by Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW
Many of us have been exposed to the argument about what shapes the personality of children, nature or nurture. Nature represents heredity and nurture equals environment in this equation. It is an especially compelling question for those of us who have a child through adoption or through the generosity of a donor. What impact does genetics have? How effective can I be as a non-biological parent? These were thoughts that I had after the birth of my egg donor daughter.
We chose a donor that had my physical characteristics. Grace was born with dark brown hair like mine. She had dark hazel eyes with wisps of brown. My eyes are brown. Over the 10 years since she was born there have been several comments about how much we look alike. As far as I know she does not have the “cancer gene” that my family members carry. I have followed the lessons learned from the genome research examining our DNA and genetic heritage with great interest.
My 35 years as a social worker have led me to lean on the side of nurture. It feels safer, more familiar, and something I sometimes fool myself into thinking I have some control over. I have heard those stories about identical twins raised apart that do end up differing in behaviors and other ways. I am perhaps naively optimistic that my behavior, parenting effectiveness, and the home/life environment we have created can help her grow into a healthy, intelligent, happy adult. I have reluctantly let go of my desire to see her become a softball all star. She shows no interest in sports of any kind.
Shortly after Grace was born I went to a lecture about raising an only child. The psychologist speaking told us that genetics does play a part in creating ability and some traits (aside from physical) are influenced by the child’s environment. I do know Grace and I share the same sense of humor, a discipline about completing our work, and the joy of spending time with good friends and family. Our values are similar as is our love of pop culture.
The conclusion I have drawn from all of this is rather than nature vs. nurture it is really a combination of nature in conjunction with nurture. I remember that psychologist I heard use the words “cause and effect.” I think now after a mere 10 years of parenting under my belt I have a better understanding of what she meant. Even if we are born with a genetic disposition, there is not a 100% guarantee that something will occur in this predetermined way. Medical interventions are available. Lifestyle changes have a big impact. Behaviors can be shaped and nurtured. I choose to believe anything is possible.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.