Monday, February 16, 2009

The Nurture Assumption, food for thought.

If you're a parent you know that if your child does not turn out to be a perfect adult who can cure cancer, find a means for world peace and end the climate crisis then it is all your fault. Starting as far back as Freud, our culture has been force fed a steady diet of accusation and responsibility aimed at parents when anything goes wrong with their children. B.F. Skinner taught us all about learned behavior via stimulus/response, and John Watson said that if he could be given 10 babies to raise on his own he could make any one of them turn out however he chose just by the way he raised them....I could go on and on, BUT what if we've been led astray by these behaviorists, psychoanalysts and child development experts!? The belief that parents are the main influence over their child's social behavior is a relatively new idea (when compared to the length of human existence on the planet).

What if it is really okay to parent in ways that feel authentic to us without feeling the inevitable parental guilt (I would have said mommy-guilt but I know I have at least one y-chromosome reading) that goes along with not being perfect??? What if we choose to ditch the nurture assumption for something that makes a little more sense?

In her book, The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris provides a pretty convincing argument against the belief that "parents are the most important part of the child’s environment and can determine, to a large extent, how the child turns out" (p.15). Instead she proposes that it is, in fact, the child's peer groups that socialize children, not the adults in their lives. As parents, we maintain personal relationships with our children, we teach them how to behave in our presence, but their peer groups have very different rules than ours. You can bet that when we aren't there (and sometimes even when we are) they are following the rules of their peer groups. I am reminded of this everyday when I drop my 7 year old off at school. I'm not allowed to tell him that I love him when we are in the school's parking lot. Even if we are inside the car with the doors and windows closed, apparently there is the smallest chance that someone might hear me. God forbid anyone find out that his mom loves him!!! Parents do give them the tools and knowledge that they take with them to their peer groups, but it is their peers who help them shape what they believe about themselves.

There is a mountain of research that "proves" that the home environment determines a child's outcome, but as Harris points out, even in cases where identical twins have been reared apart, they are just as alike as identical twins raised in the same home by the same parents. Hmmmmm genetics anyone??? She has so many more examples to support her theory, but for time's sake I'll refer you to the book in you're interested.

I know you're skeptical, I was too. The entire time I was reading the book I wanted to find some glaringly obvious counter-point to prove that I am Numero Uno in their lives.

I never did.

No, it will not change the way I parent my children, but it has given me a new perspective about my role as their mother.

No comments: