Nature and Nurture

I am a mother of five children. Two biological, and three adopted. Two of our adopted children have the same birth mom. Both of these children are awake, happy, and LOUD at the crack of dawn. They love the morning, and cannot wait to start the day. I am a late sleeper, and prefer things to be very quiet until lunchtime, so I know they didn’t get this early morning enthusiasm from me. The other day I was talking on the phone to my kids’ birth mom, and found out that she, too, is an early bird. She said she is known for being happy and energetic in the morning. This was very interesting to me, and I started researching ‘nature vs nurture’ in adoptive families.

For those unfamiliar with this subject, nature refers to the genetic makeup of an individual, while nurture refers to the way an individual was raised.

I found a very informative article at It cites research from the Sibling Interactive and Behavior Study (SIBS) launched in 1999 by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Twin and Family Research. The study had two purposes: first, to examine how siblings interact and influence one another, and second, to see how family dynamics impact the psychological health of adolescents. Four hundred of the six hundred families in the SIBS study were selected because they include at least one adopted child. Some questions it seeks to answer are:

  • Will I love the child I adopt as much as I would love a child I gave birth to? What if the child is of a different race?
  • How does it work to have both adopted and biological children in the same family?
  • Is it important for an adopted child to live with a sibling of the same ethnicity?
  • How does it work to have both adopted and biological children in the same family?
  • See more at: 

While the study is still new, (with only 1/3 of the data being collected, to date) the preliminary findings seem positive for adoptive families. Here were some of the most significant findings:

–”There is virtually no difference in psychological functioning between children raised in adoptive families and those raised in biological families. In measures of delinquency, antisocial attitudes, aggression, substance abuse, and other problem behaviors, the differences between adopted children and children being raised by their biological families were insignificant. Measures of well-being, identity, academic achievement, and other positive characteristics were also virtually identical. These positive findings contradict earlier research that found adopted adolescents at greater risk for psychological problems than their non-adopted peers, SIBS researchers note. However, the average age of the adolescents in the study is only 15, so it is possible that differences between adopted and non-adopted individuals may emerge later.”

-“Sibling relationships appear unaffected by adoption. Relationships were equally close and loving among all kinds of sibling pairs (adopted-adopted, adopted-bio, and bio-bio). Although bio siblings thought of themselves as being more similar, this perceived similarity did not affect the quality of relationships between adoptive and biological siblings. Birth order was much more significant in sibling relationships than was adoptive status. The older sibling was almost always more powerful in the relationship, regardless of whether s/he had been adopted.”

-“In parent-child relationships, researchers identified some differences between adoptive and biological families. Parents and children felt as attached to each other in adoptive families as in biological families, but adopted children reported more conflict with parents than did biological offspring. This did not, however, result in greater behavior problems outside the home, as might have been expected.”

-“Despite the absence of genetic links, adoptive siblings are psychologically similar to one another in some significant ways. As would be expected, siblings by adoption showed no similarities in the kinds of personality traits that psychologists know to be largely genetic in origin, such as being shy or outgoing. In two areas of behavior, however, researchers identified surprising similarities among adoptive siblings. First, in academic achievement, adoptive siblings turned out to have comparable IQs (although not as similar as those of biological siblings), as well as similar academic motivation and achievement levels. This is likely attributable to parental influence. Adoptive siblings were also alike in regard to problem behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, and disobedience. Having an older sibling with problem behavior was highly predictive of such behavior in younger siblings. Thus, the research suggests that problem behavior is less a matter of parental influence than of sibling influence. It’s too early to tell if the adoptive status of an older sibling is a factor.”

I knew that my adoptive children were as much ‘mine’ as my biological children, but it is always comforting when there is scientific research to confirm these feelings of ‘family.’ It will be interesting to see the conclusive results of this study in years to come. For now, I will enjoy my energetic little early birds and think of their sweet birth mom when they are knocking at my door at 5 am.