Think “Nature vs. Nurture” no more. Marvel at the mix.

Think “Nature vs. Nurture” no more. Marvel at the mix.

This is a guest post by Jody Cantrell Dyer, author of The Eye of Adoption: The True Story of My Turbulent Wait for a Baby

When my son Houston was four years old, he begged, “Mama, will you please “verse” me in ping-pong?” Since infancy, Houston had tucked himself right next to his daddy to watch countless football and basketball games. He had heard ESPN and local announcers use the word “versus” thousands of times.  I laughed at his invented verb “verse” and, smitten, played an animated game of ping-pong with him in our basement laundry room.

Houston was an only child for eight years, so I was his usual playmate. This was not the plan. I dreamed of having three children but could not make that happen on my own. My husband Jeff was adopted in 1963. I suffer from secondary infertility. We worked our way through the eye-opening, arduous processes of infertility treatments, then adoption, to welcome Houston’s baby brother Scotty in 2010. Our relationship with Scotty’s birth parents, especially his birthmother Kerri, is “wide” open, which gives me great access to his biological background.

Kerri and the modern adoption process have taught me so much—academically and spiritually—that I felt compelled to help other women as they set out on a similar course. I wrote and published the book I had needed during those tumultuous, yet rewarding years. The book description for my memoir, The Eye of Adoption: The True Story of My Turbulent Wait for a Baby, reads:

…Dyer…directly addresses the sorrows of infertility and the demands of adoption while consistently word-weaving a life rope of assurance and optimism for her readers. A middle-aged wife, mother, and teacher, Dyer “tells it like it is” in hopes that waiting adoptive parents, birthparents, adoptees, and those close to them will find kinship through her story.

Kinship is crucial. We become kin! Adoptive mothers, especially open adoptive mothers, have so much to think about. I often meet challenging comments or questions. One reader complimented that my “modern” attitude toward relationships between birth families and adoptive families should be a national conversation because it is compassionate toward “both sides.” I agree with her assertion, but I don’t like the term “sides.” Just as I dislike the phrase, “nature vs. nurture.”

According to, one can define the term “versus” in one of two ways:

against (used especially to indicate an action brought by one party against another in a court of law, or to denote competing teams or players in a sports contest)
as compared to or as one of two choices; in contrast with: traveling by plane versus traveling by train.

In adoption, nature is not in opposition to nurture. My son’s genetic makeup is what makes him biologically unique. My family’s nurturing makes him loved and makes him ours.  In adoption, nature and nurture work in harmony. As I get to know Kerri more, and watch Scotty develop, I marvel at the mix.

In The Eye of Adoption, my mother-in-law writes a touching contribution about the events surrounding her meeting her son, my husband, Jeff, for the first time. She states:

…The social worker told us the baby may have red hair and asked if that would bother us.
I told her, “Absolutely not. We have red hair in our family, too.”
She asked if it was okay if the baby was athletic and if we would support him if he wanted to play sports.
Again, I answered, “Absolutely.”

The social worker predicted correctly. Jeff is tall, lanky, and athletic. He is built like his biological family. Both of my in-laws were of average height and neither was athletic. When the social worker cautioned that Jeff may “be naturally inclined to play sports,” she was preparing his nurturers for his nature. From his birth father, Jeff inherited innate skill. He was a standout high school and junior college basketball player. From his adoptive parents, Jeff learned the arts of devotion to family and unconditional love. They never missed a game.

Throughout Jeff’s life, people have asked his mother, “How did Jeff get to be so tall?” Her response has always been “We are just lucky.”

By the time we were approved to adopt, Houston — then seven-years-old — already demonstrated natural athletic talent. He excelled at three sports. Initially, we asked our agency to help us find a daughter, but I had a change of heart during the wait. I kidded to Jeff, “You know that, if we change this paperwork to indicate we will adopt either sex, we’ll get a short little boy who doesn’t like sports. [Are you okay with that?]” Jeff answered, “Yes!” Many months later, we got “the call” that a birth mother wanted to meet us. Ecstatic, we met with our social worker Mark the very next day. From The Eye of Adoption:

Mark told us Kerri was twenty-one years old, five feet one inch tall, from Knoxville, and outgoing. Bryant was twenty years old, five feet seven inches tall, from Pennsylvania, smart, and funny. I tuned in carefully when Mark teasingly asked us to guess the child’s sex.
“A boy?”
Mark confirmed my guess.
I smiled at Jeff, “There’s your short little boy!”

When we met Kerri, she dazzled us with her bright wit, outgoing demeanor, and positive attitude. She also freaked Jeff out when she told us she had a pet rat named Tizzie! Jeff and I were emotionally drawn to Kerri and her unborn son, but we had to make the academic decision whether or not to adopt him. For days, we labored over the circumstances and risks with Kerri and Bryant. Our social worker called to find out our decision. I listed all the legitimate sources for our concern and then joked that Jeff couldn’t get past the pet rat. In many ways, Kerri was very different from us.  I will never forget what our social worker said. He lovingly coached, “Environment is everything. Tell Jeff that if you adopt this baby, he will be a Dyer, and he won’t have a pet rat! Your child will inherit unique traits from his birth family, but he will also like baseball and basketball [simply] because Houston does.”  I also remembered what my mother-in-law’s social worker said to her in 1963: “We are looking for a home for the baby, not a baby for the home.”

Houston is now eleven years old. He is in the ninety-eight percentile in height and is a natural athlete who excels in basketball and baseball. He and Jeff have the same gait; I am never certain who it is I hear pacing down our wood-floored hallway. Houston stands just like my father. He is freckled and fair like me. He has Jeff’s quiet disposition but my dry sense of humor.

Scotty, now three years old, is in the tenth percentile in height.  Scotty likes to eat donuts, sing “Wheels on the Bus,” and wiggle in his car seat to Top 40 songs. He has Bryant’s olive skin tone and elfish ears and Kerri’s spritely body and tilted eyes. Like Kerri, he is affectionate, sociable, and talkative.

I was all excited to buy Scotty a guitar or trombone or discover his special God-given, biologically-given talents, but Scotty is obsessed with baseball, basketball, and golf. Just like Jeff and Houston.  And he is good at all three, for a three-year-old, anyway.

Surely he was born with such superb hand-eye coordination. That can’t be taught, can it? Maybe a biological relative has a gifted golf swing. Maybe Kerri and Bryant were good athletes but just never tried out for sports.

Perhaps Scotty’s love of sports stems from his early introduction; I used to play the quiet, scenic golf channel while Scotty snoozed in his swing in the living room. Scotty was the tiniest fan at least a dozen travel baseball tournaments his first year of life. At Houston’s basketball games, Scotty (now three-years-old) rushes the court during time-outs and half-times to “shoot that ball.” He is also a passionate golf enthusiast. If you ask him who his best friends are, he’ll answer “Houston and Tiger Woods.” If he’s not putting his way through the house, he is in the yard making chip shots. And, he is good. He consistently amazes spectators with his efforts hit off a tee, line up his putts, sink the ball, and wave to the gallery.

Scotty’s nickname is the “Roaming Gnome,” not only because of his small stature, but also because he contentedly rambles in, out of, and through his homemade backyard golf course, dugouts, batting cages, bullpens, concession stands, benches, and bleachers. Like he was born to be there.

A friend recently called being placed for adoption a “primal wound.”  I consider infertility a primal wound as well. So, it’s logical that many come to adoption through loss and with fear. I find myself, almost daily, explaining many aspects of adoption and answering the same uninformed, yet kind-hearted, questions and comments I posed just a few years ago. I understand others’ confusion and their tendency to see the biological bond between Kerri and Scotty as a threat to my mother-son relationship with him. I am quite open about open adoption. I am Nurture. She is Nature. We are friends!

Adoption is a complex topic for many, so adoptive parents should meet questions with forgiveness and honesty. We may not always feel like teaching, but we do need to change the conversation to one of compassion and tolerance. Nature should not oppose nurture. There is no threat, no competition between birth and adoptive parents; we don’t “verse each other.”

It won’t be long before, again, Scotty will put on a stellar golf exhibition, and someone will ask, “How did he get that great golf swing?” I think I will answer, with confidence, “We are just lucky!”

– By Jody Cantrell Dyer

Jody Cantrell Dyer is an adoptive mother, teacher, and writer in East Tennessee. In her memoir, The Eye of Adoption: the true story of my turbulent wait for a baby, Dyer directly addresses the sorrows of infertility and the demands of adoption while consistently word-weaving a life-rope of assurance, optimism, and humor for her readers.

The Eye of Adoption is available on and through Jody’s website:  Read Jody’s blog of comedic and varied content, Theories: Size 12, Musings from a Mountain Mama, at Follow Jody on Twitter @jodycdyer.

Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. She is the host of Portrait of an Adoption.

Follow Carrie Goldman on Twitter and find her blog on Facebook

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