Does nurture trump nature in children’s wellbeing?


A particular hot potato topic on family life is that of where a child thrives best.

The traditionally-held belief by many is that the ‘gold standard’ for child-rearing is the heterosexual couple naturally conceiving their children and bringing them up in a stable home from cradle to adulthood.

Of course, this view naturally puts into second place any other form of parenting modes, including single parenting, same-sex couple parenting, couples who conceive via assisted reproduction (such as IVF), and those who adopt children.

Now a new study suggests that nurture plays a far more important role in how well a child does in that family unit, than the actual makeup of that family.

Research gathered over the past 35 years suggests that children raised in what might still be called ‘alternative’ families, do just as well as children raised in traditional families.

Additionally, gender identity and behaviour in both boys and girls shows now marked difference.

What’s potentially less easy to determine is exactly why this may be so. Long term studies such as this have to take into account many and varied factors, and despite best efforts, it can be hard to compare one family type with another.

What is often the case is that in family units where the child has not been naturally conceived, the parents are far more committed and involved in their children’s lives, due mainly to the time and planning involved in creating the family unit.

By contrast, natural conception may happen in many different circumstances, may be unplanned, and may not necessarily lead to the best family life.

What the research suggests is that children are just as likely to either thrive or have problems irrespective of how many or of what gender their parents are.



Interestingly, though unsurprisingly, society as a whole can play an important role in how secure a child may feel in his or her upbringing.

Attitudes towards IVF, adoption, single, same-sex parenting, and the traditional family – either positive or negative – can all play a role in how children perceive themselves and their worth. This in itself is not the fault of the parents, despite the likelihood that traditionalists might argue the case.

Where a child may struggle in a single-parent family, the research suggests this is more likely to be because of the negative social and economic factors which are often associated with single parenthood.

Perhaps most controversially of all, the research suggests that the absence of a maternal figure is not detrimental to a child’s development. The same is observed when thinking of a father figure, though this view is already fairly well established.

It seems a no-brainer to say that a child is going to do far better in a family where they are loved, cared for, nurtured, encouraged and educated, than one which is neglectful, ambivalent, or even abusive.

This in itself should have particular implications for those involved in adoption services.

It means that single and same-sex couples should be equally considered as prospective adopters on a level playing field with heterosexual couples, if they are not already.

We all have our own ideas of what the ‘ideal’ family looks like. Ultimately, it’s the nurture of our children which helps set them on the right path, rather than the exact parenting model.

Via Child and Family Blog