Even though we wear similar faces and share enough genetic markers to confirm our common heritage, my siblings and I are five very different people. Some facts about us:
- Four are Christians, one other.
- Three Republicans, one Tea Partier, one other.
- All five are heterosexual.
- Two are very talented artists, one has a reasonable amount of artistic ability, and two you’d never want to partner with for Pictionary.
- Two are word nerds, two got by alright in school, and one struggled academically.
- One is a spectacular athlete, three are somewhat below par athletes, and one has always had difficulty with any activity that requires even a small amount of coordination, say, walking.
- Two have noteworthy tempers, two are pretty even, and one is sometimes too kind and easygoing.
- Three chose marriage and children, two remained single and childless.
- Career choices are in five very different arenas.
- Three are short, one is average in height, and one is tall.
- Four have a space between their two front teeth, one has a gorgeous set of chompers.
- Three have had to wear glasses since childhood, two never needed corrective lenses until they reached the age of reading glasses.
- One is almost always optimistic, three waver in their half full/half empty outlooks, and one is known to say, “Life is a sh*t sandwich, and every now and then you have to take a bite.”
- Three have curls, two have straight, silky hair.
- All five, at one time or another, have done some crazy-ass thing to their hair in an attempt to get what they don’t have naturally. :O)
- All five love music, but none create it.
- All five, when weight is gained, gain it first and foremost around the middle, leaving them to look like balloons with stick arms and legs poking out from that gut.
- All five have a little bit of loner in them.
- If all five were to walk by a hungry, homeless person, two would buy them lunch and talk with them, two would buy them lunch and move on, and one might possibly pop for lunch, but if so, it would come with a hearty side of sermon and a judgmental pep-talk.
If you look over that list, most of the items could easily describe any five random people. Yet we are not only genetically linked, but were all five raised by the same two parents. Our childhoods, though, were definitely not the same. When I was born, my siblings were 20, 19, 16, and 8 years old. One of my sisters was newly married and just a year later, she gave birth to my oldest niece.
The oldest three were raised during the ‘lean years,’ but since I came along once our parents were more established and mortgage-free, I was a bit indulged. The first ones were also daily witnesses to our father’s famous temper, most of which had waned by the time that I made my entrance into the world. I’ve been told that I got the mellower guy and believe me, if the man I knew was the watered down version, I’m grateful not to have arrived earlier than I did.
The first three had young, healthy parents, the next one had some years with two healthy parents, and part of what defined my childhood was my mom’s ongoing and progressively worsening illness. Yet the flip side of that is that I got the mom who truly understood the value of life, and her illness stripped away any need she might have ever felt to hold back anything (not that she was ever much of a ‘hold back’ kind of girl).
If my siblings and I were the test project for nature versus nurture, I don’t think we’d be able to draw any substantial conclusions, but the age difference between us and the naturally occurring changes that take place over twenty years would have certainly gummed up the study, so my non-typical-for-its-time family wouldn’t be the best control group.
My kids, though, are very close in age, with only 18 months separating them, so they truly did experience as close to an identical upbringing as is possible. There were unavoidable differences in experience, of course, based on the unique strengths, challenges, and personalities of the individuals, but all in all, they got essentially the same start in life, as far as nurture. When I look at mine, both as children and as the adults they’ve become, I could easily make a line list like the one above, and their differences would be just as notable.
I think the bottom line for all of us is that while genetics deals us some cards, how we play them varies depending on what we’ve experienced, and really, also on how that nature stuff impacts the way we absorb and perceive the experiences, so both factors are inseparably entwined. And that, I believe, explains a lot of the baffled head shaking that goes on at family reunions.
Written for this week’s GBE topic: Nature vs. Nurture