You may think you know the answer, but Mike Crider suggests the answer may not be as compelling as we think.
I have been at my current school long enough to start seeing some of the younger siblings of students from when I first started my job. There are families that are pretty well known throughout the community, especially the ones with several kids going through the schools. I was at a soccer game a couple of weeks ago, and the conversation I found myself listening to was quite fascinating.
Dad #1 (father of three sons): So, how’s your older son doing?
Dad #2 (father of two sons): He’s doing ok. He doesn’t love school, but he’s doing well enough to finish. He’s the type of kid that things just seem to work out for.
Dad #1: Yeah, I hear that. My middle son is like that.
Dad #2: He’s more into art and stuff, which is fine, and he doesn’t cause a problem or get in trouble. You know in this day and age we are pushing them to go to college, but degrees are getting more and more irrelevant.
Dad #1: You know, it’s funny how kids raised under the same roof are so different. My oldest son is a straight A student, has been his entire life and is a freshman in high school. He’s in Common Core Math III for crying out loud. My wife and I are smart people, but I don’t know where he gets it from. We’ve never had to get on him about school or anything, he’s just driven that way.
Dad #2: Yeah, our younger son is like that. My older son did enough to get by, and the younger one is much stronger academically, but he tries a lot harder too. My older son tends to have everything just fall into place.
Dad #1: I think my middle son will be that way. He tries hard, and he’s really passionate about certain things, but he’s not as strong academically as my oldest son. He has to work harder for things. My oldest son … I’m not sure how it happened.
I respect both fathers tremendously for what they do, and both of them have families that they should be extremely proud of. But the statement that resonated with me throughout the entire conversation, and even on the drive home after the game, was the statement Dad #1 made when he indicated he had no idea how it happened.
It’s possible that he was being modest; after all, no one wants to come out and say to other people that it was completely my doing that my son is a hard working, likable student, and scholar athlete. But since I have twins that are a little over two years old now, one of the things I constantly wonder is how my parenting, and how my passion for certain things drives … them. Does a parent really have the influence over their children that they think they do, or are they destined to be something regardless of a parent’s best (or worst) efforts?
There are countless studies on the nature versus nurture issue. I think to dismiss either one is a crucial mistake, because a child is the product of their DNA (nature) as well as the experiences that they encounter and are exposed to (nurture). But it seems as though you come in contact with families of several children where one is the wayward child, the one that did not respond favorably to the same parenting style that “the rest” did. You also see examples, where the sibling of a “trouble” child is often as bad, if not worse. So, I guess the question that I always ask is, “Am I having a positive impact on my children, and will it matter?”
I believe the answer is yes, nurture absolutely matters. I think the bigger issue is how much it matters, because kids tend to grow up and do what they do based on what they have always done. If a child is disorganized in middle school, they tend to be disorganized as high school students, college students, and career people. I can speak from experience because I was this way.
I survived middle school and high school with a Trapper Keeper (taking it way back for all you 30-somethings out there). I put three folders in it, one side of the folder for each class. I stuffed everything from a certain class in that side of the folder, the one it was designated for. The point I’m trying to make is that, to a neat freak, my system would have looked horrid. But, I could find everything I was looking for if you gave me thirty seconds to look for it. Organization is a relative term; some tend to define it as a system of color-coded folders, but I define it as the ability to locate something when you need it. This system worked for me, and it helped me to be successful throughout my academic career. I even used a variation of this in college, although I didn’t walk across campus carrying a Trapper Keeper to class.
As a father, I constantly worry about how much time I spend with my girls, and how much that time matters. I have one child who speaks at levels above that of a three-year-old, while my other child still struggles with two-word sentences. It’s not to say one is smarter than the other, because I am not implying that at all. But they are vastly different in personalities and the level at which they FEEL they need to speak.
Baby A speaks only what she needs, while Baby B speaks everything she observes, feels, and thinks. They were born ninety seconds apart, and have grown up under the same set of expectations and boundaries.
What types of things can help nurture our children in the right direction? I feel as though I have pinpointed a couple that can have the most influence on our children.
• Our core beliefs: Many times, our core beliefs are centered on religious and/or moral beliefs. These ideas are what make us tick, and are the things that we tend to say, “if my child can only have this trait, it would be …” These beliefs can include integrity, perseverance, self-discipline, responsibility, etc. Basically, anything you would put on a poster. But as a parent, even though you may tell your children what you want them to exhibit, it ends up being evident to them what you want them to have because of what they see you model and what they see you get the most passionate about.
• Our passions: The things that our kids can see that we care about are going to have a fairly large influence on our ability to nurture our children. If your biggest passions as a father include sports teams or video games, chances are your efforts to influence your child are going to be in danger of not having their full effect. But if they see how excited you get when they participate in an activity or learn a new concept, it has a large, positive influence on them.
• Our attitudes: The way in which we approach parenting is extremely important. In my first submission to the Good Men Project I talked about how I knew that my father approached fatherhood very seriously. Likewise, if my girls see that I’m not only in their lives but enjoy the experience with them, they are much more likely to love and respect me and the time we spend together.
• Socialization: This is the one that parents don’t want to think about, because they don’t have as much control of this as their children get older. The reality is that our kids are probably going to do what their friends do. We can all agree that kids are more likely to be involved in something (good or bad) if their peer group participates in it. Why do grown adults yell profanity and derogatory comments at college athletes at football games? Because they are surrounded by thousands of others who are caught in the moment. If they were sitting by themselves, they would have much nicer things to say.
I personally find the topic fascinating because we have twins, and while we know we should not compare our girls’ traits and personalities, it’s hard not to. I wrote about the fact that parents, particularly parents of multiples, naturally compare their children in a recent blog post called “Sibling Rivalry.” We understand that our girls are different and we will continue to love them for that as they grow up. Our goal is to instill in them the core beliefs and values, passions, and attitudes we have for the important things in life in the hope that they will choose their friends wisely. Family structure, particularly in twin families, is vital, because that sibling will be with them throughout their entire scholastic career. In essence, they always have a friend (or foe, if we don’t instill those elements).
The point I am trying to make is that we know that our efforts as parents can have positive and negative impacts on our children. But it needs to be stated that kids, to some capacity, are going to be who they are.