reminded of the debate by this article from Harvard magazine. It summarizes the views of Dr. Brazelton on babies’ behavior. Simply put, he said that babies are not blank slates but are born with their own natures which then develop into the temperaments we think of in children–quiet, high-spirited, etc.

I am completely behind the idea that babies are not blank slates. I think they are born complete people, with consciences and with sinful natures and with their own relationships to their Creator and in the image of God. I think there is a lot going on in them a lot earlier than we think or than they can express. This is a large part of why I am attracted to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, because I think she gets this right about children.

But what I am wondering is about my own children and how much of their personalities is innate to them and how much has been shaped by how I have treated them. I think of the younger two in particular.

My now 6 year old, known here as Wolfie, was born at a time that was tough for our family. Six weeks before his birth we moved into our first house. Three weeks before my then one year old daughter, Sparrow, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (read about her diagnosis here). It was a hard time. My blood pressure at 37 weeks pregnant went through the roof. We were nervous when we took our oldest home from the hospital but that is nothing compared to taking home your newly diagnosed diabetic child. That’s just plain scary. And really, really stressful. That is where I was at when my third Wolfie was born. And he was an easy baby. That is a blessing from God. I couldn’t have handled more then. I liked caring for him because when I did I thought, “I can handle this. I know how to care for a baby. This is easy. And familiar.” In comparison, the rest of my life was dealing with diabetes. It was new and unfamiliar and not something everyone has to deal with and just overwhelming. So even though just doing the things Wolfie needed was easy and calming, I know that he got less of me than most newborns. He was not the priority in our household at the time. A hungry baby can wait a few minutes. A low blood sugar can’t. When he was a toddler, Sparrow said of her baby brother that Wolfie was “the troublest.” It was funny because it was true. And I hate to say it but often he still is the troublest. He is I think basically a happy kid. But he provokes people. He tries to get attention by poking at people (figuratively speaking). It’s not that he does huge horrible things, but he does so many little things. And I wonder is this his natural personality? Is this because he is the third of four and the most “middle child” or our children? Or is it because he did not get a much undivided attention as your typical newborn, because we were so stressed when he was an infant, and he learned that to get attention he needs to irritate?

And then there is baby #4, our little Bean. She really knows how to get attention too but she does it in different ways. She will cuddle us all to death. She has an amazing ability to insert herself into my lap. I will have no idea she is there and then will all of a sudden look down and she is sitting with me. And if another kid is near me, she is always right there pushing her way in. Okay, she is a youngest child of 4 and we have told her too often she is cute and she knows it. But I also remember that as an infant  I held her a lot facing me, cuddled up. I wasn’t as stressed when she was born, but I was busy. And Bean’s typical place to be would be in one arm or in the Baby Bjorn, facing me, cuddled up. She was happy that way. Obviously she learned to snuggle that way and she never stopped. But then I wonder did I cuddle her close because that was the position that made her happy or did she learn to cuddle close because tha it how I happened to hold her as a baby for my convenience? Nature and nurture, which came first? I suspect they are so entwined we will never figure it out.

Nebby

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