I am fascinated by the topic of nature vs nurture- more so since I saw the documentary “Three Identical Strangers”.  What is it that determines how people will turn out?   Is someone’s destiny predetermined at birth. or does upbringing help?

I have a friend who adopted a child.  The birth mother was a drug abuser and had other assorted issues.  The adoptive family were/are loving and supportive.  They provided the child with a nurturing and loving environment, exposed the child to art and culture and sports and whatever else the dream childhood consists of. They were involved in the child’s life in every aspect, and supportive of whatever path the child chose.

The child was quite intelligent and grasped onto concepts fairly quickly.    Child had a gift for language and writing.  But, the child was a behavior problem both in and out of school.  Respect was not one of the things this child exceeded at.  Child, who we will call Z, was regularly in trouble at school, little league, whatever.

When Z was in third grade, one parent passed away- cancer.  It was quick and brutal.

After the death, Z really started to go off the rails- the transgressions got larger. The actions of the child were starting to get dangerous.  Middle school saw Z stop working at all- work so poor that the decision was made to send Z to a special school.   And then another special school.  Because the problems kept multiplying. And drugs.  and alcohol.

Ninth grade would need to be repeated because Z was unable to maintain anything close to a good average- obviously, this highly intelligent child failed everything.

I recently found out Z is now in rehab.  Z is the same age as my daughter- they played together in pre-k.  And now Z is in rehab. This talented amazing child.  16 and lost.

So there you go.

Did the death of a parent throw Z right off the rails?  Or was Z destined to make questionable choices and become a substance abuser?

So what do you all think?

Nature?

Or nurture?

Both?

74 thoughts on “Nature /Nurture

  1. It’s a tough one. And there are so many studies and so many exceptions and so many special cases. Think about the success stories who come out of a difficult domestic life. I’d like to believe that nurture is ultimately more important. Maybe Z would be even worse off if not for the level of care received- even if much of it was rejected?

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    1. Yeah. It’s so hard. I just don’t know, or understand. I see a parent shattered not knowing how to take care of a dearly loved child. I wish there were easy answers to this.

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  2. A little bit of both, perhaps.

    The proper answer would be nurture.. But only if you count nurture from the moment the baby is still a foetus. There’s considerable amount of research that shows that from halfway through the pregnancy, the baby already is registering and absorbing sounds and surroundings.

    And even as a baby, a child can absorb so much… Adversely, the can be affected so much. Its a critical age.

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  3. It’s both, of course. Myself, I started life firmly in the nurture camp, but have received forty years of loud wake up calls as my daughter manifests traits inherited from her father and my mother. Much struggle has ended her as a productive member of society, but I still tiptoe around what can only be regarded as delusions regarding her upbringing and narcissistic behaviors in her present life.

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      1. I know. It makes no sense. I think sometimes of how wild and crazy my own son is. He is just like his dad. But we thought if we gave our kids a better upbringing they would be different…My husband grew up without a dad. But seeing how my husband turned out, there is hope! There is always hope! Maybe all the love she received will keep her going through the hard times. She would probably be in a worse place if she wasn’t adopted. She has the support of a loving family which means a lot.

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  4. I am looking forward to reading your readers’ comments, for it is a very good question. I understand that impressions are everything when first born, but when a baby is even one there are ways you can connect. Perhaps the parents were too kind and generous. But who insn’t these days to their children? That’s why so many of the 20’s generation feel the world owes them something. But I digress. Your readers answers are very insightful.

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  5. I don’t think there is a definitive answer. I have seen children with tough upbringing grow into focussed, thoughtful, accomplished adults. I have also seen children brought up with an abundance of love and attention grow into problematic adults. I cant believe that nature wins over nurture. Too simplistic. The answer has to be both

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  6. I love nature/nurture but it’s incredibly difficult to pin-point. To me, I think it has to be a bit of both AND the individual person’s character. Do you want to overcome and be better then what’s supposedly in your genetics? well, how badly? Same time, I also think we are predisposed to a certain extent. Z could have been a lot worse off had she stayed with her biological family, I think. Now I’m not saying it was her adopted family’s fault at all; I beat the death of a parent impacted her tremendously. I don’t know if it was her family history that played into her going into rehab or if it was “chance.” Hard to say exactly and rather unfair of me to speculate without knowing the entire situation fully.

    I inherited both of my parents’ strong personalities, but at the same time I am me, not them. So is the balance of life. Thanks for the thought provoking share today!

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  7. I don’t know the answer but can mention an example going the other way. Brothers adopted by my friend. From broken home with alcohol/drug dependent parents and criminality. One is a little poor at social interaction but has a girlfriend. Now flying through Imperial College London, a top flight uni. The other is sociable, has strong friend networks and is progressing well through an apprenticeship. It’s a complex question.

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  8. I would say, both, or neither, depending on the individual(s) concerned. Humans are extremely complex organic machines with a LOT of moving parts, inserted in an environment that is also an extremely complex organic machine with even MORE moving parts. One size does not fit all in anything regarding us because there are an almost infinite number of variables involved.

    Now you’ve got me thinking of my own tiny family. Two boys, two different biologicals, 8 years in the exact same nuclear family setup = two entirely different individuals.

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  9. I am not sure. I’d like to believe nurture but as in the example of my husband and his younger brother, nature plays a big part too. Both came from a home with an alcoholic abusive father who was out of the picture when the boys were about 10 and 14. My husband grew up with the thought “I’m never going to be like my father” and has made good on that intent. His brother is an alcoholic, drug abuser now 60 year old who’s had no wife, real job or steady home (he’s been living with their mother) and says that he is that way because “my father was an abusive alcoholic.” Or, could they be the way they are because my husband was sent for a time to live with his aunt and uncle in Wisconsin and thereby saw what a real family life could be like and then fell in love with me who came from the most normal family you could think of while his brother never had the kind of relationship we have and lived with his mom and stepdad most of his life? Interesting side note, I dated his brother before I married my husband and I broke it off with the brother because I couldn’t deal with his behaviors.

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    1. It’s such an interesting question. Thanks for the input. There are so many different ways to look st things. And well never have a definitive answer

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  10. That is sad. I agree with the “nature” as stronger of Empty Nest Adventures. We had thought of adopting as I don’t have any children but in the end we agreed not to for many reasons. Now, we have grandchildren and I am noticing how nurture plays a big role. I am sure this young lady had many reach out to her. I hope she will be ok.

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  11. It’s both. I majored in Sociology and I remember debates between all social influence or those in the psychology arena who went with individual traits as the dominant influence. I loved the Social Psych class, because it found a logical way to meld the two strong influences and make sense of why we are both driven by personality and by the environment we live in.

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  12. A brilliant post LA because I’m also fascinated by this conundrum you call nature v nurture. I know 2 little people who have loving parents a fabulous upbringing but when I’m around these lovely children I OFTEN wonder to myself, how would these kind adorable preteens have turned out if their parents were absolute assholes? Hmm would they still be the lovely children they are? My take is nurture plays a large part HOWEVER I’m convinced genetics also plays a big role. We laugh in my family how alike my sibling is to one grandparent! Personality values high standards sense of humour are EXACTLY the same!

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  13. I think that, as Marilyn Manson said, “Complicated’s understated”. It’s certainly a combination of factors, although I recently read an article that said that hatred and prejudice was ‘pretty much 100% nurture’ or extrenal circumstances. It seems like circumstances affect us all a great deal, and there are oddball factors like pollution and overcrowding and other social factors that enter into it all, and I don’t tend to think of those and nature or nurture. Good luck to all! I keep wanting to catch up with twin girls born on the same day I was, in the same hospital, who lived in the same street I did, since I want to see if their astrology somehow made their lives turn out anything like mine.

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  14. He was genetically destined to be what he is. We are all fighting our biology, some more successfully than others. I am an addict. I am also an adopted child. My home life was very loving and supportive. And here I am anyway, saying that I’m an addict. It’s just my biology.

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  15. I think it’s both. Being adopted myself and having a similar childhood to Z, where one parent died and the other parent abandoned me, I slipped into a kind of seedy (secret) behavior too. I think it’s a slippery slope where if everything turns out great and rosy, then maybe the child will too, but I also think that there’s always something natural there, from the birth parent that no one realizes.

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  16. Adoption, being away from the original mother is one of the most traumatising things that happen to a person. We all think we are doing the ‘right’ thing, but the right thing can still be very, very horrifying to a baby or child. A baby is not unaware. A baby is very aware of who the mother is and needs her. No mother means death in the brain of the baby. That shock is real – no matter how many caretakers pamper the baby. In my not so humble opinion early (!) abortion is more humane than adoption.
    Having a parent with addiction brings genetic differences and brain functioning which is set for addiction. Specifically when the mother was using during pregnancy.
    Further, addiction is highly related to the Adverse Child Experiences or so called ACE’s. With an ACE score higher than 4 (meaning the occurrance of 4 traumatic experiences of the ACE list) a person is in general so damaged that the road to addiction and crime is almost certain. Gabor Maté, reknown addiction specialist says; ‘Not why the addiction, why the pain.” People who use can not bear to be with what is. That pain is real. The solution is unhealty however. 😦
    xx, Feeling

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  17. I dont know. I believe in reincarnation and that we all have our own path we need to take. That said I think the drug/alcohol abuse is in some people’s jeans. What a sad story. Wish we could do more to help people like z. Thanks for making me think today.

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  18. Interesting one this. Despite the nurturing of the adopted parents, the child still had problems. If the mother was a drug abuser – this could be down to her taking drugs while pregnant? Did the child know she was adopted? If so, when was she told? That information alone is enough to send a child off the rails. Then to lose an adopted parent so quickly when the child was in a vulnerable state would certainly explain her troubled behaviour.

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    1. It’s such a sad situation all around. I just want everyone to feel as if they don’t need to ease their pain with chemicals, and to try to be kind to others…but what if it’s just hardwired into you? It’s hard…

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  19. We studied this am awful lot at Uni in the last few years and not one lecturer could give more than it is 50/50. Very fascinating. I am actually adopted. Wonderful upbringing..no dramas really so I assume my “nature” part was pretty good .😊😊

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    1. It’s a subject we are never going to have a straight answer on, because there are compelling arguments on all sides. Fascinating topic to think about though

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  20. Both. A combination of factors came into play, and there’s also the variable of the times in which we live. Different era, different outcomes.

    Also, it might just be that rehab at 16 will turn out to be the best thing for Z… in the long run. You never know.

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  21. I adopted two children and I am their mother. I don’t consider myself their adopted mother. I am raising them the only way I know how: with unconditional love. If one of them developed a drug addiction, I would not turn around and say, “Well, it’s in their genes.” To me, that’s a complete cop-out. I think you can be pre-disposed to develop an addiction, but that doesn’t mean you will become an addict. One of my nephews developed a horrifying drug problem in spite of being raised in a loving home by two biological parents. I think it’s a lot more complicated than nature/nuture.

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  22. I honestly thing we are all a result of both nature and nurture. We are born with certain traits, talents and faults. And then our environment either brings them out or squashes them down. But ultimately, I think what we make of our life is our own responsibility.

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  23. Definitely some genetic predispositions, and maybe even residual damage from the drug abuse of the birth mother. Maybe the adoptive parents weren’t all you imagined them to be. Could be a lot of things.

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  24. Really hard to know. I can’t believe people come into this world a blank slate, but I do think parenting styles have an effect. It’s about the right style for the right child, rather than one size fits all, and since parents can’t really adjust who they are depending on who their kid is, some kids miss out on their ‘perfect parent’. What I’m trying to say is, maybe Z was a wild child from day one, or maybe your friend wasn’t quite the right style parent for a Z.

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