Saturday, May 1, 2010

Parent-child Relationships #1

One female student, who was acquainted with this researcher's work on the neuropsychological makeup of families remarked that: "It looks like a woman has only two choices, marrying the man she was genetically destined to mate, or having that same male as a son."

Although this is something of an overstatement, a kernel of truth therein resides. Mother nature, in attempting to match genetic, biochemical and immune systems in a complementary fashion (mediated by the everyday mechanisms of attraction - sight, sound, smell), wields an enormous hand in selecting our mates.

In truth, the genetic program for our species, as well as that of all other living organisms on the planet, is relentless. Without delving into the mysteries of mitochondrial (female) and nuclear (male) transmission of genetic traits, it is safe to say that up to 70% of who we are is dependent upon the genetically determined mechanisms of attraction that brought our parents together. Lest anyone be dismayed that we are but 'pawns of our predecessor's genes', it must be emphasized that we, each and everyone, have 30% absolute control over our personal destinies.

Now let us turn to the specifics of the matter. In a careful study of 150 families, a statistical analysis of the children of these families revealed that the neuropsychological makeup of the children could be predicted with 70% accuracy based solely on knowing their parents neuropsychological makeup. It is of interest to note that 70% is the percentage that all other aspects of the research suggests is the 'genetic contribution' that accounts for the central core of the perception, thinking style and personaltiy features for each of us. As parents then, 70% of our contribution to our children's future is genetic. This much is beyond our immediate control. We can only hold ourselves legitimately responsible for the 30% of the nurturance we provide when evaluating how our children's 'destines' eventually unfold.

On a personal note, I have worked with over 10,000 individuals and have seen children and adolescents who, reared in the most favored and nurturing environments, become terribly distressed adults and significant liabilities to society. By the same token, I have treated, nearly tearfully, young people who had been raised in environments, which only the conditions in a totalitarian death camp could rival, become delightful, productive adults and exceptional parents. Such is the legacy of working in the same practice for sixteen years as an observer of the inertia of genetics.

Understanding this nature (70%) - nurture (30%) phenomenon, born of clinical experience, one is of necessity constrained by the results of 30 years of research to the conclusion that cultures older than our own have long espoused, namely, that 'blood will tell.' In spite of all our vain imaginings and good intentions, we probably have much less control over our own, much less the destines of our children, than we believe.

This is not to say that we should adopt a laissez faire approach to child rearing! It rather suggests that we should take a page from the gardener's book.

In foregone times anyone who worked with living things was referred to as a 'husband', hence the term 'husbandry.' The use of this term suggests an individual who does not 'give birth to' a living organism, but rather sees to nurturing its normal growth, offers guidance and provides protection in the tender years of its development. Perhaps we should consider this ancient perspective embodied in the term 'husbandry' as the model for parenting.

Having planted and 'husbanded' over 1000 trees, including bonsai plants, I am aware that a tree can be distorted into any shape imaginable. Yet, the 'inner beauty' of that living system can only be realized with adequate care and minimal intervention on the part of the gardener.

As parents we are called to be good gardeners and practice 'husbandry' with our children, most particularly when they 'grow' in ways that do not always fit our plans for them. Recognizing that our offspring are no more than our 'charges', not clay that we can form into our own image, we may have both greater success and satisfaction in living with the next generation.

We are summoned to prop our young plants against strong winds, provide good soil, water, sunshine, room to grow, defend them against natural enemies, offer protection against excessive heat and cold, and even from time to time transplant them into more suitable habitats. Perhaps of all these husbandry tasks, the most difficult to manage resides in realizing that our job is done and stepping back, simply allow the fruits of nature's and our own small labors mature.

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