Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nature v. Nurture Debate to Adoptees

From the Independent, Who Made Me What I Am?, by an adult adoptee:
Last week, as I sat in a queue at a petrol station wondering why everyone in front of me seemed to be moving in slow motion, I realised I can no longer deny my husband's claims that I'm impatient. Perhaps it's in my nature, I pondered. My dad twitches at the very sight of a queue.

The "nature versus nurture" debate is never far from your mind when you're adopted. Most children spend their childhoods (and sometimes their adulthoods) being told they have their dad's brains, their mum's sociability and/or a whole host of other traits, but adopted people often stop to wonder where they get their characteristics from and how different they might be if they'd grown up with their birth parents.

My natural parents were teenagers when I was born and in 1970, that generally meant one thing: adoption. My adoptive parents were always open about it and from early on, I felt it explained why I loved my mum, dad and brother but I didn't feel like them

* * *

It's not that I expected families to be clones. But I noticed that even in other homes where personalities were poles apart, there was a way of being that made them identifiable as a family. Ours had this feeling of four random people thrown together – which, I suppose when you have no shared DNA, is exactly what it is.

* * *

No prizes, then, for guessing where I sat in the nature/nurture debate during my twenties. In fact, I began to feel something of an authority on the subject when it came up in social conversation. For most people, I explained, it's an abstract concept, impossible to pick apart. For me, it was both real and tested.

But then things changed. Friends increasingly pointed out that, unlike many of them, I'd always been quite responsible with money. I realised I had exactly the same attitude to working, spending and saving as my parents – far more so than in my birth family. In fact, when I stopped to think about it, a lot of my values were the same as theirs. When I went away for weekends with my mum, I noticed how easily we would chat on most issues – because, I realised, we had a similar outlook on many things. My mum, meanwhile, has always said I'm like my dad, who died two years ago. "I don't think so," was always my stock response, wondering what planet she was on, but I've come to see that I do have many of his principles, traits and aspirations.
The author does a good job exploring the gray areas;  not surprising, nature v. nurture isn't really an either/or thing, including references to experts as well as explorations of her own life.


Amanda said...

A quote I like:

"For more than 50 years sane voices have called for an end to the debate. Nature versus nurture has been declared everything from dead and finished to futile and wrong--a false dichotomy. Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows that human beings are a product of a transaction between the two....The discovery of how genes actually influence human behavior and how human behavior influences genes, is about to recast the debate entirely. No longer is it nature versus nurture but nature via nurture."

For me, I have a similar personality to my first mom. However my spiritual and political views and even many of my values and talents are completely different from that of both of my families. I am artistic like many of my natural cousins. I am very neat and tidy like my natural aunt. My a-parents are not very organized. My a-dad is brilliant at math; math give me anxiety lol. I have an inclination toward peace-making like my a-mom but I am much more accepting of others than she is.

Amanda said...

(by posting the quote, I am not trying to suggest the author has no common sense, mind you lol. I can identify. Adoptees were specifically mentioned in my Psych classes when it came to nature/nurture discussions and I felt like I had real world experience while everyone else was just guessing!)

LilySea said...

I'm thankful that open adoption lets us see certain things about our kids that we know come from their first mothers. It also allows us to allow them to participate in those common "oh, you're just like so-and-so" conversations that adoptees often feel left out of. We do this a lot. We say "you take after me in such a way" or "Mama R makes that exact same face when she's annoyed!" We try to balance it so they feel connected to all of their family both by birth and adoption. I think that while we can know some things about nature-nurture, now that we have mapped the genome, so much of it is still social. People care, more or they care less about nature or about nurture. I want my kids to just be in that social game we all play with these things and pick their own path between and among the possibilities.

Linda said...

I think it would be impossible to not pick up certain characteristics from our adoptive families. Just spending a lot of time with anyone will have you picking up certain habits- good and bad, lol.

But- being in reunion has shown me that nature trumps nurture. Though separated from my natural family for 42 years, the DNA is glaringly obvious when we are together.

It's quite bizarre for me to be around people I not only look like, but act, walk, stand, sit and even laugh like. We share the same political views, have the same strange sense of humor, enjoy the same odd food combinations, and most of us are employed in the arts/entertainment industry.

Being with my natural family is like looking at a living nature v nurture experiment! ;)

Rebecca Hawkes said...

Love your quote Amanda. The whole framing of nature vs. nurture as a debate has long seemed strange to me when it is so obviously both (to me, at least). I, too, am similar to both my adoptive and biological families. And now that I am also an adoptive and a biological mother I see it from that perspective as well. Just this morning I was thinking about some of the ways that I am surprisingly unlike my bio daughter and very much like my adoptive one. (Some of the latter has to do with shared characteristics of being an adopted person -- not so much "nurture" as "environment").
Rebecca Hawkes

AcousticStitch said...

The way you are raised in a household with certain rules and values is most likely going to rub off on you, especially if you agree with and accept those values. But there are many genetic and cultural differences that will always be there that will give us a tie to our birth parents.