Chicken Soup (for the soul)

The best dish in the world is chicken soup made by someone you love especially for you. I had quite forgotten the magic of this simple soup that nourishes the soul until someone who loves me made it for me a week ago. He said, with a wry smile, there are seven jewels of Asia in it.

I paid if forward today and made it for someone I love deeply. I can’t quite figure out all the seven jewels of Asia, but here’s my version:

  1. 1 organic chicken quarter (I used chicken breast)
  2. 10 red Chinese dates
  3. A quarter cupful of goji berries
  4. A fee shitake mushrooms
  5. 3 cloves garlic, roughly smashed
  6. 3/4 inch ginger
  7. 1 chilli (or less)
  8. Szechuan peppercorns
  9. Bok choi
  10. For garnish: fresh flat leaf parsley
  11. For garnish: spring onions
  12. Salt and pepper

Boil everything except the boy choitogether (I boiled mine for 2 hours, with a dash of cider vinegar). In the last 2 minutes before serving, add the book choi. Season and garnish. Serve with love ❤

(I love the delicate flavour of this version, as opposed to my usual more hearty one)

Healthy sweets – natural energy balls

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 19.04.46

I almost bought this, but in the same shop a few feet away, there were bags of nuts and dried fruits for sale at a remarkable price: buy one and get the second bag for 1p.

So instead of paying £1.99 for ONE energy ball, I bought a few ingredients and made twelve. Here are the ingredients of my version:

  • 2 cups medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut (save some for rolling the energy balls in)
  • 1/4 cup carob powder
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure Madagascar vanilla essence

Blend everything on the list until smooth.

Mix with a handful of pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Roll in 1/2 cup of desiccated coconut. Shape into balls and store in a airtight container. If you keep in the fridge, they will be a little hard but still yummy. They don’t last that long in my house 🙂

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 19.00.18.png

Removing shoes (and fear)

Living without fear

I wrote Barefoot In The City – Raising Happy, Strong Kids whilst living in the middle of a busy city, where the skyline had been replaced by skyscrapers and trees cut down to make way for developments – schools, shopping malls, towering condominium blocks. People who knew this place before ‘progress’ came often talked about the monkeys swinging on the trees and butterflies dancing in the still afternoon air. On weekends when we drove out of the city into the receding rainforest, we used to see families of monkeys migrating, sometimes walking single-file along the sides of the motorway, in search of a new home. Once, we witnessed something rather distressing – a baby monkey had been run over by the savage traffic and its mother was howling in despair whilst trying to retrieve her child’s corpse as juggernauts and cars thundered uncaringly by.

My children’s father stopped the car and risked his life to help the monkey.  Many years on, I still berate him for dicing with death in front of his children.

“It’s precisely because my children were watching that I did what I did,” he said with his usual confidence.

He wanted to show them another way of being, namely one where we are all part of the same existence and are somehow connected to everyone and everything. And crucially, we cannot afford to lose that connection, because it is, quite simply, fundamental to life. Children know this wisdom instinctively – this is why they are fearless until we teach them fear from a misguided and skewed perspective. Behind our concrete walls, metallic cages and certificates of achievements, we live fearful of nature and fearful of our true nature, becoming more and more estranged each year.

Being connected again

When we moved to the city from a sleepy seaside town in southern England, my youngest daughter refused to wear shoes for months. She would insist on going barefooted everywhere (hence the title of my parenting book), to the chagrin of most people. Her father just laughed and rejoiced in his daughter’s fight to walk barefoot in a world peopled by folks wearing shoes. We couldn’t figure this out for the longest time, until a wise person told us that 4-year-old Georgina was struggling to stay connected to nature. He complimented us for not forcing her to go against her inner knowing, because after all, dirty feet can easily be washed clean.

In the light of this understanding, we set out to make our city home as close to nature as we possibly could, and it was the best thing we could do for Georgina. She grew strong and fearless, with compassion and a surprising soft spot for animals and vulnerable beings. Though she claims she can’t swim, she was happy enough as a child to swim for miles out in the Javanese sea without any buoyancy aid and she understood sea life as taught by the visionary Roderick des Tombes, the first of her many life teachers. We realised that indeed, she couldn’t swim in the school swimming pool, but she was fine in the open ocean. I think she has the ocean and the earth and the stars within her, even though she now lives in grey and concrete south London.

Screenshot 2019-08-20 at 20.20.28

Last Sunday, at a convention held at the University of Greenwich, London, I listened to a Cree woman from Canada speak about her people. “My people are very sick,” were the words she began her lecture with. She talked about the sickness of her people that came from losing their connection to the land as they became a marginalised population, pushed out by ‘civilisation’. Jazmin Pirozek is an ethnobotanist and had studied phytochemistry, amongst her many deeply spiritual, mystical learnings. She travelled far, to the depths of South America, to find a cure for her people. There, she met her teacher, Juan Flores Salazaar, who taught her many things about healing.

This is Jazmin’s story:

The Legend of Miskwedo

Once upon a time, there were two brothers. Their parents were killed during the Great Migration and they only had each other. One day, because they were hungry, the younger brother ran with abandon into a field of amanita that people were fearful of. To the older brother’s horror, the younger brother began changing form – he was slowly changing into an amanita.

Screenshot 2019-08-20 at 20.27.01

The older brother sought help from the villagers, who told him that to change his younger brother back into a boy again, he (the older brother) had to gather some special sand and put it in a deerskin pouch. And then he had to get three eagle feathers from the largest eagle (known as thunderbird, because it was so huge and fearsome). The thunderbird’s nest was perched on the branches of the highest tree, and the base of the tree was a minefield of vicious stinging nettles. But for the love of his younger brother, the older brother completed his herculean tasks and restored his younger brother back into his boy form.

One night, in the middle of the night, the older brother woke up and discovered that his younger brother was not in the wigwam. In panic, he rushed out and looked for his younger brother. He finally found his younger brother in the middle of a field covered with amanita. His younger brother had one hand on the amanita and slowly changing form again. And as he was changing form, he was speaking to a large gathering of people.

“I am happy,” he said.

(Note: this is a brief retelling of Jazmin’s magical tale. You can get the full version here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.1979.10472089?needAccess=true&journalCode=ujpd19).

The field of amanita

In The Legend of Miskwedo, the field of amanita was described so beautifully, “handsome wajashkwedeg they were – turning and revolving, buzzing and murmuring, singing a strange song of happiness under the brilliantly sunny sky”.

We dream of finding such a field as we carry on with our daily lives. “It does not exist,” we tell ourselves, not daring to believe in the improbable.

But let me share a secret with you – pieces of this field do exist in yourworld. You only have to open your eyes and rid the fear in your heart to see it, the true nature of the universe in every grain of sand.

68678744_705919786521696_8839972108910985216_n

Photo: The beauty of small things, Singapore 2016

68754112_705917453188596_8249523249419911168_n

Photo: Teaching the next generation about the world we live in – edible plants, London 2017

About Jazmin: https://www.breakingconvention.co.uk/speaker-JazminPirozek.html

Photo of amanita mascara: public domain image Albin Schmalfuß Führer für Pilzfreunde : die am häufigsten vorkommenden essbaren, verdächtigen und giftigen Pilze / von Edmund Michael ; mit 68 Pilzgruppen, nach der Natur von A. Schmalfuss [1] https://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.3898

Main photo: author’s copyright Phuket 2018

Adobo – a much-loved Filipino dish

My youngest child’s godmother is Filipino, and when she and her daughter came to stay with me in London for a few days, I decided to make her national dish. It does take a lot of work but it is well worth it – what a heart-warming comfort food! It was actually a joint effort – I started it off and she finished the cooking process. This is our version (she added Worcestershire sauce and fried onions and fried garlic as garnishing).

Step 1:

Pork belly, preferably with a thick layer of fat

¼ cup salt

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp ground black pepper

1 star anise

3 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic chopped

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 cup water

Cut the pork into thick long strips, about 1 inch wide.

Mix all other ingredients thoroughly and pour over the pork. Marinade the pork in this overnight (I do this in a casserole dish that I just put into the oven the next day).

The next day, roast the pork in its marinade, after wrapping it on top with parchment paper and wrapping the top of the casserole dish with tin foil.

Bake in an oven (235F/160C) for approximately 3 hours.

Put on a wire rack to cool and then refrigerate overnight.

Step 2:

Deep fry the pork in hot oil until the skin is crispy. Slice the thick pork strips up.

Step 3 (making the gravy)

1 cup water

1 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp sunflower oil

3 bay leaves

2 tbsp black pepper

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup coconut milk (this is optional, Rona said her daughter prefers it without).

Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes until rich and thick.

Step 4:

Heat up the pork and put in the gravy.

Fry sliced onions and garlic in sunflower oil to garnish.

Slice spring onions to garnish.

Serve with boiled rice and poached eggs. This is our simple Filipino dinner.

Screenshot 2019-07-22 at 08.45.24.png

PS: It tastes even better as leftover. Woy took it to work in a Tupperware – rice at the bottom, meat ladled on top and sauteed vegetables on the side. he said it’s almost as good as his bigos, the Polish national dish – recipe coming up next!

67185364_685483861898622_4199779894323838976_n

 

Teaching resonance

I am teaching Woy about flowers, and by extension, about me. I am not a ‘flowery’ sort of person, I would say, but nonetheless, living blooms (never plastic ones) are very much a part of me. This is because I grew up surrounded by my mother’s flowers – I see my mother’s warmth and ever-present smile in the petals and stamens and green leaves that she filled my childhood home up with. Now, decades later, there would still be flowers in my old bedroom whenever I go home.

Once, I went home to my parents’ house when they were abroad, and I was bereft when I walked into the drawing room and my bedroom. They were devoid of my mother’s blooms. It was like the whole place was lifeless and dead.

In the beginning, Woy would bring me big bunches of yellow chrysanthemums, still in the polythene wrapper. They sit awkwardly in my flat, amongst the things of my life – a watercolour painting of Yorkshire from my much-loved aunt, a crystal decanter from my dad, old Welsh placemats from my parents’ house,  a silver Victorian candlestick holder.

“Well, I can’t really bring you roses, can I?” He mused. “Do you like lilies, orchids? What do you like?”

“You’ll find out.”

One day, when we were in Waitrose, I picked up a bunch of Sweet Williams and held it up triumphantly to Woy.

“They look like weeds,” he said. “But for some reason, I know these are the type of flowers you love.”

He asked, “What are they called?”

Sweet Williams.

He googled them. “Hmmm, no particular history or anything. But they’re like you, aren’t they? Child of the many countries, hardy and tough. But they still look like weeds.” He shoved them into vases and jars as I put the shopping away.

61602034_653380038442338_624222244628856832_n

“Woy,” I said to him. “Learn to see their beauty.”

“What do you mean?”

They’re not just weeds.

There’s a permanence in their impermanence, a stoicism in their delicacy, and I love their lack of pretence, their defiance, their ordinariness. Sweet Williams last a long time. A £5 bunch would last almost two weeks if you look after them (chop off the ends every 4-5 days, feed them with lemonade).

A couple of weeks ago, I had an accident on my bicycle. Woy filled my home with Sweet Williams, but this time, he arranged them with much thought behind his actions. I was completely blown away by the sweetness of his flower arrangements. They resonate with our home, our life, our way of living.

“I listened,” he said simply.

file-100

file2-6

file3-3

And yes, they are still well after 2 weeks, in my drawing room, my bathroom and my bedroom. I shall have to call rename them Sweet Woys.

 

 

 

Strength from within

Note: This is a religious post.

******

I am sad that this little bookshop, in the shadows of Westminster Cathedral, is closing.  The lease is up for renewal, and this small humble business could no longer afford to keep going. It had been an important part of my children’s life – the shop sold lovely picture books and cute stationery that my children used to spend their money on after church.

I am a strong believer in religious education (which is part of religious life) for children. In our Catholic faith, children attend Sunday school, which gives them another perspective of the material, immediate-gratification world that they live in. And it is always good for children to have another perspective, especially one where the theme is do good, be kind, forgive.

It teaches a child that you are loved, even if you are naughty. You always have a friend in God.  OK, you might say that God does not exist (who could tell?) but even if He does not, the belief that you are loved and not alone in your vulnerable times makes a world of difference. I think it makes you strong on the inside.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 9.21.39Photo: My youngest daughter in the sweet little church we go to in Phuket – far from home, we found belonging here.

More than anything, religion teaches young people to believe in something else greater than the self and now. There is always a better tomorrow, and that there is life beyond this one. We are here for a reason, so what you are going through is just part of the journey called life. I think that’s a very powerful tool in helping children, especially teenagers, to get over the tough times, to take them out of the me, me, me mode which could be overwhelming.

Social groups in church gives children an escape from school life, which is not always rosy. I think it is important that children and teenagers learn how to integrate with society, and I love the fact that my children hang out with a different group than their usual social set via the church. For example, as expat kids, my children lived a privileged life of international schools, but on Sundays, they went for their Catechism in a local school where there was no air-conditioning, no carpets on the floor and where they had to share rickety wooden desks. They had a new set of friends which taught them as much as the Catechism – adaptability, humility, accepting differences, gratitude, love.

The good thing is you can leave the church anytime (after you are 18, as I told my children), but it will never leave you. It will always be there like a patient teacher. Recently, my mother told me to look for inner beauty – she sensed I needed it. But where do I find inner beauty in the hustle bustle of my current life?

I kind of forgot what my mother asked of me until Sunday, when I walked into Westminster Cathedral, a couple of minutes late, and Gloria was being sung.  The beautiful voices of the choir rose high up and filled the whole cathedral. I thought to myself, I have learned to find meaning here, in God’s refuge, and whatever troubling thoughts I had that week settled in the face of inner beauty. Yes, my religion gives me strength and I hope it does for my children too in today’s challenging world.

Here’s Gloria, by the Westminster Cathedral Choir.

How dishonest are you?

49709888_581084515671891_2553867728356114432_n

This is my son Jack when he was a little boy (he is 25 now). When he was around 8 or so, we were on the plane and he started feeling sick. We gave him the sick bag provided by the airline, the generic one that you can find in front of every seat on the plane.

In any event, Jack did not throw up, but was still looking rather green on the gills when we landed. We told him to take the bag with him, just in case.

He looked very concerned and asked us, “Am I allowed to remove this from the plane?”

Of course, we laughed. It’s just a cheap – almost worthless – paper bag, right?

Read on….

******

We have been duped many times in our lives. We just don’t know it. I am no exception. A few years ago, I was badly duped. Not only did it cost me money but also two years of my life which is a whole lot more precious than money.

When I confronted the person who so callously strung me along, I was met with a barrage of very earnest denial. That person denied that was what happened, despite the overwhelming evidence and facts. He genuinely believed that he acted in good faith. For a while, I doubted him. Now, incredibly, I do believe him. Who knows, I may be guilty of doing the same too, in my everyday life, to several people, unwittingly.

Thanks to my psychologist friend (we continue to talk about this), who sent me this illuminating book:

51wgwm1asrl._sx330_bo1,204,203,200_

Here’s the video (well worth watching):

 

No, it is not to moralise, but to think about our rationale. So perhaps my little Jack was behaving correctly all along, when he wanted to ask permission to remove a worthless paper bag from the plane….because it is so easy to slip from stealing something infinitely more valuable. Mea culpa.

Here’s how to be a Finnish parent: kalsarikänni

A few years ago, a quiet country called Finland came to world attention suddenly: from relative obscurity, its education system was suddenly hailed as the best in the world.   One was the documentary, Waiting for Superman, about the poor state of American education (despite the No Child Left Behind policy and large investment in education), and the second was the stellar performance of Finnish students in PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment.

I was in Asia at that time, with three or four school aged children in a very competitive, academic school. I looked on with bemusement as folks here scrambled like lemmings to emulate Finland’s success. There’s even a Chinese word for it, kiasu, meaning ‘afraid to lose’.

Private schools and international schools of course capitalised on this kiasu-ness of parents. Words such as lifelong learner, problem-solver, resilient thinker, etc began popping up in marketing material, vocabulary and curricula already laden with homework, tuition, assignments, more tuition.

And here’s the thing: I think these schools AND parents who are suddenly longing for Finnish education are schizophrenic. They want to emulate Finland’s success, but the very nature of Finland’s success when it comes to education is its non-competitive nature:

  1. There are no mandated, standardised tests in Finland except for ONE exam at the end of a student’s senior year in high school;
  2. There are no rankings, no comparisons, no competitions amongst students, teachers or schools;
  3. If one method doesn’t work for a student, try something else rather than beating him/her to finish first amongst the strong finishers.

My view as a mother of five who have always been keenly involved in education (I was a school governor of my children’s school in Portsmouth) is that pushy parents and relaxed Finnish style education simply do not mix. You have more chance of mixing oil with water.

Finnish children climb trees. Finnish children use sharp blades to build their own playhouses. Finnish children don’t go for tuitions. Finnish children don’t spend all their hours indoors. And most of all, Finnish parents simply don’t compare …. since comparison is not in the national ethos.

Equality is the most important word in Finnish educationOlli Lukkainen, president of Finland’s teaching union.

And as we well know, it all starts from the home though of course, schools and national education systems do have some impact on how your child will turn up. But I would always maintain that parents are the main teachers.  Your ideologies, your values, your ethos and your philosophies shape your child’s psyche as surely as the river shapes the landscape it flows through every day. If you are pushy, stressed out, competitive about your kid’s exam scores, you’re not going to have a relaxed, happy, curious kid with an inquiring mind. Your kid would be too afraid to fail (or worse still, not care a jot about failing) have the time and space to explore, expand, formulate, rationalise, grow….because all his/her available resource would be invested into the pointless task beating the exams and beating “competitors” rather than actual learning.

So, in the interest of education, let me share with you the mindset of the Finnish people that perhaps is the key factor to the success of the Finnish education system: kalsarikänni.

It basically means sitting around in the home, drinking beer in your underpants, watching some TV maybe. Yes, I kid you not. But at the heart of kalsarikänni is optimal peace of mind, comfort and equilibrium.

Here’s an enlightened article about it in The Guardian, written by the Finnish author Miska Rantanen:

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 11.47.00

Though I have just learned about the word for this particular way of being only a couple of days ago, it is something that my children’s father and I have always practised in parenting: I never go to school meetings with my children’s teachers (my communication with my children are honest and frequent enough for me to know if there is a need for my intervention) and my children’s father often (like four days a week) took my youngest to the pub after work when she was young. Even the damn dog went to the pub in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. I wrote about my daughter’s beermat-flipping skills (as the result of spending 4 days a week waiting for her father to finish drinking with his mates in the pub) in my book. She actually did most of her homework and studying in the pub.

IMG_5270.JPG

So why am I so chilled? Because my thesis is that a happy, well-balanced, and kind child with good social skills will always succeed as an adult So focus on the important bits.  Take a leaf out of the book of the Finns. Relax. The more you try to grab hold of something, the more it seeps out of your fingers like sand.

Here’s something for you to think about:

Schools are not just places for transmitting technical know-how. They must also be places where children can learn to be happy, loving, and understanding, where teachers nourish their students with their own insights and happiness.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”.

And from Great Parenting Simplified:

43165821_1976409142448932_8619565124698505216_n.jpg

My book, Easy Parenting For All Ages: A Guide For Raising Happy Strong Kids, is available for free download on kindle unlimited. Click on this link.

To order a copy of Pantsdrunk: The Finnish Art of Drinking at Home. Alone. In Your Underwear by Miska Rantanen, (Square Peg, £9.99) for £8.59, go to guardianbookshop.com

 

“Gourmet Challenge” Quiche

When my children were tiny and right up to their teens, we often spend the summer in our family hideaway on the Sierra Tramuntana on the isle of Mallorca. Here, for the blissful weeks of summer, we would live and eat simply.  What’s lovely is that over the years, many friends joined us at Melcion and the love grows.

1011252_439911849482813_3379456006831541369_n.jpg

Photo: my father and my son Jack.

One of our favourite family games at Melcion is Gourmet Challenge. The premise of the game is very simple: you have to rustle up a gourmet feast just from the ingredients you can find around the house and the garden.

The idea is quite simply Waste Not, Want Not. I abhor gratuitous trips to the supermarkets just to pick up one or two missing ingredients – what a waste of petrol, what a waste of time and what a waste of money, because you always end up buying more than what you set out for.

And the best thing about a Gourmet Challenge is you never really know what you’re going to get, and it is fun!

10153135_440781902729141_3311007851795113775_n.jpg

Photo: my little gourmets.

So, on this rainy day, I made a “Gourmet Challenge” Quiche. I found an old bag of spinach in my freezer that had been thawed and refrozen so many times, a leek (slightly off), two tomatoes and half an onion. I had the usual staples in my house – milk, cream, cheese, butter, eggs, garlic.  I even made the pastry from scratch!

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F.

For the pastry:

  • 100g unsalted butter, straight out of the fridge
  • 200g flour, sifted
  • 6 tablespoon cold water.

Cut the cold, hard butter into small cubes (save the wrapper for greasing the flan tin).  Rub the butter and the flour until they resemble breadcrumbs.

Add the water. Knead the dough, but not excessively, because you are not making bread! Shape into a ball, wrap the dough in beeswax wrap (or cling film, if you don’t have it) and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Grease the flan tin with the butter wrapper. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough.  Line the greased flan tin with the dough. It doesn’t matter if your dough crumbles – you can see from this photo that mine didn’t come away neatly in one large piece and I had to patch it up!

IMG_5221.JPG

It is highly recommended that you pre-bake the flan before adding in the filling, but I didn’t. If you wish to do things by the book, here’s how (as my mother would):

Line the pastry with foil and weigh down with baking beads or beans. Place the tin on a baking tray, then pop in the hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove the beans and the foil, then return to the oven for a further 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden.

For the filling:

Here’s the thing: baked cheese tastes good, no matter what.  This quiche that I made was especially yummy because I crumbled garlic Boursin into it (such decadence).

  • 3 large, organic eggs
  • 50g grated cheddar
  • 1/4 a garlic Boursin
  • 6 tablespoon creme fraiche
  • Approximately 50ml cooking cream
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all together until you have a thick slurry – adjust the volume of cooking cream used. Season generously.

These are the possible vegetable filling for your Gourmet Challenge Quiche (only the first four ingredients are important, the others are up to you):

  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • One red onion, sliced
  • Half a bunch of thyme
  • Few rashers of bacon
  • Frozen spinach, thawed, and water squeezed out
  • Leeks, sliced

Saute the garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Add the rest and continue to saute until thoroughly coated with the garlic-olive oil. Pour this into the prepared flan dish and finally, pour in the cream-egg-cheese slurry.

IMG_5222.jpg

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the filling is almost set. Leave to cool slightly, then carefully remove the flan tin. Delicious either hot or cold, and lasts for a couple of days in the fridge….enjoy 🙂

43253634_531922887254721_8654733583933505536_n.jpg

My cookbook, The Ca’n Melcion Cookbook which chronicles the food of those magical summers, is available on Amazon. Click on this link for a free preview.

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 0.07.32

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 21.03.07.png

DSC_0404 copy.jpg

 

 

“Blueprint” – genomics and our children, and what we cannot change

A few years ago, shortly after my parenting book was published, I was sat next to a child psychologist, waiting to give my talk.

402825_602736483073892_1528534836_n.jpg

He flipped through the pages of my book and laughed.

“Children come to us almost ready cooked,” he said with a broad grin. “Whatever parents and educators like to think.”

We went our separate ways after that, and I continued to spread my philosophy of imbuing our children’s childhood with love, light, laughter, kindness and all the good stuff, in the belief that how children are brought up will shape the adults they will become.  Indeed, it is still my core beliefs in parenting, namely how we live our lives as parents and the words we speak to our children become their norm.

Sure, Nature plays a part, but NURTURE can shape Nature.

But now, years later, Robert Plomin published a book that states the contrary, bringing to mind my conversation with the child psychologist of long ago.

download.jpg

Plomin is a geneticist and psychologist, and a Professor at Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre,  Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. This book took him 30 years to write.

According to Plomin, the key to personality traits does not lie in how you were treated by your parents, but rather in what you inherited biologically from them: namely, the genes in your DNA.

Whoa!!!! While there has always been widespread acceptance that genes determine our physiology for good and bad, much greater controversy has surrounded the subject of our psychology – our behaviour and personality traits.

And read this, dear parents and teachers:  Plomin’s argument is that, in a society with universal education, the greatest part of the variation in learning abilities is accounted for by genetics, not home environment or quality of school – these factors, he says, do have an effect but it’s much smaller than is popularly believed.

Indeed, there are many opponents to Plomin’s controversial views, but perhaps that comes from our still immature understanding of genomics – as explained by my daughter – the science of how the complete set of genetic material influences the whole organism (namely the study of interaction between genes). After all, it was only introduced in 1986 by Tom Roderick.

But pieces are emerging to debunk my long-held beliefs, though who knows what the “real” story is. Maybe there is more than one. Maybe it is a combination. Who knows. There is certainly a very strong genetic influence (mine) when it comes to my fifth child. Despite being of mixed race, she looks exactly like me. She also has my affinity for mathematics beyond what that can be taught, my impatience, my flash temper. Her father and I certainly did not nurture those three traits (especially the latter two!!) but she is certainly walking around with them, though she has her father’s sunniness, strong work ethics and stability. And his smile 🙂

10384609_465870793553585_8944267579932402188_n.jpg

I remember another conversation I had on the grounds of Priory Clinic in London about 4 years ago with a psychologist who told me, “I believe cruelty can be inherited.”

I had laughed at him then. “So you think one should interview the parents and grandparents before choosing a life partner?”

“Yes,” he had answered sombrely. “Human beings are just breathing, walking, talking, living bags of inherited genetic material and we spend our lives trying to over-ride our inherent nature.”

Sobering thought.  But I believe that even if Plomin & Co’s research and expertise are correct, we should still endeavour to create a loving, supportive and kind home for our children, without the expectations that it will lead to greatness (if neither of their parents are Einsteins). After all, one of the true values of parenting is that we become better people ourselves from the parenting process.

Plomin’s book sounds like a good read.  You can read an article about his book and his thoughts here.

E-version of my book is available here.