One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is “Do you think environment (parenting) makes a difference?” The question is usually asked because of a learning or behavior problem that has arisen and the real question parents are asking is “Will my efforts change this?” Well, yes and no…
One of my early memories is of my parents working in a cotton field while I sat in the dirt beside the field and played with another little child. We tore the cotton seeds loose from several bolls and pretended they were rabbits. We dug elaborate tunnels and made little grass beds for them. I was probably about four years old. There were other children in the field who were following their parents down each row. Some were content. Others were crying. I was perfectly happy to play with my bunnies. My own nature and creativity made that possible. However, my parents were the ones who took me to work with them and expected me to behave myself.
When I was about nine we lived in a duplex. There were several other units on our block and a huge open field behind us where my brothers and other boys had mock war battles. I often visited several of the homes because one contained a little baby, one had a genius who was my age but in high school, and one had green roses growing beside the front steps. I had never seen green roses and I had to know how that was possible! The owner took great pride in explaining it to me. The ironic thing was that even though my brothers and other children passed by there each day to get to the play area, NONE of them even noticed the roses. I had to tell my brothers they were there! I was always an observant child, but one reason I developed that skill was because by the time we lived in that duplex I had moved thirteen times. My parents had taught me to adjust to different situations and to be aware of my surroundings.
In the nature vs. nurture debate I definitely think that nature tips the scale, but environment plays a vital role in developing that nature. Moving a lot made me more confident and friendly and observant and self-reliant. It might have had the opposite effects on a child with a different nature. I think where we err is in assuming that parents ARE the environment. They are NOT. They are only a small part of a child’s environment. I can think of at least six people who played a VITAL role in nurturing me. And I can think of another dozen or so who influenced me in ways that still impact my life. I don’t know if that should be discouraging to parents or offer them a sense of relief that they are not totally responsible for the adults their children become.
My answer to parents is that what you do today will make a difference today. Whether it makes a lasting difference is up to your child and the choices they make.
It’s the old “you can lead a horse to water…” conundrum. Well, no, you can’t make him drink, but at least YOU gave him a choice.