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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Abba or Wham? You know who to blame!

Retro vinyl music

I was recently at John Lewis, a British home & family store, when a chat with a young girl there got me thinking! She was sorting out insoles to cushion my daughter’s high instep when Frank Sinatra began singing “Hello Dolly”!  It’s a song I remember well enough from my first winter here in the UK many moons ago! It followed me everywhere. Armstrong’s voice then, with it’s rich, gravelly texture had made me want to dance – shoulder rolling, sideways shuffling and all that Jazz! The lovely girl, about 19, said she loved that song too, Michael Bublé was it?!  She loved him! He was her Christmas/Winter voice! Though she’d only recently heard it, she felt she knew it all her life. I smiled and acknowledged it with a ”Yes, Michael Bublé has a lovely voice, if a completely vile temper! 🙂 ” I left, inwardly thinking that she probably heard it first as a child, and made very happy memories to it! So did Bublé, presumably!

We’ve all probably stopped short when we’ve heard a particular artist/song play at a restaurant, doing the dishes with the radio on, whilst driving – and gone back to a particular time in our lives. Perhaps to a perfect boy you met when you were 15 and found true love –  the sort that doesn’t even re-al-ly exist, but you had managed to find it! He had the right eyes, the perfect hobbies. He played the guitar, listened to Pink Floyd; knew all the songs on Side B of The Dark Side of the Moon! You both had bemoaned the breakup of Wham!  Ah, the beauty of youth – financial disaster meant nothing more than your dad’s accountant and a bad hairday. Well, if you haven’t felt the power of musical nostalgia in one or it’s many avatars, I think I might’ve actually found Kara !

Abba disco ball bauble
By Kanchan Char

Researchers say that music has an enduring effect on us and that it is in fact potent enough to even restore brain function, improve immunity and considerably reduce stress. And that you can still sing even if you can’t talk again! Simply put, language functions are located in the left brain, but music appreciation is processed in the right. So, when one suffers damage to the left brain, your can be rewire your brain to move those functions to the other side by associating music with language.  Since all our long-term memory is stored in the right brain, this is the precise reason we associate so much of our emotional landscape with music. We’ve transcribed our memories in Quavers, Crotchets and Breves! 

Here’s what gets me – while it’s expected that we’re moved by music that saw us come of age, musical nostalgia seems to transcend that narrow period of susceptibility into a multigenerational phenomena. Not only do we react and respond to music that’s celebrated important periods in our own lives, but seemingly,  also that which lined the lives of our parents. (Of course, this adds an layer of intrigue to those who grew up in bilingual homes and where the musical apple, so to speak, fell rather far from the tree!) It stands clarified in my own life, why I  Alto to every song that Soprano’ed and the converse! I was only answering the call of Simon & Garfunkel from my subconscious! And believe you me, I did that for years!! The sins of our parents…

Apparently, we gravitate to musical genres from the Dopamine Effect, the chemical reactions we have in our brain when we feel calm, happy and soothed. The feel good neurotransmitter! It’s why we still, for most part continue to turn to music. Apart from the odd time one has to socially suffer Brahms’ Fifth Symphony at a friend’s uber-posh family dinner. Classical music is all well and good, but it does nothing other than remind me of how utterly satisfied I am with the crumbs that fell onto my own educational platter! We’ve all still remained friends, fortunately 😛 !

Some of our earliest childhood memories were probably made to music that our parents enjoyed, a lasting impression and the direction your own music choices would take, (and lest we forget, here is also a remnant of their biases and where our musical hair-raising moments have their roots!)! My generation, the late 1970’s born (the last of the ones born-free, might I add) – enjoyed the benefits of when parents didn’t think twice about introducing children to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Elvis singing about Jailhouse experiences! We didn’t focus half as much as we should have on the psychology of Freud or Piaget and Erikson has ostensibly remained just a memory of bad mobile handsets! Then again, I was partly raised in Socialist India! ‘Nuf said! (Shudders at the thought of countless Russian magazine subscriptions!)

antique classical musical notes My children’s first tryst with rythm was colic-preventing Navajo music ! Falcons and flutes and eagle-bone whistles. I didn’t stop to investigate if there were any more reliable rappers on the baby scene since Jordy! I often think of the absurdity of flipping that image and seeing the Navajo calm their teething brood to the sounds of N’Sync or 98 Degrees! Ostracism from the tribe at best, I suppose! After all, there is a fine line that separates music from mere noise, and the one to make that call is the culture that’s listening to it.

The desires, despairs and triumphs of any generation are represented in the music it created. Therefore, it occasionally leaves me feeling grim that the music we seem to be leaving our grandchildren finds itself in the myopic territory of making sure every man has a ‘Beauty and a Beat! I really do try to like Justin Bieber! J

So whether you are the “Birkenstock-wearing, celebrating the birth of Granola and Indie/Folk” type of  person or a “Can’t do without a power-ballad” one- you’ve been subtly influenced by the sounds you first heard and associated well-being with ! Finally, you now have someone to concretely blame for getting it all so horribly wrong! 😀

I’m still wading through my turbid unconscious to find what made me fall in love with Matia Bazar, an Italian experimental pop group that made it big in the late ‘70’s! Or why I feel an unsurmountable urge to face my suck-it-up-and-get-on-with-it moments with Abba’s Lay all your love on me!


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