What is the Nature Versus Nurture Conversation?
Families who are all biologically related talk about it. Families who are blended talk about it. Scientists and psychologists run analyses on the topic with nearly the same result every time. Even people who have little to no connection to it will debate about it. Nearly everyone familiar with the adoption community will definitely be familiar with this concept. It seems to sneak its way into almost every adoption story we hear, and it has resulted in quite a lot of questions for both prospective adoptive parents and adoptees alike.
From the parents: What will my child be like? How will they fit into my family? Will they get along with their siblings? Can I bond with a child I am not related to by blood? How much of me will I see in them, and how much of their birth parents?
From the children: Where did this trait come from? Do I act like this because of my birth parents? How much of me is from my birth parents, and how much of me is from my adopted family? How come my siblings and I are so different after living under the same roof for years?
As the title suggests, this is the nature versus nurture conversation, which has been talked about for decades. What makes you who you are? Is it determined by your genetic code, inherited from blood relatives? The physical traits, attributes, and personality types? Or is it determined by the environment you grow up in, the people you surround yourself with, and the experiences you go through? People have been mulling this over for forever, and most of the time it seems to end in a draw. I have to say, I agree. As you will find in this piece, I think that the whole argument is void because the two options we are given are not mutually exclusive. Nature and nurture cannot be totally separated when it comes to evaluating our identities.
Anxiety (and Hopefully, Reassurance)
Some families find a knot of anxiety when facing these questions. It is common for prospective adoptive parents to worry that their love may not be as strong with a child who does not share their DNA or was not personally carried in the womb, especially parents who have been through previous trauma like failed fertility treatments and miscarriages. Families that are preparing to introduce adopted children to their biological children also tend to worry that their love will not expand as much to the adoptees. However, once they settle in and let those anxieties melt away, those same families find that love truly has no bounds.
If you make room for someone new in your family, that does not mean there is less love to go around, does it? It simply means that your circle has grown larger. As common as it is to see new adoptive parents worry about their bond with the adoptee, it is even more common to see a beautiful transition where their hearts just expand. Many parents will talk about how the children they have adopted are just as much their own as the children they have birthed. Even foster parents gladly share their stories of how caring for a child in their home became loving a child as a part of their family. However long or short a time they spend together changes nothing. They are family, and their love expands to everyone. For some, it just takes time and a little patience.
As people grow up into adults and move out, they continue adding to and choosing their own families. A lot of those families who adopt also learn to lean on their found family—their friends and colleagues who have come to feel like a family. The whole “it takes a village to raise a child” concept came from humanity’s instinct to bond with each other, and those bonds we make do not have to be connected via DNA. If we can grow to love our friends like family, to the point of seeing them as a part of us, then why would it be less likely to happen with a child who is adopted?
Currently, I do not have any kids, so maybe my opinion is less warranted here. However, if it can help in any way at all, I am somebody who has come to rely on her found family friends. Our circle has grown and resized itself over the years, and with each new addition, we found our love for each other growing stronger and larger. So, in my mind, if I can learn to love my amazing found family as deeply as I do (which is to say, very deeply) then maybe someday I could apply that to a child. Regardless of whether they were biologically mine or not, the love I have already experienced gives me hope that if I get that pleasure, I will be able to care for the child even more than I can imagine.
Love is the most important part
Honestly, as intriguing as it is to debate nature versus nurture in children, sometimes it can be enough to say: whichever it is, it does not matter. Because I love them. And that is the most important part. An adoptee will always be a mixture of both their biological parents and their adoptive parents, and that will never change. For example, I will always have my parent’s physical traits given by their DNA—the dark hair, dark eyes, and the fact that I am shorter than almost all of my friends. One look at the family pictures in our house and you immediately know that those traits did not come from my mom. But I also have my friend’s brand of dark, snarky humor. I have morals and study skills developed by my mother. I have a weird but loving bond with my sister that has transcended our natures. And I embrace all of it as a person who is still growing and changing.
Personally, looking at me and my sister, it is easy to see why some people may start to lean towards the nature side of the spectrum. While we were both born in the same country, we are not biologically related, and at times it can really show. To be honest, I have yet to meet a set of siblings that are further apart in personality than us. Put the two of us on any sort of personality spectrum, and you will find us on opposite ends. Extrovert versus introvert? One of us constantly needs to interact with people, the other is just fine with staying in her room. Impulsive versus cautious? One of us has trouble deciding on breakfast, while the other still has to be reminded to look both ways before crossing the street. Loud versus quiet? One of us hides in her room, while the other is screaming and singing pop songs in the kitchen. Night vs day, winter vs summer, water vs fire, you get the idea. So how does this work out in terms of nature versus nurture?
In noticing these differences and many more over the years, of course, the topic has crossed our minds a few times: where in the world did those differences come from? We have lived in the same house, with the same parent, for over a decade. How did we turn out so different from each other?
Logically, we know it must have something to do with our birth parents. Coming from different biological families, even though we grew up in the same household, did make a difference. We can see it in every argument, every movement, and every time we attempt to work together. In this case, opposites do not attract all that well. But does that mean we are not family? Is the rift of personal preference and biological components that strong?
Not at all! As different as we are, we are still united by the nurture side of the spectrum. Two girls, born to apparently very different people yet raised by the same person, somehow manage to find some common ground. In my mother’s words, we “are sisters in all the most important ways.” Our personalities clash, we fight just as many siblings do, but that is only a part of us. We were brought up in a household where we were taught the same principles, and because of that, we tend to share moral alignments. We have gone through life experiences together that have brought us closer, in a way that only the two of us will know. The mutual glances we give each other in certain situations (usually when mom or grandma is being rather embarrassing), the unspoken nods, the weird language we have created out of internet memes and TV show references—all of that was never an innate part of either of us. Those small, unique ways of communicating were not born from our birth parents. They were not woven into our DNA strands. They were the means of reaching across our personality rift that we created on our own.
When you can connect with someone who you truly love but is so very different from you, it creates a bond that becomes a part of you. Without my sister, I know I would not be who I am (as much as I do not want to admit it sometimes). And I know it goes both ways.
Yes, my sister and I are two separate individuals with very different natures. We do not look like our mother, we barely even look like each other, but the way we were nurtured in our family helped to forge a bond between us that otherwise may not have been there. And if it was not there, I believe neither of us would be who we are now. We are living proof that people are a combination of both—it is nature and nurture, not nature or nurture.
Conclusion to the Conversation
The nature versus nurture conversation can be debated as long as people want it to be. There are endless theories and studies about which one would “win” and which one has the stronger influence on who we become. Prospective adoptive parents will still struggle with their anxieties (which are all completely valid, by the way), and adoptees will still think about how their identities were shaped by their two sets of parents.
However, in my opinion, the two points are nothing more than two sides of the same coin. You cannot focus on just one and repress the other because no one is whole without acknowledging both parts. They are, and always have been, inextricable. So, really, the conversation (in its argumentative, debate form) could simply be over and done with if we are willing to let it go.
You can love the similarities while acknowledging and facing the differences. Love does not care whether you were blood-related or adopted, it is simply a bond that must be worked on, and it can transcend DNA any day.
“A culmination of more than half a century of research collected on 14.5 million pairs of twins has finally concluded that the nature versus nurture debate is a draw. According to the plethora of data, both have nearly identical influences on a person’s behavior, which suggests we need to stop looking at ourselves as a result of nature versus nurture, and instead realize we are a combination of both.” From The Medical Daily.Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.