In the below video, Steven Pinker talks about his book The Blank Slate. It's an interesting video in that it talks about the nature vs. nurture principle. It comes up decidedly in favor of nature. He eventually starts talking about what implications this has for parenting. It's near the end of the video, but if you're going to watch it, I recommend not skipping anything. The whole talk is pretty good:
What he suggests is that any parenting skills we develop have very little influence on what happens to our children as they grow up. He tells a very compelling story using studies of twins. I'm inclined to believe his story. If it's true, it means that the parenting skills that I have worked hard to develop has little to do with how my children will turn out. Their character, responsibility, moral fiber, etc do not come from the environment that I provide.
In one sense, this is really freeing. It means that I don't have to stress to much. In another sense, this is rather depressing because I waste a lot of time trying to develop skills in parenting that will have little impact on them. But it also suggests something else. If I do spend all this time on parenting skills that have no benefit to the kids, there must be some other reason to develop these skills. It strikes me as an odd possibility that I develop those skills because they make me feel better about myself. Maybe development of my parenting skills gives me a rationale for the behavior of my children. If they behave well, good job me. If they don't, bad job me. In other words, parenting skills aren't about my kids; they're about me. When the random selection of genes that God has selected for them turns out good, I get to take some of the credit away from God. But when it turns out bad, I suspect I'd be more inclined to blame God for my childrens' dispositions. (I don't really know because I have great kids!)
Nevertheless, while I find the idea that nature plays an enormous role in how people turn out, I can't eliminate environment from the mix. Sure, two twins who are separated at birth and come back together later on might end up remarkably similar. But they had to have sufficient environments to allow them to survive so that they could come back together. If environment played no role at all, you could imagine a set of twins one delivered to a "mostly normal" family, and the other to an excessively violent and criminal family. If the 2nd twin was murdered by that family, then that twin would never grow up to reunite and compare to the 1st twin.
My point with this rather ghastly and extreme thought experiment is that environment must play *some* role. I wonder how much. If a lot, then my parenting skills aren't just an ego trip. They pay some benefit to my children. If hardly any, then I'm even more of an egomaniac than I thought I was.