Nature, Nurture and Apples falling from Trees!

sisters, siblings, personality, birth order, children, parenting

Very often I think my children’s personalities have come pre-installed and I bow down in utter defeat to nature! But I wish it were that simple (thinks of all the dashed careers of eminent child psychologists, sociologists and other detanglers of the why-of-child-behaviour if that were true!)

Recently, like countless parents before me and countless after, I sat down with a drink, watching both my children play with a friend they’ve both known for years (My older daughter’s 7 and younger one is 5.5) and wondered if things might’ve been different if they had a different birth order. My guess is that hypothesis is founded in ‘nurture’…for some reason, amidst the kerfuffle of nature vs nurture, I’ve always tended to credit nurture with more, probably as a result of my control freakishness. To assume that for the rest of our life, we are just programmed to work ‘plug and play’ seems somewhat wrong! Let me tell you what my life has been enriched by.. my first child is a quiet, sensitive, intelligent but controlling, generally amiable sort; my second is a quick, witty, opinionated but self-assured somewhat gender-confused loudmouth. The first is highly capable of chosing flamboyant purple trousers, fuschia jumpers and silver sneakers, the second prefers neutral tops and jeans, and froths at the mouth at the sight of pink! They get on like a house on fire when they do and all hell breaks loose when they don’t. Typical.

I often feel that if DD2 was my first child, she might’ve very likely been the ‘only’ :) But, would she be what she is if she was part of a different birth order? Psychologists believe that firstborns are diligent and want to be the best at everything they do. They try exceedingly to to win the hearts of their parents, go the extra mile at school, believe in order, are attentive, stringent with rules, and overly neurotic about the minutiae! Second children (or lastborns in my case) tend to be fun-loving, uncomplicated, manipulative, outgoing, attention-seeking as having to contionously share space and thought with another and self-centered. (I put that down to survival instincts as mommy didn’t dial 111 every time she got a cold! She might’ve also told her to get on with it and grab a tissue! )

Bingo! We’ve got this spot on – why hasn’t our family been interviewed yet?!! 😉

sisters, siblings, personality, birth order, children, parenting

Birth order related behaviour is learned, not inherited. As a result of this, my children have two different sets of parents -(it’s back to being about me again!)  I’m a different mother with both my children, heck, I’m a whole different person with each of them :)  The more I look around, I realise that no two children in any family ever take the same role; if you have one child that’s nurturing, then that role is taken and and the other will pick another role in the family, perhaps that of the achiever, the entertainer, the family clown! Undeniably, it’s the potent mixture of  peers, siblings, genes, and circumstance that moulds a child’s temperament, thought I still firmly believe that parents (biological or not) are the major influencing factors in the outcome. Of course, that sets the stage for me footing any therapy bills that might arise as the result of such an ‘influence’! The bonding with the primary caretaker is what influences self-confidence, trust, the ability to interact with another person, and the child carries so much of the parents in them- that is a lasting impression! I look at both my girls and from time to time, see myself in them…believe you me, the last thing I wanted for either of them is my temperament, and as sure as anything, they’ve both got it – in some infernal auction, they’ve bid and won my moodiness, my neurosis, my obsessive compulsiveness for things done a particular way! And with gentle benevolence, life’s sprinkled them with my humour, my ability to rise up (somewhat) to a bad circumstance and get on with it. (we’ll leave the achievement and good social skills to daddy!)  And in as much as they are us – apples fallen right under the tree; they are them…rolled far enough to still have shelter from our shade!

sisters, siblings, personality, birth order, children, parenting

If I use personality type as a guage, my children (as countless siblings are), are strangers who share about 30% of the same interests and perspectives. Both my children have different needs that call upon me to be a different mum to both in order to satisfy it. I often tell my older one off, even if her behaviour doesn’t merit it just to even the score a bit because the second one is constantly being reigned in :) Are we fixed in this inflexible circle of personality? Mercifully not, all of us can make a conscious choice to be who we would like to be, success varies though 😛 I still battle with all the traits of a typical second child…fighting for my moment in the sun (truly sad when you’re on the other side of 35! ) My sister was the perfect first, and if having children’s taught me something-it’s letting it go, I understand why 😀 I love my sister to bits, by the way..have always done, though we’re as different as yams and peas!

One of my favourite writers, Andrew Solomon who wrote Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (a fantastic book,  though a bit grim and makes for somewhat cast-iron-stomach reading in parts) writes extensively about personality development and says that “Parenting is no sport for perfectionists” – Amen, brother! He talks about the two types of identity we all have; vertical- passed down from our parents (race, religion, ethnicity, culture) and horizontal – what we are by ourselves, the same identity that makes parents sometimes gasp and take a step back and think “where have you come from?”!  😛 The fit between the two and the acceptance that you get for your horizontal identity is one of the largest markers of happiness throughout your life. To be accepted for you- your unique you’ness!

As annoying or accomplished, as amiable or as contentious, our children thrive in an environment that is positive, safe, healthy and stimulating. The more attention I pay to my child’s personality and temperament, the better equipped I am to tailor our home to bring them toward their fullest potential. I tend to work at lightening the load my older carries as the ‘older sister’ and root my fences in deeper for the second who freewheels in a more lenient parental space! After all, I had given up on the bath thermometer and temperature-guaging spoons by the time she’d arrived! :)

However close my apples fall to me, or if they should roll onto a whole different courtyard- they’re mine and I hope to recalibrate my mind and love them with the same tenacity as I’ve always done. For what else is the lofty return on parenting if not angst and helplessness heaped with a generous dollop of fidelity, dedication and an unsurmountable triumph of love?! x

 

sisters, siblings, personality, birth order, children, parenting

*Images used in this post have been taken by Daniel Simm on an early morning just as Rahel and Rayna got out of bed! I am generally known to comb their hair and dress them in clothes other than their pjs! ;P

 

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Introverts-Powered by a Different Fuel!

Introversion, quiet child, quiet confidence, happiness

What is it about introversion that makes us so uncomfortable? It’s a question I haven’t been able to answer convincingly! Let me tell you a little about myself – most of my friends would say that I’m a ‘people’s person’-I’m chatty, funny even! In a crowd, I’m likely to be the one having a very lively chat with one or more people. I enjoy engaging with people- it’s never filled me with dread or apprehension. I entertain at home and we’re invited out a fair bit! But, on every single personality test I’ve done, I’ve unfailingly been identified as an introvert (though even some of my closest friends would rather believe that the earth is flat, and inhabited by winged horses in pink tutus who jump through hoops of candy!) What qualifies me as one is that for every day I spend with people, I need three with myself. I value silence, I enjoy solitude, I can go long periods of time without speaking to anyone and I don’t need social interaction as much as some people might! Introverts aren’t people who hide in secluded corners, convulsing with fear that they’ll be asked to interact or craving to be part of a crowd that they’re just too fearful to approach!

My daughter Rahel has always been a quiet girl. She went through nursery – the entire year, speaking three words ” I need the toilet” to her teachers. As a parent, that filled me with dread and I went through every listed syndrome trying to make sense of why she won’t incessantly chat about fairies and dolls and giggle excitedly with her friends at the sandpit, like every other ‘normal’ child! Every playdate I organised for her was a playdate for me, and for my younger daughter who is the complete opposite of Rahel. We had to keep our little guest busy and entertained because Rahel would not talk, well not much anyway, she preferred to be read to or play on her LeapPad, all the while enjoying the fact that she had company! She’d dress-up in costume and play with her dolls, but quietly, speaking infrequently – not something a lot of  extroverted children associate with a ‘fun’ companion. We ran around in circles wondering what we could do to make her more out-going, personable, gregarious…an extrovert! Why we viewed it as our personal failing that she wasn’t? I’m not sure other than the fact that that’s what parents do, every success and every failure is our doing, the great legacy of parenting :)!

I wasn’t alone in what I felt as I came across scores of parents who were researching the same things, plagued by the same insecurities of how to make space in this world for our little angels who just seemed powered by a different fuel!

Introversion, quiet child, quiet confidence, happiness

Living in a culture that views silence, thoughtfulness – a quiet personality as a sign of inherent weakness might be where I foremost assign blame. The idea that introverted people are underconfident, even though that premise couldn’t be further from the truth; viewing introversion synonymously with an anxiety-ridden shyness where a person feels sickeningly trapped in a mind that longs for social interaction but is incapacited to reach for it, is another tragic blow to those who don’t feel the need put themselves “out there” immediately!

I was speaking with one of my friends recently after Rahel won a Math competition about why are people naturally attracted to and choose to hang out with extroverts? Is it because extroverted people always seem to have something to talk about? He came up with a answer that made me laugh…like so many things nowadays, it went back to our times of being hunter-gatherers (I’m seriously resisiting the urge to use #paleo anywhere here or related to this post :)) The survival of nomadic man depended on his being hyper-focused, hyper-attentive and being able to communicate to a large number of people at most times. Being a beta-male, or what we can extrapolate to being introverted, meant death. The ‘leaders’ were those who were vivacious men – party animals and backslappers, the sort who stand at the bar, ensconced within the chatter of other mixers and pub crawlers! 😀 But not much seems to have been said of the thinkers, the great creators –  the artists, the scientists, the inventors who brought us into civilization. That small group who need a little bit of silence in a constantly chiming world! Research however shows that the approximately 30% of introverts that we have in our population may probably wind up a whole lot more successful than everyone else and are a whole lot happier than we assume they are :) <Try Googling  ‘List of Successful Introverts’>

Introversion, quiet child, quiet confidence, happiness

Any parent like me, who’s had to deal with the stereotyping finds it frustrating that their child is viewed as being a silent sufferer! What people fail to see is that there is a marked and fundamental difference between a crippling fear of social judgment and just finding overstimulation exhausting and choosing to be alone or in the company of a select few people.
I can see Rahel’s neural circuits thrive in the company of a few friends, a good read, time where she’s been allowed to choose what she wants to do! She loves ballet and gives it her all…when I got a letter from her previous dance school saying that she was identified as a ‘gifted’ dancer, I couldn’t believe my eyes or the fact that she had been noticed at all! I held back the tears as I watched her first performance in front of about 50 parents, where she showed me her quiet confidence. Being her mother, I’ve learned that the same thirst for solitude can bring with it an ability to focus for long periods of time. I’ve learned that a margin of  introversion is necessary to becoming a great musician or scientist or businessperson. Again, research indicates that introverts listen better, they assess risks more carefully, they can be wiser managers. Our children have so much to offer not despite their introversion, but because of it!

Introversion, quiet child, quiet confidence, happiness

Writer Susan Cain said on Ted Talks that it’s an oversimplification to divide people into slots as definitive as “extroverts and introverts” as we’re all a mixture of both elements or ambiverts.  Both Rahel and I fluctuate between the spectrums of introversion, she being the truer representative of it than I.  Though she is no longer as “anti-social” as she was as a pre-schooler, I do think she seems to get her conviviality and energy from from quiet time and contemplation. More power to her, I say!

I’ve always believed that the uniqueness and beauty of the human race is our diversity of personality….something that our current world of social-connectivity-overload is slowly beginning to threaten. Our school models, our extra-curriculars, are all so focused on the extroverts that we’re beaten into a cookie-cutter mould of interaction, leaving less space for the individualism we all crave. I’m not trying to change the world, I know I can’t and I understand why the focus is so… I only wish to hold up a mirror to society highlighting the different sorts of people there are, it’s our collective strengths that define our success.

Two years ago, I, like parents before me, resigned myself to believing that my child was never going to be the life of any party, that they’re condemned to the life of a wallflower at best, but how steadily Rahel proved me wrong.  From going from strength to strength in her academics and extra-curriculars and just being the ever-happy 7 year-old she is (with a fair few best-friends-forever in tow)- I’d say that she and her sort are comfortably the very soul of it!

If you liked what you read, could you please nominate me for writer, fresh voice or photo over at BritMums , many thanks! :)

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My girlies’ Pop Starter-kit :)

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Kanchan Char, Practical Parenting Graphic, growing chicks, sunshine
By Kanchan Char

My daughters, like their mum and dad, love music! My older one asked me if she could have her own music for her room, or to listen with us in the car while we travel… of course, I don’t want them singing lewd lyrics to catchy tunes, so this is what I made for them! No sex, violence or vulgarity…

This is also a party list, a dance-with-best-friend list and a wind-down-and-journey list . :) I’ve made it on Youtube as everyone can access it without subscriptions or sign-ups, we prefer ours without the visuals on Spotify!I hope that like me, you too will enjoy hours of singing and dancing fun with your little grown-ups !

Enjoy! :)

 

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Abba or Wham! You know who to blame!