In a recent article about homeless people, a newspaper columnist said that at one time all of these homeless people were babies. He is, obviously, correct. I am often struck by the nearly unlimited potential of the babies and wonder how they will turn out as they are shaped by their environment. Will they be just like their parents? Will the baby of the drug addict become an addict too? Will the baby of the father who stole a tote bag with dvd’s and cash from another family – and who was caught on security TV monitors doing so - turn out to be a thief? Will the baby whose teen-aged mom used to do her homework while visiting in the NICU – wow, I wish I saw more of our parents doing that – and who told me of her plans for law school, turn out to be the one who breaks out of the cycle of low education, bad jobs, young single parenthood, and poverty? (I’m rooting for her to do that.)
I realize that every baby is not a blank slate, but is in fact already partly programmed by his or her genes. But how much can they change according to their upbringing? In adjacent incubators we have two babies who will be brought up worlds apart from each other. One is the baby of a heroin addict; the other is a baby of a teen-age Muslim mother who just arrived from the Middle East one week ago, the day before she delivered. The former may bounce from foster home to foster home, but will be able to strive for almost any choice she likes. The latter will be raised in a stable home with great family support – but will she be a free woman, or will she have to be quiet in the presence of doctors and let the men around her do all the talking? And which of those two has it better?
Far be it from me to judge. The answer, of course, varies with the person answering. I'm just glad I get to take care of them when they're closest to being a blank slate.