Every parent, and probably every child, thinks about it: how much of the individual is “self-made” and how much is the responsibility of the parent? In the extreme, there are people who give a child a pass for most anything because “Look at the way the poor kid was raised.” And not surprisingly, other people treat everyone the same. Irrespective of background, all children should act pretty much the same way. If it was only so simple.
Further complicating things is that sometimes the opposite of what was anticipated happens. The child who will “never amount to anything” because of his home life turns out successful, while the child of “privilege” turns out to be the lead story in the evening news for all the wrong reasons.
There doesn’t seem to be any formula, and no two people are alike. Both nurture and nature help make us who we are. But there comes a point in every individual’s life where they become responsible for what they think, say, and do. There comes a point where the parent no longer picks up the toy thrown by the child. This time it’s put away until you can learn to play with it correctly.
In a letter dated May 25, 1951, C. S. Lewis writes to Mary Van Deusen and begins the letter by responding to a concern she raises about how responsible she, as a parent, might be for her daughter’s problems. Writing with his typical abbreviations Lewis answers,
“About yr. idea that error in upbringing might be partly responsible for Genia’s trouble, does any trained psychologist agree with you? From what I hear such people say I shd. v. much doubt whether it cd. have had any ‘depth’ effect. Do not burden yourself with any unnecessary cares: I suspect you are not at all to blame. I pray for Genia every night.”1
Notice the nuances. Lewis does not dismiss the aspect of nurture. He simply questions its depth. He knows that deeper down there is the will of Genia herself.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” – 2 Corinthians 5:10.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 118. Italics in original.