Sunday, August 10, 2008

Second Children Change How Parents View Parenting

Many people have noticed the tendency for parents to lighten up quite a bit after their first child. With our first born we tend to be tentative and err toward over-caution. I often hear the explanation for the change in behavior that the parents realized that their first child turned out okay despite the bumps and scrapes both figurative and literal. They've discovered that babies and children are pretty hearty, and treading on eggshells isn't required.

The thought occurred to me today that I think it goes a bit further than this. It has to do with this notion that I heard that first-time parents tend to be big believers in nurture. Parents with later-born children tend to be believers in nature. That is, they realize that very important traits central to who their children are that are not at all determined by how they were parented. When the second child arrives, they notice that she is often completely different in traits ranging from how easily startled the child is to how she responds to new stimuli. So this realization can occur within hours of the birth of the second child. The parent realizes, "There was no time for parenting to bring about these traits in our newborn. There has to be something about the child herself that makes her different."

Of course the question of whether nature or nurture rules the roost of who our children become is a false one. The science is absolutely clear that both are at play. I do think though that our culture errs way too far these days on the side of believing that it is always the environment that is responsible for how the child turns out.

In an upcoming post, I will describe the nine dimensions of temperament, the traits that research has shown that we are born with, and that are not determined by our family of origin.

In the meantime, what traits does your children have that you suspect they were born with?

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