All in the family

The nature/nurture debate wages constantly. Are we who we were born to be, or are we shaped by our environment to be who we are?

To my untrained mind (I have no qualifications in psychology) it appears that who we become results from a mixture of each in combination with a dose of self-determination. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the nature from the nurture. Are we that way because of genetics or because of the family environment in which we grew up?

tweedles

It is true that no two individuals, even siblings, experience identical environments. Even in the closest of families the differences can be as pronounced as the similarities; in interests, capabilities, personalities and attitudes as well as physical characteristics. Both similarities and differences can be used to argue equally well for nature or nurture.

A paper published by NATSEM (National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling) in 2013 described a close link between education standards, employment and poverty, leading to social exclusion and disadvantage in Australia. It explained that lower education levels resulted in higher levels of unemployment, and therefore poverty, and that children living in poverty were at risk of not completing high school and of having poor nutrition. And so the cycle would continue.

That is not to say that children living in poverty are doomed to continue doing so throughout their lives (we all know successful people who through their self-determination have pulled themselves up and out of the situation) but it may be much more difficult for them to achieve the levels of success that seem to come so easily to others in kinder circumstances.

According to the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of QueenslandResearch shows that when schools, families and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.” Commencing this year, the “Parental Engagement in Schools” project aims to discover what type of involvement best supports student learning and outcomes. Encouraging parents to be involved is another issue.

While my general observations as a teacher, and those of many colleagues, support the notion of a connection between economic status and educational advantage, a paper recently released by the University of Bristol states that “Poorer parents are just as involved in their children’s activities as better-off parents”, and that “The findings support the view that associations made between low levels of education, poverty and poor parenting are ideologically driven rather than based on empirical evidence.

Perhaps over-generalisations in this area are just as problematic as those that expect all family members to be alike. I think that, regardless of background, it is important for teachers to support all students to make positive choices for their future. This can be done through demonstration and modelling rather than criticism and blame.

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I also recommend a certain set of strategies that all parents, regardless of their economic status, can employ to give their children a great start is life, including:

  • Love them
  • Talk with them
  • Read to them
  • Encourage their questions and curiosity
  • Help them seek answers and solve problems
  • Encourage their independence
  • Foster confidence, a willingness to have a go and to try multiple times and ways
  • Be accepting of differences and don’t prejudge their future based on the experiences and futures of others.

 

The old saying goes that “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”. Although I have read suggestions that we may be genetically close/distantly related to those we choose as friends, I can’t testify to the authenticity of the “science” that makes those claims. However, I think many families have at least one member they would probably prefer to disclaim relationship with! Not my family of course!

Which brings me to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. She wrote about an Aunt Bronco Billy and challenged other writers to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a nutty aunt.

I hope I’m not that “nutty aunt” that everyone in the family shies away from, but I am aware of some who are. (Again, not in my family!)

Here is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

 

“Aw, Muuuum!”

“Don’t ‘Aw Mum’ me. She’s your dad’s only sister . . .”

“But Mum …” I could already smell her stale cigarette breath and feel the stickiness of her too-red lipstick that wouldn’t rub off.

“It won’t hurt you. She’s not staying long.”

“Why can’t Jason?”

“Because Jason’s going to work,” she said.

“Yeah, Squirt,” grinned Jason, throwing his backpack over his shoulder.

“Smoochie Coochie,” he mocked, squeezing my cheeks into a pucker while making loud lip-smacking sounds. His laughter followed him down the street.

Suddenly she was there with her sharp green pistachio grin.

“Smoochie Coochie!”

Smoochie Coochie

 

Thank you

 

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

24 thoughts on “All in the family

  1. writersideup

    From everything I’ve observed, both personally and through observation of others, we are a combination of both nature and nurture. We inherit many things genetically, including our own nature, and the many environments we are exposed to influence us. It’s the combo of all of it that makes us who we are, for sure. Self-determination—if a person has it—is part of our nature, I think 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for adding your wisdom to the conversation, Donna. I think we have all agreed on the combination of nature and nurture. There are definitely a lot of different environments that influence us on our journey to be who we are! 🙂

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  2. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Great post and flash. Nurture vs nature is an interesting topic and probably it is a bit of both. A Professor of English at Indianna University who has become renown for his work on autobiographical works asks the question what comes first memoir or identity. This is linked to an extent to nature and nurture and I am fascinated by it. Personally I think memoir comes first but really, who knows.
    I loved your flash. We all know smoochie coochies and probably we all cringe. Really well done.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Irene. Memoir or identity, which comes first? is an interesting question. I wouldn’t mind knowing a little more about it. Does he mean as one is growing up, identity may need to be established before memories begin to form? Or is he discussing that, when writing an autobiography, a sense of identity influences the memories? Or something else entirely? I think that writing an autobiographical work, such as a memoir, would require an exploration of one’s own identity. But I’m only thinking about what might be involved if I was to tackle something like that. I have no deeper knowledge of the process. You have the experience. learning and knowledge! And as you say, maybe the memoir comes first; without the memories where is the identity?
      I’m glad you liked the flash!
      Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        What he is saying is that from the time we are born we are fed memoir. We learn our family, who they are, stories of our parents childhoods, knowledge of who they are. We then develop the identity that we want using this memoir. He also believes that our brain adjusts our memory of events to fit into the identity that we have given ourselves or wish to have for ourselves into the future. It is a fascinating field of study.
        Your posts are always so informative to read and always get me thinking. The flash resonnated. Happy to share. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks Irene. You are very kind. I’m pleased you enjoy the posts and that they give you something to think about.
          Thanks for elaborating on the idea of memoir/identity. The adjustment of our memories of events sounds a little like the truth from one’s perspective. Each of us views and remembers a situation in a way that is particular to ourselves and our identity; because each of us experiences a situation in a way that is unique to us. It is a fascinating concept.

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  3. Sacha Black

    As the birth mother from a same sex parent family, the nature nurture debate is often hotly debated in our household and with our friends too. I also have a degree and masters in psychology, and I have to say I really truly believe that nurture plays a much more significant role than nature. I can already see our son picking up traits of my partner its bonkers, he is only one. I also think that reading and spending quality time and making everything you do with your child a ‘learning’ but in the format of a game ensures they grow up to be bright and well socialised. My mum spent hours reading with me as a child and I learnt to read at 3.5yrs old. Caused untold problems at school – she got in trouble because I was disruptive and bored as I could do everything they were teaching! so they would give me harder books from the older kids section and i played nice! HAHA. I hope I can teach my son to read before he goes to school too. At the rate at which he is going I have no doubt he will. Carries books with him everywhere, and as soon as I get in, he passes me books immediately… might be the silly voices he really likes! 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sacha, Thank your for your in-depth comment and extending the conversation in such a rich way. I guess the significance of nature/nurture may be more obvious in families in which there is one or fewer biological parents e.g. same sex parents, step parents, adoptive parents. I’m guessing studies have been done on that, but I am not aware of any. I might have to seek some out (at some time in the future).
      Games are definitely a fun way to learn, and not least of all, to socialize. I loved to play games with my little ones, and we all still love to play games now that they are big ones. The new little additions to the family already love games.
      It is a wonderful thing to read early. My two children did. But it is not necessary to later success in life, so don’t be too disappointed if your son isn’t as quick as you. He will come into it in is own time. You are giving him a great start. Interesting that he loves your silly voices. I love reading with silly voices, but my daughter always asked me to not use them! 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Aunts Like Mixed Nuts « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. TanGental

    I’m with everyone else in enjoying the FF and the awful reality of Smoochie Coochie. Gross. Your writing is getting crisper and more layered ever week.
    I’m at one with the professional (for once) on he nature nurture debate. It has to be a mix doesn’t it? And treating everyone as individual, not better worse, privileged or deprived has to make sense.
    The odd thing about parenting is that nearly all of us fall into it in ignorance, clinging to whatever lessons we can get. I read a post where the blogger, who had her children later than others, felt she had missed out on some of the relaxed parenting skills that being a younger parent gave them. But for me, more life experience meant I could chose what I listened to and what I ignored more easily in this very judgemental society we now have (compared to our own parents’ days). It didn’t take long to go with a common sense response If it sounds like a good idea it probably is and vice versa. Seems to have worked out ok and if it wasn’t because of my training then it was good genes so It’s a win-win.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Glad you ‘enjoyed’ the flash. Thank you for your kind words.
      Isn’t it the truth – falling into parenthood in ignorance! Dr Spock was my go-to-guy when my first was young. When my second was young I was heavily influenced by Wayne Dyer’s ‘What do you really want for your children?’ or something similar. I can’t see it on my shelf at the moment. Oh no! I must have lent it to someone and not gotten it back! One of my favourites. I hope it went to a good home. There is a lot of conflicting advice for parents but most of what we do we learn from what they (our children) teach us. If we allow them to tell us what they need it (seems to me) works much better than when we try to force them into our expectations. I was a young parent to my first and went with the flow, didn’t worry too much. I was an older parent with my second (12 years between) and she says she wishes she had the fun, young parent. I probably did some right things by default with the first, but was more anxious to do so with the second. She could be right. We were certainly more settled by the time she arrived on the scene. They both turned out pretty well (I think), so like you – some of it is in the genes and some in the training. Nature and nurture, a good mix.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  6. Sherri

    Hi Norah! Wonderful flash, I felt every slap of that ‘smoochie coochie’ 😀 Charli has given us a great prompt with the nutty aunt…and I too am wondering if I’m viewed as one?!! Wouldn’t be surprised though 😉 Your strategies for helping our children reach across the board, irrespecitive of a family’s economic status and are all excellent. After all, it doesn’t take money to spend time with our children and reading to them is one of the best and must fulfilling things we can do for and with them. I loved those times with my children for so many reasons. I really do believe that success in in the nuture 🙂
    PS I’ve tagged you in a My Workspace Blog Hop. No obligation, only if you would like to, here’s the link: http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2015/02/06/my-workspace-blog-hop-secrets-of-the-summerhouse-revealed/

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sherri, Thank you for the generosity of your words, and for tagging me in your Workspace Blog Hop. I am honoured and will add it to my list of things to do. I’m not sure just when I’ll get to it though. 🙂
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. Charli does give us some interesting prompts. I’m looking forward to reading the compilation she will have put together today.
      You are right when you say that it doesn’t cost much (or anything) to spend quality time with children. Talking, sharing, laughing and reading are all free. Even books, new ones every week, can be borrowed free from the library.
      I agree too that “success is in the nurture”!
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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      1. Sherri

        No worries and no pressure Norah, any time it suits you, believe me, I know how it is! Suddenly my list has exploded and I’m panicking rather…again… o_O But thanks so much for taking part. And yes, love, love, love the library. Have a great day Norah, see you soon 🙂

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  7. Annecdotist

    Great flash, Norah, and great introduction to it. I’m sure Bec isn’t that nutty aunt although it’s interesting how we generally feel free to invade young children’s body space in a way that we wouldn’t with adults.
    As you’d imagine, I have a position on the nature-nurture conundrum, which is that it’s not either/or but an interaction, and that experiences within the first three years have a major impact on personality and resilience through the way it shapes the developing brain. That’s why it’s so important to respond to children as individuals rather than imposing some rigid structure. I think your principles for parents and teachers are spot on and I love the different ways you continually flag this up on your blog.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Anne. I appreciate your support. I agree with your about the interaction of nature and nurture. Those first few years are so incredibly important. It’s interesting that few of us are able to recall many memories from those years. I wonder is that significant. My earliest memory is from about three years of age, but there are not many from the preschool years. So while our important learning/patterning was being done, we were not forming memories. Interesting.
      I hope you didn’t mind my tentatively stepping into your territory here. It is all very complex and fascinating.

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      1. Annecdotist

        Please come into the territory, Norah, it isn’t really mine!
        Yes, very few early memories are trustworthy according to the research, yet – according to other research – it’s such an important part of our lives and the basis of how we form attachments throughout. I might post on this for the compassion blog day, but not sure if I’ll have time.

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  8. Charli Mills

    That’s a classic nutty aunt that all the kids want to dodge. I love Bec’s reaction — evidently this aunt is made up! 🙂 Another great and informative post with information presented on both sides. Education can be an equalizer if all children have equal access to it and encouragement to find its value. As to parent involvement, I have mixed feelings because I don’t agree with the parents who interfere or get too involved. I saw much of that in Minnesota — parents who argued with teachers over their kids’ grades or doing their kids’ projects for them because they were too focused on “success” rather than learning and growing. Good topic for discussion!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charli. While the aunt is ‘made up’ I can think of a few she may have been modeled on. Bec is not one of those though, although with what she revealed it sounds like she might qualify!
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. I understand your concerns with the type of parental involvement you described. I guess that may be a finding of the study to be conducted this year. That type of involvement may be shown to be a hindrance rather than a help. It will be interesting to see what they come up with and how their findings may differ from what we would recommend without it, but from our experience.

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  9. Bec

    Eww! The FF gave me shivers. Very effective! Though I do feel for the aunt who probably just wants to be loved. Maybe that’s how (5 year old nephew) Artie feels when I hold him by the head and kiss him noisily and repeatedly on the forehead telling him that it is his favourite game, and if he thinks it isn’t his favourite game he is probably just confused.

    Your discussion about opportunities is very informative and interesting too. Thanks for showing multiple perspectives of what is as you say a complex issue. I guess that’s one of the places where great teachers like you are able to help the children who may start out with fewer opportunities exceed their expectations.

    I read somewhere recently-ish online about an activity used in a classroom (which i hope to use in tutorials at uni when we have the right topic) where students are all given a bit of scrap paper and told to scrunch it into a ball and all throw it into a bin at the front of the room. The idea is that those students seated toward the back will mention their disadvantage, while those in the front row are less likely to actively identify that they have a privileged position.

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    1. Norah Post author

      That’s funny, Bec. Sounds like you are trying on a bit of brainwashing with Artie! His laughter tells me that he thinks it’s lots of fun though! :0
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.
      Thank you for sharing the activity you are going to use to highlight advantage and disadvantage to your students. It sounds interesting. I look forward to hearing their responses and what you think of the outcome when you try it. I wonder what other ways teachers could employ to highlight the differences. I think I heard about a similar experiment conducted on the Oprah show – something to do with giving some (possibly blue-eyed) members of the audience a prize and ignoring the others. I’m not certain. Now that I think about it, I guess it was more to do with discrimination that disadvantage, though the two can be interlinked. Maybe it was you who told me of it?

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