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Do Bad Kids = Bad Parents?

Stephanie Rausser

When my son Henry was born last year, I started to realize just how little I knew about parenting, despite the fact that I was doing it for the second time. Everything that I thought I knew about kids after having my son Ben two years earlier no longer seemed to apply; these kids were polar opposites (and thank goodness, given how colicky and challenging a baby Ben had been). Seeing how mellow and peaceful Henry was really threw my husband and me for a loop; how could the same parents have possibly produced such a different kid?

Though colicky Ben was; horrible he is not. And for that I am particularly thankful after reading this week’s “Mind” column in the New York Times, Accepting that Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds.” The author, Dr. Richard A. Friedman, a psychiatrist, says that, “perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children.” He moves on to examine how distressing such a notion can be, given that it runs counter to a popular belief that people “have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement.” But, just as not everyone will turn into a brilliant adult, neither will everyone become a kind person, regardless of how they are raised. He concludes by saying that parents shouldn’t be so quick to judge themselves – or congratulate themselves -- as some character traits are genetic and can’t be wholly influenced by parents or environment.

What do you think? Are some people just bad people naturally, in spite of their parents’ best efforts? Are there any “bad seeds” in your family?