My daughter, Sarah, came out of the womb as her own person. Her independent spirit revealed itself before the age of two and a half. Psychologists I’ve talked to say this is unusual. But does it mean that this aspect of personality is inborn?
Here is an example of what I mean. When Sarah was less than two, she got confused because another little boy had the same name as her brother, David. I told her that the other David was Jan’s (the Mom’s) David, like your brother David is mine and you are mine. She was sitting on my lap. She pulled away from me and emphatically stated “NO! I MINE!”
That apparently shows an advanced level of separation as a distinct individual from the mother. This usually happens much later in a child’s development.
Another example involved bedtime. At eighteen months, my older son had always needed me to stay with him till he fell asleep. So that’s what I did with Sarah at that age. I stood by her crib and sang to her and told her stories. One night, after I had been with her for a few minutes, Sarah said “You can go now Mommy. I want to go to sleep!” I was surprised but thrilled that she could assert herself and tell me what she wanted. And that she could go to sleep on her own. She was always a self-soother. David never was.
A similar incident occurred with her Dad when Sarah was a little over two years old. Her father was tickling her while she played with his watch. She hated being tickled and asked her dad to stop. He kept tickling. She asked him to stop more emphatically. He didn’t. So she hit him in the face with the watch. Her father was stunned. He asked her why she had hit Daddy and hurt him.
Her answer – “I told you to stop”. Wow! That was a “Make my day” moment!
Her father never tickled her again. He also treated her with much more respect from that day on. Sarah instinctively knew how to set limits and to protect herself and her space. I wish I had that moxie, even as an adult.
My son had a very different temperament. When I would tell my five-year old son that he had upset me by doing something I didn’t like, his response was usually “I’m sorry Mommy! I won’t do it anymore.” Perfect response from a mother’s perspective. When I said the same thing to my five-year old Sarah, her response was “I’m sorry you’re upset. But you’ll just have to deal with it.” Not exactly a mother’s dream child.
So is this deep sense of self genetic? Are we born either with a sense of boundaries or not? That seems to be the case with my kids. I’ve watched these personality differences continue into adulthood. David has always been more like me and Sarah has always been more like her father in this regard.
After having my own children and watching them develop over time, I now believe that nature may have an edge over nurture when it comes to certain basic characteristics and personality traits. I’m sure there are examples of nurture being the dominant force, but in my experience, I vote for nature over nurture on the basics of who were are.