I read this article in NPR the other day that asked if you were a Carpenter or a Gardener style parent. I thought it was a really great metaphore. I am a Gardener. I knew it without having to read because the metaphore was so obvious but then I started to really think about how gardening and parenting are so much alike.
As some of you may know, I love gardening. I am not the best gardener by a long mile but I do love to watch things grow and I can say the same about my kids. My parental style has always been to give them enough space to explore. Some people think I am a lazy parent but I think I am giving them freedom to bloom.
I keep the rules at home to a minimum. I think the less rules there are, the less likely they are to break them so I pick the rules wisely. For instance. Don’t run out into the street is a pretty good rule although I can be sorta blunt when it comes to expressing why I need them to follow the rule like, “I don’t care how awesome you think you are, you aren’t going to beat a car.” On other things like running in inappropriate places, I give them ample warnings and if I really feel like they aren’t listening and at that moment, the consequence won’t be fatal or too damaging, I will let it play out because for some things, experience is the best teacher. I can tell you it really sucks when you decide to let you kids do it and they get hurt but I put on my stern face (even when a wreck inside) and tell them without apology, “I told you not to do that. Next time, listen to me.”
But beyond that, like my garden, sometimes it takes time to find the right place for a plant to grow. I have a pomagranate that I moved three times because it just wasn’t the right spot. My husband insisted that I let it be in a place where it should have already burgeorned but I knew deep down that it wasn’t growing because the conditions were not right. So on the third try, it bloomed like crazy within a month because now it was where it needed to be.
I take the same approach with my kids. I don’t always get it right the first time but when I do, they flourish and I let them go from there. For instance, sports or other activities. Some parents insist that their children will do certain things and they force them. I am NOT saying that is an entirely bad thing because that approach does work out well for some kids and they grow up to be amazing adults but I think that ususally happens with doctor and lawyer families. At least that’s what is portrayed to me and I can understand why some parents would want to do that; to take over the family business or to afford the lifestyle they already have etc. but I am not one of those.
I enjoy seeing what my kids will do just like I enjoy watching my garden grow. I don’t always know what the end result will look like but I do, on occasion, make them forge because sometimes you really DO have to withhold something (not saying I starve my kids or don’t give them water lol). Just like gardening, sometimes I will intentionally neglect the watering just to force them to root deeper. To “dig deeper”. The same can most definitly be said about my kids. I do give them everything they need to grow but every once in a while I get the sense that I am giving them too much and if I keep doing that, they won’t know how to do things themselves so I drop the “mom-ball” and let them weed it out themselves.
Then there is the trouble with over stimulation or pushing the boundaries. Like every gardener knows, things need to be pruned and trimmed every know and again to prevent a takeover of either unwatned weeds or a strawberry patch that is taking over another plants space. Some of these plants, if you let them go too long unchecked, they become MUCH harder to deal with and the result is being so overwhelmed that you either give up or you tear the whole thing down just to correct the problem but it was NEVER the plants fault nor is it the kids fault. I try to keep that in mind when I am about to lose my top over something that they had done to really make me mad. I don’t “blame” myself as if I am smiting myself but I do reflect on what went wrong and what I can do better next time and I try to find out what my kids needed or didn’t need… you know what I am saying.
I think the best thing of all is just enjoyiing them as they are. I love the jokes they tell me, the ideas they come up with, the pictures they draw or paint, the smiles the hugs the love. I love when they are appriateive and grateful and that they are caring kids EVEN when they don’t seem to be a lot of the time. I know they do care by the way they react when someones feelings gets hurt or someone gets injured. That’s how I can tell that I must be doing something right.
Not every moment is great. Sometimes we have bad seasons and all my effort didn’t produce much and that is okay because I set the conditions up for the next season and it usually turns out well. And there will always be pest, things that you’d rather not deal with but you know you have to because it’s the natural state of human being that makes us survivors but also guilt ridden humans. I hate having to protect my garden against pest just like I hate having to protect my children from preditors and other pest whether bullies or illnesses. It’s the part about being a parent that bothers me most.
So many nights I have wondered, prayed, meditated on why it is that over the course of humanity that we still cannot seem to get it together. The best answer I can come up with is that we are to god what dogs are to us. In that I mean, you can have a dog and train it well and it will be as perfect as it can be and you know as well as the dog what is expected of it YET sometimes a dog will attack and even though you told it no, the dog just cannot help but attack the kitty or something. As humans, we usually would forgive the dog for attacking the kitty because it’s still in the nature of the dog to go after other small creatures like such.
In any event, we know we have to correct the behavior. In the worst case scenario, you end up putting the dog down because the attack was viscious and you know that THAT is what you have to do but no matter how viscous the dog had become, in our hearts we know that we have forgiven it because we already loved it and know the best of it.
I think that’s how God is. I can’t speak for all the millions of bullshit things that happen and I cannot wrap my head around why on Earth innocent children should ever be allowed to suffer or die young. I doubt there could ever be a good answer for that but I think when it comes to love, God must think we are like dogs. We can piss him off, disapoint him very much, we can say all the worst things about him but in the end, no matter what the justice, punishment or whatever, he will forgive us because he loves us.
In my version of love, once loved, and I mean loved, loved like I love my children loved, then always loved no matter what. Thus I know that when it comes to the terrible things we do, it comes out of a place of love and of fear. I NEVER want to hurt anything. I feel guilty about all the snails that I killed because they infested my garden and I kill bugs when I don’t know what they are. That’s fear and love. If I didn’t have kids or worry about getting bit or sick, I would leave them alone. And I THINK that is why forgiveness is such a big deal.
IT doesn’t mean we won’t hurt in the process or that we won’t become so angry you want to burn a mans house down or something, it just means that we should do better to understand each other and why we do things. Maybe then we can let our children run free and never worry about a thing.