Nature versus Nurture

I spend a lot of time trying to analyse my children’s quirks and mannerisms – a self-indulgent attempt to identify some chink in their DNA chain that came from me. Like a charm bracelet, they throw little gems of personality that dangle and dazzle, like flashes of silver lining in the cloud of nappies and toddler emotional outbursts. What chinks of charm have come from me? What jewels of high jinks came from my hubby? What treasure trove of theatrics come from our families? Like Daisy’s shy performance of an acorn growing into a sycamore, I reconstruct our family tree from their blossoming traits.

And while I can often place their quirky origins with a jubilant yelp of “Oh, she’s just like my mum!”, and “Oh, she gets that from you!” – every so often they laugh in my face and trump my house of cards with an ace of their own, a gem on the bracelet that is all their own. New additions to our family collection of traits, a new leaf on their own branch. And it makes me smile as I ponder the nature versus nurture thing. I was recently reminded that it also applies to me, but in a slightly different way. Where nature is all instinct, nurture is all learned, and sometimes you have to remember which is which.

Last week I got knocked off my mothering perch – one I had perilously climbed to sit high and safe in contentment and some satisfaction that I’d finally worked out how to do this gig with some semblance of sanity and success. For a little while I forgot how precarious that perch can be.

One night, Poppy went into melt-down and a few days later, I followed suit. She started crying hysterically when I put her down at night, to eventually fall off some hours later exhausted. Just as I would carry my weary self to bed, she would start again, rejuvenated for another few hours of screeching unless I was with her. After a week of this I was beside myself and no longer mother-in-charge. I shouted, I panicked, I lost my nerve. I tried various ways to stop her – soothing, ignoring, surrendering. No consistency, just chaos. No plan, just panic. No mothering, just madness. I read the books and begged my friends for advice, and they all told me different things. And so was I…

My heart was telling me she needed me and I should just be with her no matter if I never slept. My head (and all my friends) told me to be firm, and strong and don’t give in, we had to break this ‘habit’. Then one morning, her ‘habit’ broke out in spots all over her body. Poppy had chicken pox. She hadn’t been trying to ‘get her own way’, she had been sick. And so was I. Sick with guilt. That night I took her into bed with me and we all slept for the first time in over a week. She had needed me and I had ignored my instinct to respond the way I should. (Luckily she fell out of bed at one point which I wisely reminded her of the following night, so no issues of her demanding a repeat for eternity!).

And so I go back to basics…. Instinct is there for a reason. They are what they are – charming charms on their bracelet of life, some are given and some are grown – and I need to be what I need to be to make sure all their charms are the most precious they can be. I need to trust my nature, so I can nurture them effectively.

That said, its not abnormal for my instinct to tell me to run to the hills, so I’d better chuck in some common sense too!

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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1 Response to Nature versus Nurture

  1. cath c says:

    boy do i feel for you in this situation. just when you're trying to do everything right, by the book, etc, no matter how wrong it may feel or how much it's driving you crazy, it's so easy to get off track from the instincts that tell you something is up. my son with asperger's syndrome really cannot tell me he's sick until he's really sick, and in the meantime i find myself responding to him with less than patience. when the fever turns him bleary-eyed, i always slap myself silly for not noticing the signs earlier.


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