Monday, March 16, 2009

Nature and nurture

In a comment to me the other day, I heard an implication that two of our daughters' situations may be our fault in some way because of the way they were raised, despite any genetic influences one way or the other.

And maybe I'm particularly sensitive right now as far as they're concerned because of the particular brand of parental angst their choices have caused us, and the mess they've both made of their lives because of their choices.

But I really take umbrage at the suggestion that their lives are messed up because of something we did.

My beloved and I did not raise them together. But both were reared in middle-class homes with strong middle-class values, went to church and camp and Sunday school, were Girl Scouts, played soccer, had proper health care and went to good schools, and had parents who tried to make sure they were able to take advantage of enrichment programs like drama, music, art, and the like. Their parents attended their games and events pretty faithfully. Both fathers worked hard to make a living; both mothers stayed home with them at least until they were school age if not longer. They both grew up with parents who had strong work ethics, who encouraged them to find what they were good at doing and make it happen.

Were there mistakes? Of course. Did their parents have it all together? No. I don't know any parents that do/did. But both girls were raised with love and attention; both were raised pretty much as only children.

There were some bad things that happened to them both at young ages, things that were not our fault or by our doing, and in my case, one biggie that I didn't even know about until last summer.

They're not the first children to whom some icky stuff has happened. They won't be the last.

And that may help explain some of their individual issues now, for sure.

There are also genetic factors at play here, we believe -- inheritable traits and illnesses that compound the issues. None of us have any say over what we inherit through our genes, alas. What we do have a choice about is how we choose to react to an illness, an inherited predisposition. What are we going to do with the hand we've been dealt?

But the bottom line is that they mostly are where they are because of their own choices: who they hang out with, what they choose to pursue in education or the world of work, how they make choices, what their work ethics are, what they decide to put into their bodies.

You do all you can, where you are, with what you've got.

There is so much compounded crap in their lives right now that I don't know if they can dig their ways out from underneath the piles. I hope so. I believe it is possible, and there are many stories about people who have overcome significant odds -- socio-economic, physical, mental -- and have become happy, successful adults.

But what they accomplished was because they wanted to do it for themselves. That's the only way it happens: when you want something badly enough to work through the obstacles to get it.

We have never stopped believing that it is possible. But we also know that we cannot love them out of their problems nor into the kind of life we hope for them. It can't be bought or bargained for. There is no easy fix, not that their lives are ours to fix anyway. They get to choose how they want to live their lives.

It is our choice how we accept their decisions.

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