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Adoption Blog: Double Vision

Nature and Nurture

One of the most common adoption issues I'm asked about is the whole nature vs. nurture "thing" -- who or what determines how a child grows up.

It's a question that was most recently ignited in my circle of acquaintances when the Private Practice character Addie Montgomery announced to her therapist -- after being a mom through adoption for about a week -- "I know nurture beats nature because Henry looks at me with love. I'm his mom and he knows it. And no protein code told him to believe that."

I found myself half-smiling at my television, gently shaking my head and thinking, wait until Henry is in elementary school and likes sports instead of science or refuses to learn math or laughs hysterically at cartoons or bites other children during passionate tantrums. Or any other number of behaviors that have nothing to do with what his mom likes or teaches or models.

I know that's frustrating for some adoptive parents, who need to see their influence on their children. And truly, how you parent -- how everyone parents -- will have an effect on your children, whether or not they share your DNA. But, honestly, if your child's DNA is foreign to you, it opens up new worlds for both of you.

I liken it to baking. You've got flour and eggs and salt and chocolate and milk and baking powder and sugar, and if you mix it one way, you've got a chocolate cake. If you mix it another way, you've got brownies. Another way, you've got cookies. All delicious in their own ways.

But what you will never have is chicken parmesan.

So, parents -- all parents -- take the basic ingredients in their child and help shape it into something palatable for the rest of society.

The difference for adoptive parents is that there might be ingredients that you don't recognize: a talent for singing when you can't carry a tune; a head for numbers when you can't balance your checkbook; a learning disability when you sailed through school.

I made a choice to parent my children's DNA instead of my own agenda when they were young, and was delighted to find that, mostly, they liked the same stuff I did. Banana, Little Bit, and I love to dance to music, do art projects, bake, write stories together. We try lots of other things too, that I love and they don't like so much -- like reading and sewing and telling really bad puns.

But then one of my daughters started to show not only interest but prowess in sports. How could this be? I hate sports. Every last one of them.

Yet somehow I have a child who made seven baskets in a row the first or second time she held a basketball in her hands. So my daughters (thanks to their uncle, who does like sports) now play catch and softball and kick a ball around the front yard.

What's even more interesting to me, though, is how much my daughters are like their biological brother, who is being raised in a situation very different from ours. He lives with his dad, who works long hours to provide for him, in an apartment in a small city. My daughters live in the country with a two-parent family and a mom who works from home. His dad is young and hip, Banana and Little Bit's parents are old. We come from different cultures, socio-economic strata, and races.

Yet our children, who see each other once or twice a year, share same facial expressions, mannerisms, and the same quirky sense of humor. Not one of them can do math, no matter how much we parents beg.

And all three of them love Big K, the man whose DNA they share.

So, as Henry grows up, I suspect that his mom will recognize how deeply DNA is programmed in her son. And I hope that she nurtures that DNA and cherishes the child she is raising -- even if she doesn't recognize all of it. Nurture may amplify or muffle nature, but it won't ever change it.

And, really, that's a good thing.

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I have a few issues with this article.  I am not adopted and have a biological brother.  We couldn’t be more different. I have a lot of friends that say the same thing.  I also am quite different from my parents.  Although I share some of the same interests as my mother, but honestly, share these same interest with millions of other people as well,  I have talents and interests she and my dad never had.  I think biological parents tend to have more expectations that since a child shares their dna that they will be good at math or be able to sing, draw them.  I think biological children tend for these very reasons to get pigeon holed a lot more than nonbiological children.  I have no expectations of my daughter, who was adopted.  I have no idea where her talents may be, where her strengths are and I think it’s wonderful that she is open to exploring that with out any pre-conceived ideas.

By missellie123 on Friday, June 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm.

Just one more comment.  I don’t think ANY parent, biological or adoptive, is doing right by their children if they are parenting their “own agenda”.  Every child is unique.  I understand to a point what you are saying, I just don’t think I agree with all of it.  We should help our children discover what they enjoy, what they are good at, where they excel, but it may be nothing like who they are related to or share their dna with.

By missellie123 on Friday, June 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm.

Thank you for your comments. I agree (or hope) that most parents want to do what’s best for each child, but I think that as adoptive parents we do need to be more aware of not only what our children like to do, but how they think, problem-solve and view the world.
I always find it interesting when we spend time with their birth family because I DO see the similarities between the siblings and it helps my daughters to see it, too. (Physical, emotional, etc.) My job is to take all that available information into consideration as I parent them.

By TracyRaz on Friday, June 15, 2012 at 11:55 pm.

Interesting question.. .  I was not adopted.  I was raised by my birth parents who also raised my older sister and younger brother, with not too many years difference.  We are full bio siblings. We have many similarities on the outside.  And yet our inner natures and our outlooks on life could not be more different.  Same with our talents and abilities.  Hard to say what’s nature and what’s nurture, since we all grew up together, so it seems like a lot of it must be neither nature NOR nurture!.  Fast forward to my two sons, both from international adoptions (necessarily closed).  One of them has eerie similarities to my mother—same gestures, mannerisms, inherent-seeming qualities.  And looks like me.  And likes the same stuff I liked as a child. Odd to find that from the other side of the world.  The other is completely different in personality from anyone I’ve ever been related to.  He is just naturally graceful, naturally stylish, naturally “cool.”  Yet, he is also developing mannerisms that tag him instantly as part of my family.  I read somewhere that about half of what you are at any time is from genetics and half from nurture.  But I don’t think anybody really knows.  We are all related to each other if you go back enough generations.  We should celebrate the differences and similarities without worrying about where they come from.  People who are really into genetically replicating themselves need to remember that the most salient genes for any one particular child may be from ggggrandmother’s crazy brother instead of any family they know.  And many children, adopted or not, have a tendency to avoid the pigeon holes we’d like to place them in.

By kzmom2005 on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 1:25 am.

I think it is very hard for newly adoptive parents others outside of adoption to grasp what this means to the adoptee.  Until their adopted child is an adult themself.  Nature vs nurture- what am I a product of?

I am much stronger on the nurture side then the nature and mine are at war.  A battle. It rages inside of me- and after reunion the storm was calmed- but it is still there.

By EST on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 2:13 am.
Love it! My son and his siblings are being raised by different families though we see each other often but I love how they have the same voices and move their eyebrows the same way. They have a little brother they have only seen a couple of times but still those traits are there. It’s fun, it will be fun to see their talents unfold.

By carolrn on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm.

I mis posted- I meant to say I am stronger on the nature side then the nurture by far.

By EST on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 3:23 am.

My boys’ dad and I divorced when they were very young.  He moved several states away and very rarely saw them.  While they were growing up, my ap’s marveled over how much the boys reminded them of their father.  To be honest, living with them everyday, I don’t think I saw it as much as they did.  I definitely saw how much they were like me and my natural family.  I also saw some mannerisms they shared with their dad, but it really wasn’t until they both moved away that it hit me just how deep the similarities ran.  When they came home after six months away, it was like their dad was visiting. 

Biology is amazing, and sometimes it may be hard to see the forest for the trees.  I remember when I was a kid, back when I didn’t know any of my biological relatives, I had friends who were convinced they were nothing like anyone in their family.  In fact, one family in particular seemed to all share the common trait of believing they were nothing like any of the rest of their relation.  wink  They all sure seemed a whole lot like their family to me.  Of course there were differences, but the similarities were pretty obvious.

By Jeanne on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm.

I think the biggest thing is parents showing they love their children and support whatever their interest are. And that applies whether it’s your biological, adopted or foster children:

By elyseted on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm.


When I say I am nothing like my biological brother, this is not a blind statement…this is fact.  I am a hard working mother of one, married for 9 years to the same man. Earned a college degree, have worked in the same job for over six years and another job for nine years before that.  I believe in God, believe that I should be a giver, not a taker and believe that I have a purpose and duty to be a good citizen.  My brother, biological and brought up in the same household is an unemployed, leach. Divorced once and now has a live in girlfriend who he will never marry.  Skipped from job to job before deciding he’d live off welfare.  Has no work ethic, has a criminal record and is agnostic. We don’t even like the same type of food, movies, books..nothing.

I don’t thinks there is any forest to look through with this one. We
are nothing alike.  I think in some families that there are siblings that are quite a like and some children that are a lot like their parents, but some are REALLY not.  I think we look to hard for some reason to try and see similarities, maybe it’s a need to feel like we belong.  I never felt that need.  I am OK with the fact that I am nothing like my family.  I will also be OK with the fact if my daughter is nothing like me.  I want her to confident in who she is as an individual without having to rely on someone else for her sense of identity.  I already see very strong, independent qualities in her, whether that is nature or nuture…I can’t say, but my job is to support who she is regardless and not try to put a label on her.

By missellie123 on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm.
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