Before I get into the nature of creating a place to nurture, I want to give very basic info about the human genome. The human genome contains 30,000 genes, but genes are really allelic pairs at specific points on the strands of DNA.
Natural Nurture: “Most behaviors… likely result from multiple genes operating in tandem.”
Nurture: “…the genome has yet another kind of responsiveness—over different time frames. This includes the moment to moment of the present hour; the time an organism takes to develop into an adult; throughout an organism’s lifetime; and, finally, across evolutionary time. All these time scales impact the genome, with consequent downstream effects on behavior—and subsequently back again to the genes.”
So much depends upon… nesting.
I cannot talk about nesting without the above preamble on nature versus nurture.
Nesting, or the building of a home or sleeping place for yourself or your family or home group, is a basic behavior for most complex organisms. Something happens to our brains to make us ready for welcoming a little being into our family. Anyone who has had a child knows that your brain changes during gestation.
To see that this is true for humans, just look at the Martha Stewart empire, Real Simple, or House Beautiful magazine or website.
I first thought about nesting behavior in humans when as an undergraduate I had the opportunity to take a seminar on the Biogram with Dr. Earl W. Count (Yes, his name was really Earl Count.) in the Anthropology Department at Purdue University in the late 1970s. It was an honor to have a glimpse of what a course was like in decades prior. The rigor of thought and study expected from all students was intense and truly heralded back to a previous time when universities were repositories of knowledge and education as a business was not on the horizon.
I will never forget Professor Count talking about the broody phase where the female of the species just has to make a place to have the baby, she cannot help herself. It is a biological imperative. Humans included. I am personally convinced that our broody phase never ends. While some people refer to midlife empty nesters, I have always found the term empty nest to be a bit removed from reality. When my daughter left home after college at the local university for a year off before 4 years of graduate school I did not feel as though my nest was empty. I felt as though I had been very successful with her launch and was now presented with restructuring the nest for my husband and me. I did not feel empty. My house did not feel empty. I was ready to start the next phase of life, whatever it was.
The more I thought about this the more I realized that my reaction was a bit atypical. Either most people are not as successful in launching their children, and I admit that I was lucky, but there were bumps and hiccups and missteps. Or we are misapplying our human version of nesting behavior.
I need to share that my experience is in no way typical, and I am analytical to the nth degree. My husband and I are both eggheads who came out of pretty old-fashioned, hard working families. We had one child together who followed along 14 years after a child from his first marriage. We valued education, experience, and material things were and are not that high on our need to have or accomplish scale.
So what I’ve come up with is an incomplete list of the ways humans make nests and engage in nesting behavior over the course of their entire lives. This exists beyond the monetary structure of our society that is layered over everything as procurement.
Dwellings: Houses, apartments, farms
I believe that different people have different drives for permanence and familiarity that show up in the way travel from a home base is handled.
- Some people stay close to the home where they were born.
- Some stay in contact with that home and essentially report back from the places they venture out to explore.
- Some venture out and do not feel the need to return home.
This may well be under some genetic control. Are you a risk taker? Do you need a support group? Do have an itch to travel. Do new experiences energize you?
Decorating, comfort, privacy
I think of this as the feathered bird consideration. Some feathers are to keep birds, and dinosaurs, warm and dry. But sometimes the feathers are for display and to attracts mates or show status. Housing certainly plays that role too. We like to show that we have a certain status or ability to create surroundings that allows us to be selected as special, beautiful, clever, or healthy, or sets us apart as a nest builder.
Food and Clothing
Some people need to grow things, explore land, and forage. Familiarity with plants is a pretty basic human need. We need to eat. We need to eat to things that are not toxic. We need someone in our extended social or familial group who can tell one plant from another. Clothing can also come from the fibers of plants we eat or become familiar with through foraging and the ability to manipulated plant items gives us a much greater ability to buffer the environment through layers of protection from the environment. Finding resources in our environment may well translate foraging into bargain hunting or shopping.
Education and training
Preparing the next generation for launch is part of nesting. Humans have extended the normal learning and training period to cover decades. Most species have a specific period outside of which such behavior does not take place. We are just as able to help rear our children’s children or the children of our community as we are able to teach our children when we are in our prime reproductive years.
Our nesting behaviors show biological aspects, but we have extended and recombined these behaviors through culture. Sadness or unease with our offspring creating their own nests may simply mean that we have not transferred the skills we have learned in child-rearing and home building and which have given us positive reinforcement and satisfaction to a broader nest. Some of us may be able to extend these skills more easily than others. It may have to do with the cultural expression of how we are biologically programmed to define our home range, find food, create new tools and clothes, and the size of groups with which we are comfortable sharing information.
I find that looking at my own behavior through the largest lens possible gives me freedom to act in ways that promote my sense of well-being and interpret my life and surroundings in ways that I define as successful. How we define our comfort surroundings may not change all that much through life, but how we view comfort does extend beyond the people in our daily environment and how we create it.