January 2019 Archives

     Recently the psychologist Judith Rich Harris passed away at age 80. She was the author of the book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, a work which questioned the extent to which parents - as opposed to genetics and environment and peers - actually influence how children grow up.

      I read her book when it came out in 1998 and found that she and I had a lot in common: we both practiced psychology without PhD's (she was asked to leave the Harvard psychology graduate program because she didn't fit their "stereotype" of an experimental psychologist, and  I left the Harvard Ed School to get married); we both recognized the enormous influence of peers (especially on teenagers); we both encouraged parents to lighten up on their own angst and young adults to stop blaming their parents for everything.

In the book Harris cited her own examples of the parental nurture fallacy: children of immigrants sound like their peers rather than their parents; children of deaf parents learn to speak without difficulty; adopted children often do not resemble their adoptive parents in personality.

     How often have you turned to your co-parent and asked "where did we go wrong?" It's time to put things in perspective - genes yes, environment yes, nurture yes, but parenting techniques maybe...It's a mix of everything that goes into the development of an adult.

     What is our role as parents - regardless of our influence?

·         Provide a safe home as free from shame, want, and needless suffering as possible.

·         Allow natural consequences to occur - like falling off a bike when learning how to ride - and encourage learning from every situation.

·         Be an example - "let your life speak" as Quakers like me are likely to say - and go light on the lectures.

·         Make good choices as much as possible as to where your child goes to school and how involved in that school you will be.

·         Provide many opportunities beyond school (houses of worship, community groups, sports teams, service organizations) for your child to encounter peers who might indeed share your value system.

·         Be the grown-up - don't take everything so personally!

·         Relax and realize that we only can influence so much...


     In some ways this re-affirms the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child." When I was growing up every parent on the block in suburban Long Island looked out for everyone's kids: if I got in a fight down the street at David's house my mother knew about it before I got home! And my choice of clothes in high school - button down shirt and khaki pants - clearly came from my best friend Jack and not from my factory worker father. The world is bigger than two parents and their kids.

            As we go forward in 2019 let's all look out for all children and provide the safety and unconditional love that will allow our children to know pour values, experiment with their peers, and yet somehow hopefully land in the right place.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2019 listed from newest to oldest.

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