Nature or Nurture? No doubt a question you’ve heard a lot, but haven’t thought much about. It’s a false distinction assuming either our lives are determined by our environment, or by our genetic and biological makeup.
By now you should be wise enough to know very few things are black or white, it’s all shades of grey. Our genetics and biology are influenced by our experiences and our experiences are influenced by our genetics and biology. So, it’s really a question of understanding how these relationships work. It’s an area of study called epigenetics.
A key principle in epigenetics is that repeated experiences and interactions with others build new neural pathways, which in turn changes how we think about and behave.
For at least the first seven, if not ten years, your behaviour shapes your children’s understanding of how the world works. This happens at a time when their brain is developing at its fastest rate, so the pathways it lays down will run very deep and influence them for the rest of their lives.
Let’s get specific.
If you and your partner argue and get angry, but don’t ever make up, accept responsibility and try and work through the root cause of the argument calmly and constructively, your children don’t learn how to do that. Instead, they learn that people argue and get angry and then bottle it up, so that’s what they’ll do.
If you only show them affection when they’re well behaved, they learn your love is conditional. They learn to build relationships by pleasing people. They will try to make everyone in their lives happy at the expense of themselves and their own needs.
You have to be careful with this insight though.
It doesn’t mean you have to be your best self around the children 100% of the time, because that’s not a real, honest and true reflection of what it’s like to be grown up, to be human. We are all works in progress, we all make mistakes and say and do things we regret. Trying to be perfect leads to places of poor mental health. It does mean we need to act like adults when those things happen. When we shout because we’re tired, we say sorry, take responsibility, explain the reasons why and repair the relationship.
The science supports the idea that we need to be the best people we can be, but it’s worth thinking about what that really means, not just assuming best means perfect.