Fifteen years ago I was sure I had it all figured out. Contentedly reclined in my fluffy new double-wide chair, classical music playing softly beside my tummy, I worked my way through a pile of parenting books, preparing for the baby identical twins I would soon have. Sometimes I even read out loud, in the most maternal voice I could imagine for myself.
As a first-time mother, I perceived that I had an innate understanding of the Nature vs. Nurture theory, and I was going to Nurture my babies until the cows came home.
The Nature vs. Nurture debate is a centuries-old discussion in psychology which addresses human behavioural traits as being directly impacted by influences genetically inherited versus by environmental imprint.
In other words, there is debate over how a human baby grows into an adult with unique characteristics and personality traits: is it as a result of their hereditary family make-up? Or is it because they were raised that way by their family and surroundings?
I was pretty sure that my strict upbringing and well-travelled childhood experiences had sculpted my diverse psyche and moral temperament. I had every intention of parenting our identical twins with down-to-earth methods and old-fashioned logic. They would not watch much television, they would eat their vegetables, they would learn to read before they were given a gaming console, and they would look people in the eye when they spoke to them.
My daughters were born identical twins, with a late split in utero landing them in the same sac and with a shared placenta. These babes couldn’t possibly BE any closer in DNA, short of being conjoined. Their environment was identical also. They looked alike, they had the same sleeping and eating patterns, they learned to talk, walk, and potty within days of each other. They were very good babies, calm yet curious, with bright intelligent eyes that observed everything.
My whole “Nurture” plan was working well: they thrived on routine and knew what to expect in most situations. They knew their colours and farm animal sounds, they loved finger painting and their Baba’s blueberry perogies. They grew into toddlers who loved all people and animals. They were a matched set, adorable girls so identical they would forever confuse their grandparents as to which was which.
And then… subtle differences in characteristics began to appear… one ate more slowly than the other, one was very bold at the zoo, one would cover her ears when people sang Happy Birthday, one favoured her left hand for colouring. Their natural differences began to sprout out of our very nurturing environment. It was interesting to watch these developments happen. But I was also puzzled.
These girls had done everything together since day one. They had precisely the same hours of sleep and play, they were always together when family visited, they usually even had the same number of peas on their plates at dinner time! They slept in the same crib and then bedroom, listened to the same songs, were scolded in the same manner – it wasn’t intentional, it was just typical, as they were always in the same phase at the same time.
I am a bit surprised at how different they are when they have been exposed to the same environment all their lives.
The good and the bad: same classrooms throughout elementary school, same divorce and family visiting schedule, same small town hobbies and teams. They were a perfect experiment in Nature vs. Nurture, had I wanted that.
I had put full stock in Nurturing them to the best of my ability, but I was learning that their own Natures might come out on top. One is inventive and one is artistic – they had each had the same number of crayons all their lives – how did this happen!?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind at all – of course I was not trying to raise clones.
I just wasn’t of the mind that they needed to be separated very much, there would be plenty of time for that later in life.
They don’t struggle with any of these issues at all, they love being identical twins. They still sometimes buy matching clothing so they can “be twins,” and they frequently change their hairstyles (and colours) to distinguish themselves or to go back to matching.
My teenagers are each other’s best friends, sharing many similarities but also taking their differences in stride. One is a sassy left-handed night-owl, while the other is a determined young lady with a regimented focus on her future.
What have I learned about Nature vs. Nurture? That there is solid reason for it having been such a long-lived debate.
I cannot determine how or why my children are turning out the way they are, but I put everything I have into exposing them to a good environment. Thankfully their gene pools are pretty solid as well, so maybe both theories get equal credit in this house?