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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Genes or Nurture

by Max Roytenberg, April 16, 2015



Are the kids like me or did I raise them right or wrong? Do you think about that? I do. A lot!


I’ve reached the stage where I’m standing far from where the action is. Even my kids are wondering whether they are factors in the equation. Their kids are in school, sometimes far away from home. Or a job has taken them a distance from the family circle. If the kids haven’t gotten the message you hoped to transmit, it is getting a little late in the game.


For me and my Bride, our challenge these days is to retain ownership of our own lives? We know offspring react to stimulants as programmed before you got to put your two cents in. Is it monkey see, monkey do, was your own behavior mirrored to create a demi-god or make a mess of the pie? Maybe you are the genius author of the positive result or the blathering idiot surveying your just desserts? Or, was the final result really the product of the conditions in the oven? Was it an indecipherable combination of all the ingredients?


I don’t have the research results to quote you chapter and verse. I know there are lots of studies and opinions all over the lot. Most of us try to do the best we can to raise them right and forgive ourselves the occasional transgressions we will admit to. We point to the positives and are eager to take ownership. Some of us threw up our hands long ago and blame everything on their grandparents. We know that conditions on the ground can make a whole lot of difference to outcomes, whatever they are.


We have learned that attentive response to our infants’ needs, in the earliest days, can have an important impact on our offsprings’ behaviors throughout their lives. It can even affect their expression of genetic traits. So much of our futures as individuals depend on how we interact with people and how they interact with us in response. As infants, we quickly learn whether those around us can be relied on to meet our need. Our first learnings may be whether we can be secure in the knowledge that we will be reliably cared for as we may or may not express our unspoken needs. If we are there for them in an attentive way, and their early experience shows them they can count on us, they are more likely to be emotionally equipped to make the most of any gifts we have transferred to them in our DNA. There is ample history as what happens to us if parents fail that initial test.


Failures can be overcome in later life, but it often depends on the damaged individuals being fortunate enough to come into contact with someone with the resources and caring nature able to overcome the resistant behavior they will exhibit before they learn to trust. The difficulties adoptive parents sometimes face are well documented.


I can remember my early days as a parent. Stressed by the attendance and study demands of university and the need to appear and be productive at two or three serial occupations aimed at putting bread upon the table, I seriously doubt that I offered anything like the ideal behavior. The relatively benign outcome was no doubt due to the attentiveness of my primary partner. My children will have to offer their own personal witness to our crimes and misdemeanors.


I rejoice in the fact that my children and grandchildren, (I am still waiting impatiently for the appearance of the next generation, surely before I depart;) and that they are still willing to talk to me, and are raising their own happy, health progeny. That does not prevent me from taking all the credit for the health and success of the whole crew. How wonderful, wise, perceptive am I, and how superior in performance as a living model


And I have not yet begun to laud the genetic gifts which I personally extracted for their benefit. Credit must be given where it is due!

Isn’t a mystery, the permutations of chance that govern what is inherited. How many complex interactions are in play to determine the qualities, physical, chemical and what have you, constructing the potential for expression carried by ourselves and our offspring. And how the qualities that are not expressed will in the end be relayed only in turn to following generations. Yet, so much, in every generation, will depend for expression on the particular environment in which the qualities in hand will find their place. It is not an either/or but a complex of conditions, potential and events, that determine our individual destinies. Every one of us, and our children in turn, represent a miracle of precise interactions that govern what we bring to the table and what we offer up on the plate we present to the world. Each of us contain within ourselves a universe of possibilities. And we have seen it happen, how one person can change everything. It boggles the mind.


Isn’t it exciting to think about how immense were our potentials, our possibilities, when we started out? Isn’t astounding to think about the potential of each new creature that we bring into the world, to change our reality.


Let’s hear it for having babies! Hurrah!


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