My Story

The chronicle of the journey from infertility, to miscarriage, to finally raising twin girls born in June 2012.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nature vs Nurture

I've always been curious about the nature vs nurture debate.  One thing about multiples, it's a scientific experiment you get to watch unfold every day.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that basic personality traits are nature.  From the time the girls were in the NICU, I've been saying that Tina interacts with the world while Charlotte prefers to observe it.  Over 7 months later and so far this is still holding true.

While it obviously doesn't compare to children, I saw this in my cats as well.  I captured 2 stray cats from a litter when they were around 12 weeks old.  One was a little more trusting and affectionate while the other was a fighter.  I raised them both the same but those personality differences never evened out.  The fighter was just an angry bitch no matter what we tried to make her happy (she died a couple of years ago).  The affectionate one (still living) is still a bit skittish, but he just wants the love and is very snuggly when he feels safe.

I'm seeing similar differences (though much more flattering differences) in the girls.  We've been trying to get out of the house a little more often lately and when we're out, these differences become really pronounced.  Last week we went to the mall to have a hang out with other twin moms.  Charlotte was happy to just sit in the stroller the whole time sucking on her wubba and would just kind of look up at anybody who stuck their nose in to see her.  Tina on the other hand, she was itching to get up and interact.  I was holding her for a good part of the outing and she was flirting up a storm with anybody who would grace her with eye contact.  While grocery shopping the other day (yes, we got out grocery shopping!), Tina was bright eyed and begging for attention from all the "oh how cute, twins!" gawkers while Charlotte was perfectly happy to just watch the world go by.

At home, Tina needs pretty constant stimulation.  She gets distracted while eating, and is energetic as all get out in her exersaucer.  She's jumping around and making sure we're paying attention to her.  Charlotte is just much more content.  She plays of course, but she's not as energetic and needy about it.  Just kind of quietly goes about her business and doesn't make a bit tadoo about it.

When I'm holding one of them on the couch, Tina is bouncing around and demanding attention.  If I'm not bouncing her, she'll do it herself, she'll try to climb and talks constantly.  Charlotte can sit snuggled under my arm, will occasionally glance up at me and grin and then happily goes back to just snuggling.

Tina is just bigger about everything.  As far as babies go, this makes Charlotte the easier baby.  When she's upset about something, it's pretty easy to narrow down what's upsetting her because if she's making a fuss, something is really wrong.  Tina's reactions to everything are so much bigger that it makes it harder to figure out.  While Charlotte needs to really be hurting (from teething or something) in order to be upset, Tina can be screaming her head off because it's not her turn with the applesauce spoon.  On the other hand, Tina tends to be the more, well for lack of a better word, attractive to play with because she's going to be quick to smile and laugh and she smiles and laughs big.  These pictures really sum up the difference.  Both are happy and laughing, but Tina's whole face has gone squinchy while Charlotte just kind of looks like "yes, that amuses me."

So, this boils down to why I believe that personalities are inherent to a person, but it's nurture that determines what people do with these personalities.  Tina is so gregarious, I feel like she's going to be a social butterfly. People are going to be naturally drawn to her.  That is going to give her power in life.  It's what she chooses to do with that power that's going to determine what kind of person she is, and that's where the nurture comes in.  That kind of dynamic personality has the potential of becoming the mean girl in high school.  But she also has the potential to make high school a great experience for a lot of the shyer kids.  Is she going to choose to be exclusive at the cool kids table, making everyone who doesn't sit there feel like crap?  Or is she going to choose to sit with the new kid and offer to show that kid the ropes?  When she's team captain, will she only play with the good players, or will she pick all those kids who usually get picked last and make sure they all have a chance to get the ball sometimes?

Some of you might be asking yourself why I'm focusing so much on Tina's choices.  Well, that's because I grew up as a Charlotte.  Being an introvert myself and not naturally charismatic, it's easier for me to see the benefits of the personality type that I don't have.  In grade school, I remember a girl with Tina's potential who decided to become the mean girl, and I was the nerd that she often tormented.  In high school, there was a guy with that same personality type, but he chose to be very inclusive and was just a blast to be around.  He was physically ugly as all get out but he had this gift for making you feel like he especially liked you so most of us had a crush on him at some point.

Since it appears that their personality types are inherent to them, my challenge as a parent will be to guide them toward making good choices with those personalities.  To teach Tina the benefits of being kind and inclusive when it will be so easy to be a jerk and to teach Charlotte that attracting more people to you is less important than attracting the right people.  While Tina is running around with her 50 friends, Charlotte can get just as much companionship from a few very close friends.

It's like looking at the differences between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  One was a seeker of the limelight, a natural leader, the other was just as brilliant, but more content to be behind the scenes.  K and I are both theater people.  I was an actor in high school, but I was eventually drawn to the jobs that took me out of the limelight.  I was an awesome stage manager.  K is an actor with a gift for making people laugh.  Both valid and necessary for a good show, but one gets a few more accolades in our society than the other.

Of course, these are all observations and predictions based on baby personalities.  I'm totally open to being proven completely wrong about my predictions.  Maybe they'll switch at some point and Charlotte will be the butterfly while Tina is happy at home with a book.  Heck, even I had a couple of years in there where I was the butterfly with a packed social calendar.  But in terms of nature versus nurture, I currently believe that as a parent, there's not much I can do about personality, but there's a lot I can do about the choices they make with the personalities they seem to be born with.  I hope I'm able to steer them both towards the choices that are more difficult in the moment, but lead to a much happier life over the course of time.  Tina, please sit with the nerdy new kid in the cafeteria, that day will be remembered forever by that kid as a positive experience. And Charlotte, please have faith that you can enjoy your quiet talents even if it's hard to find others who recognize those talents.  One day, you'll find a crowd of people who think it's totally awesome that you're so good at something even it's not a popular skill to develop.


  1. I've noticed the same thing with my, now adult, twin nieces over the years. They were identical but yet if you just observe them you can see big personality differences.

  2. How cute is that picture, Tina looks beside herself :-)
    It'll be interesting to see if your prediction comes true, either way it won't matter too much as they'll have each other. I was always envious of twin sisters -they seemed to have such a close bond.

    Btw, did Tina's flat spot ever sort itself out? I ask because the back of my daughter's head is still a bit wonky. At our 6mth check up the Dr said it's nothing to worry about, it's just cosmetic. I've noticed it looking less obvious now that her hair is growing.


  3. I am be no means an expert but I have 5 children and in my experience, they are born with certain traits. Like you said, as a parent I try to guide them appropriately with their given traits but they are who they are...

  4. Such amazing thoughts....I was a nanny for a mom who just seemed to think "uh oh...we're gonna be in trouble with this girl..." when her 2.5 year old daughter grew up, because she was so charming and funny and just loved to be sassy and girly. I think she was apprehensive she was going to be, shall we say, boy crazy, but it was like she had no idea that as a parent, she had the ability to help shape her daughter and teach her to make good choices. So refreshing to read about parents who understand the role they play in their children's lives while at the same time deeply value their inherent personality traits.

    And just 2 more cents...I think that having a sister with a personality like Charlotte's will help Tina will be kind and caring toward others. Plus Charlotte has a built-in "protector" in Tina. Being an extrovert myself and married to an introvert....sometimes the differences drive me crazy, but the world would be totally INSANE if we were all extroverts. Introverts bring balance to our world. The "weaknesses" introverts perceive in themselves are really the "strengths" that I wish I had.


Please share your thoughts! It makes me feel like I have friends.