Nature and Nurture

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Many of our character traits are identified as gene strands in our DNA. These are either inherited or formed during conception and over the 10 month pregnancy period. By week 26, scientists were able to identify the formation of the genes that relate to how confident the person is. This is called the predisposition of that individual. The tendency of that person to act in a certain way to a certain situation. This is their nature.

But our DNA itself is malleable. The experiences we undergo and the situations we are put through affect our tendencies to a great extent. This effect is studied by Stephen J Suomi not on humans but on monkeys that share 94% of our DNA. Monkeys that have a specific variation of the confidence gene are naturally resilient to outside pressures. They have greater tendency to be more assertive and have leadership qualities. Monkeys that are born with the other variation of the same genes are naturally more anxious and timid. They are followers and workers in the group.

But the story does not end here. This is where the nurture part comes in. The monkeys that have mothers that are not caring or supportive have their natural tendencies deepen and play out. Babies with confident gene variation grow up to become leaders and babies with the other variant become more and more anxious and submissive. But when the mothers are caring and very supportive, give a good environment for the baby to thrive, these babies that do not have the resilience built in when they were born, not just become good, but they excel and develop to even surpass the natural born leaders. The absence of natural resilience in the DNA does not mean it is bad, it just means that the individual is more responsive to the environment. When given the right environment, they bloom beautifully to their potential. That breakthrough provides us with tremendous opportunity.

When we directly correlate this to our species, the care and support we give to our children in their foundation years seem crucial. The earlier years are when the experiences are ingrained into one’s subconscious mind. By year 6 this is mostly set. It is like designing a highway that handles most of the traffic. As one grows older, there are options to build roads to connect to different points but the highway is something we have to deal with the rest of our lives.

To hold a baby, hug and kiss them drenches them and us in oxytocin, giving them a meaningful, peaceful routine in a space they trust most bathes them with serotonin, encouraging them when they achieve tiny milestones gives them dopamine – all the feel good hormones that promote physical, mental and emotional growth as opposed to a rushed lifestyle where caring for kids are just treated as a liability, an additional workload which makes cortisol course through their veins. It is important not just for the family but for the society as a whole to provide for a nurturing environment because it is these babies and kids who will be the society, 10 to 20 years down the line! We as a society should build a strong support system for every mother during her pregnancy and a couple of years after, so that she can peacefully concentrate on the most important task of nurturing her baby with the best food and best environment that nature has designed for that new life.

 

Reference:

The Confidence Code – by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

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How hard can caring for a baby be?

 

I love babies for their toothless grins and beautiful smiles, don’t even get me started on their flawless skin, jiggly cheeks and wide curious eyes! Or is it that peaceful bliss on their face when they are asleep? Their tiny fingers and curled toes. It is hard to say one reason but babies are so wonderful… to look at, to play with… I mean for a limited time… as long as I’m not thrust with being “responsible” for any of their needs and they are merely there to entertain and make me happy. That is how most people interact with a baby. But being a parent, the primary caregiver, is the other end of it. This adult is responsible for taking care of the baby’s needs.  But how much can a tiny little baby need?

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A baby or even a toddler is this tiny person with limited physical, emotional and mental capabilities but who has this enormous task of crossing so many growth milestones so fast with their limited resources on hand. They work very hard.

  • Limited physical capabilities: they are lying all day until they learn to roll, strengthen their neck muscles and then they try to sit with a wobbly back, then they need to develop those leg muscles and bones to get them on their feet standing and then step by step waddle slowly until they walk and then run. On top of this external growth, their internal organs are developing too. Oh and they cut teeth and drool wetting their shirt all the time. All this pain is known only to them. They are clumsy and fumble a lot, make a lot of mistakes and get into troubles and create a lot of accidents.
  • Limited emotional capabilities: Sometimes they feel curious and want to venture around, sometimes going a little far makes them feel scared and they want to be held close. Sometimes they are satisfied and happy, sometimes they just need some attention to satisfy their need. Sometimes they just want to vent out, other times they are in pain and need help soothing. They soak up on other’s emotions too, especially the parents. If there is something off- a raised voice or bad moods, that upsets their world.
  • Limited mental capabilities: They want so many things but can not say it in words that people around them understand. Communication is a major deal for them. Lets forget about the play stuff they want to just have their fingers around, even for food or gas hurting that tummy which needs to be burped or a soggy wet diaper sending chills all over their little body… they have no way of saying it, except for crying. New tastes and textures in food that sometimes they find weird before getting used to! They are still working on sleeping through the night.

To shadow this little human every hour of the day and possibly night, every day of the week and help them through with their limitations and needs as they grow up is an enormous but important task. The first couple of years are the most vulnerable and foundation years for a person’s life. The primary care giver, in addition to meeting their needs, wants and duties, has to take care of another human who has far more needs and far less capacity to express/achieve the same. So the adult has to be attuned to the child’s needs before making a close guess as to how best to help them. This constant look out for signals adds to the strain. Their hands are so full that they don’t find time for general unwind and relaxation we find in a normal adult’s life. Even their own basic needs are stunted. I don’t eat when I’m hungry. Either I eat before so that I am ready for my baby’s meal time or I split and rush through my meals to handle a crying baby. I can not sleep when I feel tired and just want to crash. I would have to put the baby to sleep before I can drift off. Nature’s call too is sometimes done in an unavoidable condition that can not be postponed otherwise. Sometimes, the child is cranky and wants to be held. I would have to finish my tasks with one hand. Other times the child is holding on to my legs and I can not move around and do stuff in a normal fashion. Basically we are operating at a partial capacity ourselves and that is generally more time consuming and needs lot more effort and creativity, especially when there is a time constraint.

Now double this frustration and effort to handle the same when the baby is sick, which happens more often than not because of their weak immune system and their periodic immunization shots.

Compromised sleep, constant demand on me for attention, unable to find time for relaxation or for self, absence of meaningful social interaction – all this makes caring for a baby a tough job. Being a baby or a toddler is pure hard work too. And every time I approach the limits of my patience, I try to remind myself of this fact. Automatically, I get so much respect for that little being in front of me and it helps me put things in perspective. Making time for attending to my own needs on regular basis recharges me to come back energized. This phase is a golden period when I can cradle that little human’s whole body in my arms and soak up on that toothless grin that brightens anybody’s day. Every time they look up to see their parent’s face, their eyes light up and they give a beautiful drooling smile that melts my heart. They trust their parents enormously and look at us every single time with the same love. How precious is this unconditional love from this being? This journey and the eventual understanding and trust that gets established between us enriches me spiritually.

20 or 30 years down the line, it does not matter which car you drove now or which dress you wore or even which mobile you used. But when you are present in this child’s life and make precious memories with them, you get a chance to live beyond your life, into theirs, through those memories!

Photo Credit:
Thomas Baby Pic

Mother: A Symbol of Power

A mother is the epitome of love, sacrifice and service. True. This is what we see in our daily lives and these are the ideals we live by. My grandma, mom, aunt, neighbours, friends, colleagues, epics, movies, literature. Everywhere I see, hear and read, this message resonates loudly. A mother is capable of loving her children unconditionally. She gives care, affection and attention without expecting or even when she does not get anything in return. A mother sacrifices her life, her identity to bring the child to being a good human being and a great citizen of the society they live in. Sacrifice in the form of letting go of her wants, happiness and wishes to even her immediate basic human needs like sleep, hunger and even nature’s calls when handling a baby. A woman puts her life to the service of her family, her children, her husband and maintains peace in the house. When every house is addressed thus, the society and the country grows with all the nourishment – physical, emotional, moral and becomes strong over the generation. Her duties are designed for the benefit of the society as a whole. She is responsible for cooking clean, healthy and nutritious food that fuels the body and the mind. She maintains a clean, organized and stocked home so everyone in the family need not worry about their needs and can work on their dreams, their future. She nurses and counsels the family members when they fall sick so they can get back on their feet to become productive at the earliest. The mother is the backbone, the root of that family and with her strength the family advances as a whole, as a team.

But that is not what I’m going to write about. I came across a mother, from our religious text, who is the Universal Mother, the role model of motherhood. And she is not described as above. Yes, all the above are very important things that every mother does and needs to do. But the point is a mother is not limited to these! This mother along with her young daughter fights a demon and his army for the sake of the world. They describe the fierce fight between the army that she commands and how she emerges victorious. They describe her physical appearance. She is not just beautiful, but has six-packs!

பட்ட பந்த வலித்ரெயா

Translation: “Patta Bandha Valithreya” : Her core resembles a belt with 3 lines running horizontally. When I tried to imagine this and the fact that she is a warrior, instead of a looking at a flat stomach and a curvy beautiful size-0 body, I could see a strong willed and strongly muscled lady with sixpacks who can wield a powerful weapon and fight a demon.

I was totally blown away by this realization. I assumed that a woman’s body goes through a lot during a pregnancy and after her first child, she can never recover to the capabilities of her original younger self. All the mothers I had seen from my childhood till now, all these women including myself believed that our lives are to live for our family and the love we shower on our children is the gift we get in return. But this scene tells me that a woman is capable of so much more in her life and being a mother and caring for her children and family does not limit her even from developing a chiseled body. A mother is a symbol of power, strength and possibilities. She is the leader and not just a support system that works in the background. That is huge. But how capable are we to handle this? The next line says it.

நிராதாரா

Translation: “Niraadhaaraa” : One of her qualities described in the shloka is that she is the base for everything and that she does not need a base- independence. She does not and has no need to depend on anybody other than her own capabilities to fulfill her duties and protect her world. If my mother is like this, then why can’t I? With my first child, I remember how lost and anxious I was with respect to my capabilities of handling a child, a family and my life. This one word gives the moral support to us that we are sufficient enough.

I’m compelled to think that if we as mothers associate ourselves with a greater cause, and work with our family as our team, our army, to achieve it instead of limiting ourselves to a smaller circle, smaller goals, how much more accomplishing, satisfying and meaningful our lives would be?

These are just a couple of lines that stuck to my heart from “Lalitha Sahasranamam” shlokam, one of my favorites. I know many of us recite this and hear this on important days but when we get deeper into the meaning, how much more enriching our scriptures can be!