Thoughts on Nature vs. Nurture

I wanted to write a blog about the differences in nature we can have with our adopted children. In researching, I came across “The Three Faces of Adoptees” by The Primal Wound author Nancy Verrier: “Although at one time there was an effort to fit some traits and interests of the birth mother to the adoptive family, the sensory aspects were largely ignored. Now there seems to be little effort to have the birth and adoptive family fit …”

I’ve often heard adoptees say they felt they didn’t fit into their adoptive families. Prior to adopting, in my naïveté, I took it to mean outward appearance or feeling they were treated differently than the family’s bio children or missing the connection of living with their blood relatives. 

Before we adopted, I never thought deeply about fundamental differences in nature and personality. Sure, I knew we have inherent talents and predispositions from our birth family, but the idea that our very natures can be so different as to not understand one another or not be able to mesh as a family never occurred to me back then.

Recognizing and adapting our parenting to the differences in our very natures is not something I came across as such in books or webinars. Now, searching the subject online, I find some hits, but I had to look for them. 

I’m probably not alone in being an adoptive parent who didn’t give this enough thought. I think sometimes we attribute many things to trauma rather than recognizing fundamental nature and personality differences. Acknowledging variances in inherent nature is important, I think. 

While everyone agrees that nature and nurture work together and each have influence, I think parents often think nurture is more important and has more of an influence. 

On the nature vs. nurture debate, famous psychologist Stanton Samenow writes “… there is a growing awareness that environment does not play the critical role that many people have thought.” 

The famous (and unethical) twin studies illustrate this. For example, psychologist and geneticist Thomas Bouchard found that identical twins who were reared apart often had remarkably similar personalities, interests and attitudes. This is also illustrated in the documentary Three Identical Strangers

Why does this matter in adoption? I think it matters on many levels. It matters to children feeling like they fit in and that they’re “good enough.” It matters in being able to recognize your children’s natural differences and to parent them accordingly. 

In the documentary Baby God about the fertility doctor who inseminated his patients with his sperm without telling them, one of his adult children—who grew up not knowing he wasn’t the biological son of the man who raised him—says: “People who don't share DNA with their parents may feel that they're not just different but that they're somehow wrong.”

I spent my first few years as a parent failing at recognizing—and responding accordingly—to the differences in nature between myself and my adopted children. While I always encouraged their interests and talents that are different than mine, the more fundamental differences in our nature/personality were harder for me to come to terms with. For example, I always excelled in school. I am driven. I am ultra-organized. I viewed these traits as key to my success and important for anyone who wanted to be successful in life. I thought my kids needed to develop these attributes. 

I no doubt made my kids feel like they weren’t good enough and didn’t fit in. When we found their birth family and learned more about them, we began to see all the ways they were more like their birth parents than us. 

I finally came to realize that their natures and personalities were fundamentally different than mine, and that it wasn’t just a matter of learned behaviors. This was more helpful to my parenting than anything else. 

I’ve never had bio children, but I know parents of bio children often recognize themselves and their spouses in their kids, and that makes it easier to parent them. For example, my parents also excelled in school and earned their doctorates. The fact I liked school and did well in it fit in with their experience and expectations.  

As you can read in my previous blog, “Changing the Adoption Paradigm,” I think our adoption systems in this country need a massive overhaul. But to those who have already adopted or are still planning to, recognize there may be big inherent differences between you and your children. 

Of course, it’s most important to listen to adoptees themselves. I didn’t find a lot of adoptee written pieces on the subject of nature vs. nurture, but here are two. If you know of more, message me, and I’ll add them.

As always, I recommend following adoptee blogs and social media pages.

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