Eimear Hutchinson: Reflecting as a parent on nature vs nurture

A mother of four kids, EIMEAR HUTCHINSON reflects on the nature Vs nurture debate, and what role parents play in shaping our children
Eimear Hutchinson: Reflecting as a parent on nature vs nurture

Eimear Hutchinson reflects on the nature Vs nurture debate, something as a parent she has become more conscious of. Picture: Stock

SOMETHING that has always fascinated me since becoming a mother is the idea of nature versus nurture, or how nature and nurture exist alongside each other.

In its broadest terms, nature is what we are born with; the traits we inherit from our parents, and nurture encompasses the journey we all go on as we grow up and the environmental or external factors we are exposed to that shape those inherent traits.

It is a concept that is hotly debated and extensively researched and it’s hugely interesting because, as a parent, it’s thought-provoking to question whether we do have a formative influence on how our children progress in life.

By rushing and racing to all the extracurricular activities, are we actually creating the next Ronaldo and Serena Williams, or should we just sit back and support our children in finding their own way? Do we nurture nature or do we let nature do the nurturing?

We have four children and I find it a constant source of wonder how each of them is so different. We try to parent them all the same, but as they get older I have come to learn that there is really no ‘one size fits all’ in parenting styles. I suppose, in the simplest terms, I am always wondering what battles are worth fighting when it comes to teaching the children how to behave or how to act, and which battles I just have to accept I can’t win.

I would like to think there are elements of everyone’s personality that you fundamentally can’t change, because that is what makes us uniquely us. At the same time, I do believe that we can learn to manage aspects of our nature so that we can function in society in our own way, but in an acceptable way.

Take for example toddlers, lots of whom strongly dislike sharing; you could say they have a possessive nature, and perhaps they do, but it is something we as parents and others in society, like teachers and friends, generally coach toddlers out of so that, as children and adults, they are (mostly!) capable of not throwing a tantrum every time someone wants or needs to take something from them.

One of my girls is strong on passing off responsibility. Nothing is ever her fault, and considering we put a lot of praise in honesty and aren’t the scariest parents, she has no reason to feel like she needs to pass off blame, and her sisters don’t do it. Therefore, I (with my Facebook degree in psychology!) conclude it’s something that is in her nature (and now I’m wondering which parent she inherited that trait from...).

I believe she should learn to manage so while it might be in her nature to blame someone else, I can nurture her to behave more responsibly.

I bring her to athletics every week so that she learns in a gentle way to take ownership over her actions – you can’t blame a referee or your team-mates (and they rarely blame the coaches!). It’s up to you as an individual to put in the hard work training, up to you to run your race, up to you alone to deal with losing, but only you can bask in the glory of a win.

I wonder, too, when I compare the girls as babies, how, when my first child was a baby, we were sanitising everything, there were lots of uninterrupted one on one games, baths every night and no chocolate before the age of one. By the time I got to the fourth child, as you can probably well imagine, I was far more relaxed; cleaning soothers by sucking on them, and who knows what she’d consumed by the time she was one.

Despite being like two different mothers to both girls, they are exactly alike – feisty, independent, strong-willed and filled with bursts of emotion, so it does make me wonder about the impact we have as parents – both children got the same love and emotional support, so was that actually enough?

They’re probably too young for me to draw a conclusion on that yet, but if it was true it would free up a lot of headspace previously spent feeling guilty about not doing everything perfectly.

I also question how much nature can you nurture? I see it in athletics, two children that might have the same capabilities when it comes to running and one you can push to train, while the other will baulk at the idea of being pushed and leave the sport altogether.

My eldest lady is wildly determined and runs out the door to training for every type of sport, whereas my second lady needs a gentle push out the door to training. She always enjoys sports but if I didn’t give her a gentle nurturing push out the door, would she ever go? She has a natural ability at sports but she is also a touch lazy so I have to find the balance of how much nature I can nurture.

There are lots of examples of where nature and nurture fit side by side within our lives, look around at your own world and contemplate the thought, you never know - it might actually be freeing.

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