Many years ago I lived in a highly competitive suburb. Being smart, rich and attractive all ruled our entire lives. I still remember a kindergarten concert where the child of one of our friends got the lead role playing the xylophone and the rest of us were sure the parents “bribed” the teacher! The point was you had to win.
So my story really is about two sisters-in-law who each had two sons. The husbands were I believe both smart lawyers who attended good schools. Two of their sons were the same age. One of the sisters-in-laws was particularly competitive. She had in her mind making sure her son got into Harvard. Discussion always revolved around how smart he was. The other sister-in-law was more modest and humble about her own intelligence. She was extremely organized. Her son was always well dressed, well moderated and well scheduled. I liked him a lot. He was in my son’s play group and he was just a cute kid.
So guess which kid went to Harvard? The brilliant son of the pushy sister-in-law or the cute son of my friend who provided a comfortable, loving and consistent environment? You’re right if you say the second choice.
Now, how to apply this to my own children’s upbringing.
Well, I have to say that I started out being extremely ambitious for my children. Not to the point of bribery, but I did think it was important for them to get along with other kids and to get good grades in school. Of course, if they were singled out, I liked that too.
There were a couple of life lessons that eventually made me turn more toward nurture than nature.
The first lesson came when our younger son was in second grade and was having difficulty calming down in his school situation. At a conference with his teacher, she suggested to me that I concentrate on setting more rules at home, her theory being that if he had chores and responsibility at home, he would learn how to do the same at school. In other words, don’t do as I say, do as I do.
The second lesson occurred when our older son was applying to college and was close to developing a chronic health problem. He was an honor student, a competitive tennis player and a really nice kid.
At that point I knew that it was my job to love him and not put such high expectations on him that it would impact his well being.
Today I still want my kids to do well. I’m not so great on unconditional love. But I hope they know that my love for them is greater than my judgment of their success. I’ve always told them to be the best that they can be, but only for their own sakes. We all feel better when we’re complete and I’ve also told them being complete is having love in one’s life, being happy with one’s work and having friends.
Maybe it’s a bit of nature and a bit of nurture.