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Nature Versus Nurture in the Levin Household

Worrying about what kinds of things children may absorb.

The debate between Nature and Nurture has existed for ages. If nature is the predominant influence in a child’s development, my girls have as much chance of growing into happy and successful adults as Bernie Madoff has of becoming an ethics professor at Harvard Business School.

Looking over my family history, the gene pool is a petri dish of dysfunction….and that’s putting a positive spin on it. If parental nurturing influences development, my wife wants me to leave until the twins turn 20. Notice I’ve said nothing negative about my wife or her family’s gene pool. I’m not that dumb.

In truth, my wife and I are concerned about what we expose our girls to, and how that may impact them in the long term. For example, if I play 60s rock and folk all the time, hang Peter Max posters in their room, show them films on Woodstock and read the beat poets to them, will they become vegan tree huggers in peasant blouses with braided hair who seek careers as public defenders, consumer advocates or social workers? If we put them in dance, acting and art classes, and take them to shows and museums, will they dress in black, move to the East Village, get tribal tattoos, chain smoke, drink tequila and become performance artists?

How much influence does a parent have? My father-in-law loves naval ships. Growing up, my wife was subjected to every submarine and aircraft carrier museum on the East Coast. It left such a traumatic mark on her that today she refuses to even take a cruise. (I wish he was obsessed with jewelry factories).

If the girls were teenagers now, I’d want them to be interested in Paris, France and not Paris Hilton. I’d want them to admire Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen and not the cast of the Jersey Shore. I’d be thrilled if they read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and refused to read pop culture’s teenage vampire saga.

I think I just realized what unconditional love means. I had thought of it as something parents did when their kid got arrested for drinking and speeding in a stolen car while driving without a license and carrying several pounds of pot in the backseat. (That brings back fond memories). 

What matters is that we give them the room to become independent, free thinking individuals regardless of our personal likes and dislikes. Every parent wants their children to be healthy and happy. Past that, it’s just icing on the cake if they each have a strong moral compass, think and feel deeply, have a world view, are productive citizens, are color blind and caring.

Of course, I wouldn’t complain if either married a rich guy who never knew his father and wants to call me dad and build me a mansion next to his.

Until then, we’ll expose them to many things to see what sparks an interest. (Except for soccer). I am not spending my weekends driving from field to field and tournament to tournament. If one of them wants to play, I swear I’m breaking a knee cap!

You’ll have to excuse me now. It’s time to sing to my girls. I have spent three years singing a little ditty to them every single day that was handed down to me by my father. “When days were old and knights were bold and toilets weren’t invented, they laid their loads beside the roads and walked away contented.” I look forward to the first time a teacher asks, “Does anyone know a song?” How quickly will I be sitting in the principal’s office?

How many readers are now saying, “Yup. Leave until they are 20.”

John Bordeaux May 06, 2011 at 08:24 PM
I hope you eventually cover the anti-nurture homes of our childhood. I mean our 'friend's' childhood...
Bob Jackson May 08, 2011 at 05:13 AM
Very good article. It just shows whats going on in today's world.
Jenn May 09, 2011 at 04:23 AM
@ava -- "Growing up with dysfunction in the past leads to a variety of problems in the future. Since you cant teach what you didnt learn, therapy is a form of education ,nurturing and teaching social emotional -parenting skills." Um....so if I can't teach what I didn't learn, then how is it that I crawled out from under a physically abusive, screaming lunatic, who's whole life must be in the center of attention, bi-polar, full blown alcoholic......and managed WITHOUT THERAPY, to become a loving, caring, hug giving, kiss doling, reassuring mother who does not yell, scream, belittle or hit and does it all without booze or drugs? After all, I didn't learn to parent this way, I had no former example, no parental figure outside of HER. According to you, I would need therapy to accomplish this.
Randy Levin May 09, 2011 at 01:39 PM
That's a tough one to write about with a humorous tone. There is a great line in the movie Parenthood, "You need a license for a car, you even need a license for a dog but any SOB can be a parent. I know a guy raised in a toxic environment but he grew up to be a PhD and a military hero and an all around great dad and grandfather. Okay...so he likes to wear sundresses and wigs but it doesn't make him a bad guy
Halbert May 21, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Hey, this guy is funny. Note to editors: Keep him.

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