Busy with the business of surviving daily life with two young children, I don't usually have time to think, let alone worry, about the whole nature versus nurture debate. Then a very dear and childless friend came to visit and over the course of dinner, far too casually stated that each of my daughters were experiencing different childhoods, based on the way I responded to and treated them. He argued it was far from equal.
Having stumbled up in a male-dominated family who never seemed quite sure how to cope with a girl, I vehemently disagreed with my friend, who I learned had coined his theories from the psychologist Oliver James's book How to Survive Family Life. I defended my conviction, saying that when it came to my children both my husband and I treated them equally and fairly. The discussion was closed, but it was too late; doubt had set in.
I knew he was right. My friend returned to his uncomplicated childless life, leaving me with a secret terror of what terrible and permanent damage I could be inflicting on my girls simply by the way I relate to them. And there it remains, festering in the back of my mind, ever reminding me of the huge responsibility I took on when I signed up for parenthood. The burden of being almost entirely accountable for one's children's psychological and social development is heavy indeed. I can't believe that any of these academics who subscribe to the theory that nurture is infinitely more moulding than nature actually live and breathe kids on a daily basis.
Attempting to sift through the concept that it's not so much my children who are different, but the way I treat them, I admit that the eldest definitely gets a harder time than the youngest. My trusted sisterhood of mums reassure me that this is because the youngest is my "baby" and my expectations of the eldest are far higher. While that is comforting, there is something else. According to a recent UK survey, one in six mums has a favourite child. It seems a notion too shocking for me to consider, but I will concede that I don't readily relate to the eldest's dreamy, not quite with-it character, which I am convinced was nature's rather than nurture's gift, whereas the youngest always seems so much more familiar to me. Tragically, the eldest has noticed. Just the other morning, she asked me why I tell her off more than the youngest. Of course, I argued that her behaviour causes the tickings off, but in truth, I don't know.
This nature versus nurture debate is chicken and egg to me and frankly, for my sake and the sake of every angst-ridden parent out there (including my dear friend, who has just qualified himself), I hope it stays that way.